Recap: 'Caprica' - prequel to 'Battlestar Galactica' returns
For all of you that couldn’t frakkin’ live life without “Battlestar: Galactica,” today’s a banner day indeed as “Caprica” finally premiered on the Syfy Network. As background: I was a big “BSG” fan, though I couldn’t name all the variations of Six that appeared in the show’s run, liked everything about the finale except the final five minutes, and will undoubtedly make a mistake or three in terms of analyzing the show’s mythology. So I beg your kind forgiveness up front, gentle readers, as I try to contextualize this show in light of its predecessor. After all, all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
And yes, “Caprica” is all about context. Even if you don’t have any knowledge of the events in “Battlestar,” the opening shot gives you all the info you need: “Caprica: 58 Years Before the Fall.” The tension in the show derives from the same place as, say, the 4th season of “Lost”: we the audience know that this story is going to end badly, but the characters inside the show do not. Luckily, “Caprica” seems inherently less interested is how things will end and more pre-occupied with how things get there.
In this Ron Moore-inspired, Jane Espenson-led spin-off/prequel, the same basic moral and philosophical themes play out: namely, man’s capacity for creation will inevitably lead to its destruction. What’s seen in the remake of “Battlestar” is just one in a series of historical occurrences in which man’s creations rise up against it, and in the wake of the inevitable destruction that follows, man slows picks up the pieces only to once again unwittingly create the tools of its own demise. Fifty-eight years before the genocide unleashed by Daniel Graystone’s creation in the premiere of “Caprica,” he was simply a man grieving for the loss of his daughter. From so simple and so relatable a grief springs forth the destruction of mankind.
Whereas “BSG” focused on the intense displacement of its central characters, literally without homes in the wake of the Cylon destruction, “Caprica” takes a more domestic approach in terms of setting. I’ve read many a review that deems the “Caprica” approach closer to soap opera than space drama. But in taking the themes of “BSG” and transplanting them into a more familiar setting, “Caprica” also establishes a sense of familiarity that might draw viewers more easily into its world.
However, once there, viewers might not like how close to how the reflection is. After all, the world of “Caprica” is that of virtual life. It’s a world in which Graystone’s signature product, the holoband, provides a “Matrix”-like experience for anyone (and seemingly, everyone). All they have to do is buy a pair of goggles, scan their body image inside the equivalent of a Best Buy, and voila, they can be in their own virtual world. Naturally, the first unsanctioned application of Graystone’s invention concerned adult material, and soon enough, a youth culture sprung up around psuedo clubs in which hedonism, violence, and depravity could be experienced under the “safety” of virtuality. In other words, in turned from an outlet of man’s inner aggression into a resplendent demonstration of man’s innate depravity.
At least, that’s how the Soldiers of the One see it. Who are they? Why, a monotheist “cult” annoyed by the multi-theistic approach practiced on the Twelve Colonies. For those of you familiar with the religious themes rife within Moore’s version of “BSG,” it’s interesting to note that the first true Cylon in the world of “Caprica” consists of the remnants of Graystone’s daugher, Zoe, herself a late convert to the Soldiers’ cause. She became involved, along with her friend Lacy, through their schoolmate Ben. He, by extension, was probably recruited/swayed to the cause by the head of their school. Pretty ironic, since said head of the Athenian Academy (Sister Clarice Willow), an unlikely person to subscribe to a one-God-fits-all approach.
Zoe has an aptitude for computer engineering that even outstrips her Bill Gates-like father, allowing her to design a bio-feedback protocol that creates an in-holoband copy that actually absorbs information from the real Zoe in real time. (Whew. Say THAT five times fast.) This leads to the copy of Zoe feeling the moment of the real Zoe’s death. Zoe wanted to escape to Gemenon to practice monotheism with Ben and Lacy, but Ben and his vest o’ explosives had other ideas. (Wrapped up in this is the first giant mystery of “Caprica”: what was Zoe’s plan for her copy once she reached Gemenon? Look for that to get teased out as the series progresses.)
In the same car as Ben when he shouted “The one true God shall drive out the many”? William Adama’s mother and his sister. His father, Joseph, is a Tauron-born attorney that defends the crime syndicate known as Ha'la'tha. (Yes, I looked that name up. You’d laugh if you saw my initial attempts to spell that out. MS Word kept thinking I wanted to type out “jai alai.) He’s a quiet man that hides his Tauron roots (changing his name to Adams to fit in), but feels beholden to the Ha'la'tha due to them paying his way through law school. His brother, Samuel, is a heavy for the Ha'la'tha, demanding blood vengeance against the “terrorists” that committed the suicide bombing.
Joseph bonds with Daniel over their mutual grief after the initial press conference vowing to discover the culprits. They sip coffee, share stories of grief, and even take in a Pyramid game with young William. But clearly, their new-found friendship cannot fill the void. After discovering Lacy in Zoe’s room interacting via holoband, Daniel realizes that inside the virtual club (called Club V, uncreatively) sits a type of Shrine Room, protected by the mark of the Soldiers: the symbol of infinity. It’s an interesting symbol for the group to use: not only does it ostensibly describe the power of their God, but it also reflects the never-ending, closed loop in which humanity finds itself within the “BSG”/“Caprica” world. Inspired by his daughter’s technological advances, he kidnaps the copy for his own personal use.
His goal? To expand upon Zoe’s work and make in-life copies a reality. “We have an axiom in my business: a difference that doesn’t make a difference is NOT a difference,” he tells a horrified Joseph. And so we have our version of Baltar: a man of unparalleled scientific genius who can rationalize anything in order to sidestep the obvious moral issues that arise within his groundbreaking work. Even though Joseph is terrified of Daniel’s plan, the desire to see his daughter again overwhelms his moral compass. He agrees to steal the component needed for Daniel’s grand plan from a Tauron competitor: a meta-cognitive processor, or MCP. (You down with MCP? Yea, you know me!)
Before installing Zoe’s copy into the MCP for insertion into a prototype Centurion (wow, now THAT is a geeky sentence fragment), Daniel and Zoe have many and varied discussions inside Holo World that scream THESE ARE BIG IDEAS from the writers’ room to the audience at home craving substantive science fiction in their weekly television diet. Most of them work well enough, but they still plenty expository at this point, especially since the themes of reality, existence, and life itself were already played out so often and so vigorously on this show’s predecessor.
The biggest variation in “Caprica”? Humanity’s voracious appetite for a virtual life coupled with the copies’ desire to experience the life humans take for granted. That’s a pretty potent theme for the show to explore, and resonates with the reasoning behind The Fall fifty-eight years hence. For now, humans and copies have to interact in a virtual space that satisfies neither: the copy of Joseph’s daughter freaks out about her lack of heartbeat (guess those 300MBs of memory didn’t include anything related to the cardiac system), and Zoe’s essentially trapped, stripped from her shrine full of color, light, and water into a cold, antiseptic antechamber. (Look for future episodes in which Graystone colors in the virtual world until what’s real and what’s not blurs together. SYMBOLISM, I say. SYMBOLISM!)
The real Zoe understood far better than her father how to assemble the bits and pieces of one’s life data (everything from medical records, closed-camera recordings, and even shopping lists are stored somewhere, apparently) into a copy that matched heart as much as mind. This is why Adama’s role in the show will be so crucial, and informs his son’s distaste for technology in the coming Cylon Wars: we’re repeatedly informed just how salt-of-the-earth Taurons are. Natural farmers, they are as of the earth as Capricans are of technology. For now, Joseph has freed himself from Graystone’s grip, unwilling to have any part in resurrecting his own family. But his hands are still dirty with zeroes and ones.
Upon finally inserting the Zoe data into the proto-Centurion, the yellow eyes that couldn’t shoot paint balls for frak’s sake suddenly turn a familiar red, and C3P-“Zoe” walks in a Frankenstein-like manner towards her father, only to collapse in a heap with phrase like “Data Stream Unstable” and “Irrevocable Error” helpfully flashing across a nearby screen. Thinking he’s lost his daughter, he nevertheless uses the lessons learned to turn the first official Cylon into an effective killing machine. Such an act earns him a lengthy and profitable government defense contract.
Now, how did he get the machine working after CP3-“Zoe”’s malfunction? My instinct is that he managed to program his own grief and rage into said Centurion after Zoe’s implant failed. (Remember the 7th, never-seen Cylon in “BSG”? Remember its name? Exactly.) But clearly that’s not all that’s in this inaugural Cylon. At episode’s end, it’s clear that Zoe’s still a ghost in the machine, hiding from her father, still trying to accomplish the goal that the real Zoe planned for her upon reaching Gemonon.
A few final thoughts on the episode…
The plot involving Val Chambers’ intimidation and ultimate death largely served to show two things: one, don’t mess with the Ha'la'tha, and two, give one a sense of how much depth of rage is potentially beneath Joseph’s calm veneer. One gets the idea he uses Caprican clothing as way to not only blend in, but also suppress the type of impulses that course through his brother. There but for the grace of law school goeth Joseph.
Liked that Sister Willow transformed the water-mark left by Lacy into an infinity symbol, but I would have loved it untouched as a symbol of the copies floating around in the Holo World. Oh well.
Thought the overall acting was strong, especially in the Esai Morales/Eric Stoltz scenes. The one weak link? Little Adama, who was supposed to be tortured but instead came off simply bored. Since Admiral Adama is in my Pantheon of All-Time Great Sci-Fi characters, this depresses me. I need a drink. SO DRINK WE ALL.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Ben’s influence over Zoe translates into the monotheistic beliefs of the skin-jobs in “BSG.” Lacy doesn’t think Zoe’s computer skills are God-given in a metaphorical way: she thinks the one true God gave them to her directly. Big difference. Zoe’s beliefs cannot be un-coded by her father: they will exist inside each copy that gets created henceforth. How? Ask Starbuck. Oh, wait…
The Agent Durham plot was too dull to even mention in this recap. More on him when that story gets a bit more meat on its bones. He hates monotheism and explosions. Got it. Moving on.
In general, I’m giving a thumbs up to the first two hours. The creation of the Cylons, Zoe’s plan for her copy, and the investigation into the explosion will frame out the first season. Athena Academy will become a central place for the Soldiers of the One to plan out even more elaborate attempts on what they perceive as the depravity of civilization, using C3P-“Zoe” as a sleeper agent to wrest control over humanity and launch an attack that will lead to The Fall.
Sounds like a great way to spend a Friday night to me. How about you?