Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Melancholy Prequel: Caprica

During the production of the last season of Battlestar: Galatica (2002-2009), they announced that a new series, a prequel, called Caprica, set 58 years before the Cylon rebellion depicted in BS:G, would be broadcast. Generally, I've always hated prequels because they lack surprise, innovation or imagination. Each effort comes across like a huge cash grab (hello, George Lucas). And in 98% of cases, that's all they are (hi there, George). Their worst crime is that they tend to be pretty boring because the prequel usually tells us things that – if we've been paying attention to the original TV show or movie – have already been revealed. So, though I loved the reconfigured BS:G, I must admit I had some reluctance about watching Caprica for the reasons stated above. The first eight episodes of Season One ran last year; the next nine just started broadcast on Space last Tuesday.

Esai Morales
Perhaps it's my Irish temperament, but the melancholy tone this show has struck really works for me. Many people who were fans of BS:G have not warmed up to Caprica. BS:G was frequently an action-packed adventure show that, within that frame, dealt with issues of racism, loyalty, love, faith – in short, the human condition. The idea of action in Caprica is in the occasional eruptions of violence around the characters. What Caprica is concerned with, beyond setting the stage for the future war, is the notion of loss and grieving. The prime narrative is driven by two families, the Graystones and the Adamas (Admiral Adama – Edward James Olmos – in BS:G is the son of the patriarch on this show). In the pilot, released on DVD six months before the show launched, both families lose their daughters in a terrorist attack on Caprica City. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) is a scientist/industrialist who is in the midst of creating the robot Cylons that will lay waste to the future world in BS:G; Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) is a lawyer who's also the member of a family with ties to a form of organized crime.

Eric Stoltz and Cyclon Buddy
For many of Caprican children, a virtual world provides a time-waster where many of them play out risky fantasy lives. In his grief, Graystone finds a way to transfer the essence of both his daughter and Adama's daughter to this artificial world. By accident, Graystone also transfers the essence of his daughter to one of the early Cylons he's building. It is this Cylon, for those of us who have watched BS:G know, who will be “patient zero” for the future free-thinking, rebellious Cylons. Some of the characters are underwritten, such as the perpetually mourning Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcolmson), wife of Daniel. She spent the first eight episodes doing little more than getting hysterical about everything. And not all the episodes have worked, but the restart shows real promise. Daniel Graystone, having lost his fortune in a scandal at the end of the first eight stories, joins forces with the Adamas to create a place where virtual versions of all their lost loved ones can live. It is a place where grief can be set aside, and we can talk and interact with our dead family and friends. We, the viewer, know this idea is an abomination, but the characters, blinded by their own loss, only see the upside (which, of course, includes making a lot of money).

There are other plots unspooling under all this, such as the fact there are 11 other worlds besides Caprica and racial tension between them is an ongoing problem. But the biggest battle is monotheism versus polytheism. Most Capricans, and those on the other worlds, are polytheists (believers in multiple gods), but a small, radical group, are monotheists (one god). They are so focused on their beliefs that they try to make their point with suicide bombers (the terrorist attack in the pilot was one such incident). I know this sounds all so complicated, but the threads mostly hang together. A collision between the Graystones/Adamas and the monotheist terrorists is inevitable.

The biggest problem is that the show is not doing very well. Fortunately, unlike the great, late and lamented Invasion (created by Shaun Cassidy, of all people), Caprica is on the teeny-tiny SYFY (a dumb reworking of the short-form for science fiction, Sci-Fi) network in the US where microscopic ratings rarely matter, so perhaps there's hope yet. If not, the next eight episodes should make for a very entertaining, if heart-aching ride.

-- David Churchill is a film critic and the author of The Empire of Death. His book launches in the Distillery District on Tuesday, October 19th. Go to www.wordplaysalon.com for more information.


  1. David, I am pleased to see a review of Caprica on this great blog. I was expecting one from Mark Clamen but it's a pleasant surprise to see one from you. Yes, it is an interesting series and really the first series to deal with a virtual world as one of the main plot components. I love that you call the Cylons, Cyborgs in your first sentence, which technically is correct, and hilarious. We'll see if this show can maintain its momentum.

  2. David Churchill responds: Thanks, Los. I do like the show, even when it is a lot slow. That Cyborg reference was a typo from an early draft. I was writing this late and kept typing cyborg instead of cylon. You will see it is corrected.