Pretty in Silver- Caprica Season 1.0 Review

29 Mar

Don't you... forget about me...


No one seemed to think Caprica could work. Why would it? It’s a prequel spinoff to a show that was equal parts expensive, critically acclaimed and lowly rated by Nielsen. How could there be any drama, when we the audience know that within a scant 60 years everyone and everything we’ve been watching will be radiated to death by killer robots? I was no less skeptical. As a newfound BSG fan who had just watched the entire series in a matter of months when Caprica’s pilot was first released on DVD, I was ready to write off Caprica as just another money-grabbing scheme from another money-grabbing network. Fortunately, the pilot was intriguing enough to get me to watch the whole series when it premiered in January, but I was neither impressed nor in love. There were a lot of cool things going on in that pilot, but nothing that really blew my mind, and nothing that overshadowed the show’s more prominent weaknesses. The holobands and V-World were a great addition to the Battlestar universe, but it was hard not to think of The Matrix every time someone put that ridiculous metal band around their eyes, especially when the Grand Theft Auto-esque game “New Cap City” was introduced halfway through the first ten eps. It was nice to see the creation of the first Colonies-born Cylon and to learn that the Cylons believe in a one true god simply because the girl the first Cylon’s AI is based off of did too, but the show was pitched as if it was going to be the story of the Cylons’ creation, and that mystery seemed more or less resolved by the end of the first installment.

Then there were the less than brilliant aspects of the show. While Esai Morales is a great actor, and it’s nice to see Billy Adama running around as a ten year-old knowing that one day he’ll look like Edward James Olmos, the addition of the Adamas into the storyline just seemed a little forced. It was as if the writers were worried fans wouldn’t be interested in the show unless at least one character from BSG were in it, and decided that they would just throw in the one who was alive at the time. Certain aspects of Tauron culture are cool, like their tattoos and “good, hearty” food, but overall the addition of a disenfranchised underclass that’s got its own mafia seemed just a tad too silly, especially as the Adamas come off as just generic Hispanitalians. Fortunately, Joseph Adama was given an intriguing plotline, one that involved him searching the color-corrected wastelands of New Cap City for his dead daughter Tamara. It was a good move to have more than one AI in the show, and to have one freely roaming the V-World while the other is trapped in a big ass robot. I just hope something comes of it, and in general my biggest fear with Caprica is that it will avoid connecting itself to Battlestar in any discernible fashion. Yeah, it’s cool to see a Neo-esque teenage girl gatting people in a Matrix-esque virtual reality, but does it actually amount to anything? I kept wondering if Tamara would end up becoming a Cylon as well, because if she doesn’t, then it seems her existence only acts to explain why The Old Man had such a crappy childhood.

But that’s what’s so surprising about Caprica- on premise alone it shouldn’t be very good, but the acting, the writing, the mythos- all of it coalesces to create a quality program that’s almost on par with its predecessor. I think the series is best when it’s focusing on what it claims to be about: the creation of the Cylons. Many teenage characters on television just end up being brats (The O.C., Gossip Girl, Silas from Weeds), but Zoe Graystone is a very nuanced and likable character. What’s especially interesting is how her parents think she’s just your average, trust fund deadbeat- as her mother screams at her, “you’ve never had to create anything in your life!” But secretly she’s a genius, arguably more brilliant than her father since she’s actually the first Caprican to discover artificial intelligence. Sure, she’s an impulsive young girl who let an obviously shadowy terrorist organization take advantage of her (and ultimately kill her), but she created a pitch-perfect digital copy of her personality for frak’s sake! While I liked the idea of the first Cylon being a copy of a real person, I wasn’t so sure about following a teenager in a 2-ton metal carapace for 20 hours, but Allesandra Torresani has proven me wrong with her excellent acting skills. Her U-87 prototype storyline became so fascinating in fact, that I often lost interest in the show when Zoe wasn’t in it. Like I said before, the story of the Graystones is far more engaging than that of the Corleones- er, excuse me, Adamas- however, I think the show found a nice balance by the end and also created a plotline for Joseph Adama that actually went somewhere.

As professional critics who enjoy the show have commented, Caprica succeeds because it has so many of the same themes from Battlestar- in addition to grand ideas like love and death, the show focuses on what it means to be an artificial lifeform, as well as a question that we face in our own world: just because something’s virtual, does that make it “not real?” If there was a fully functional human being that existed within a computer program and was made up of lines of code instead of DNA, would it still be a person? BSG seemed to answer this question by showing us that the humanoid Cylons are not defined by their number and are unique even if they are identical to another Cylon. The Plan really nailed this idea down, by revealing that even Number Ones and Number Fours- generally considered to be “evil Cylons”- actually made personal relationships with the humans and decided that they were wrong to have murdered all of them. There was also the reveal of the Final Five, which showed that even the most human and down to earth human characters were actually 2000-year old Cylons. But Caprica approaches the concept from a different angle, asking instead that if a digital copy of yourself survived you, could its existence be considered an afterlife, or is the copy its own unique individual? If Caprica focuses on these concepts it can never fail.

The first ten episodes were wrapped up nicely with the surprising “End of Line.” The producers promise a more action-packed second half, which arrives in September. I guess we’ll have to wait till then to discover the fates of Zoe and Amanda Graystone, although if I had to guess I’d say Amanda’s definitely dead (can’t say I’m that upset about it) but Zoe’s virtual avatar somehow survived the deadly explosion that most certainly destroyed the U-87 prototype. I’m going to keep watching and cross my fingers that SyFy (stupid frakkin’ name) renews Caprica for a second season, especially as the networks are now deathly afraid of sci-fi shows and aren’t producing any new ones for next year. I only hope that the show starts to weave into BSG in more obvious and definable ways. For instance, how do the Cylons go from being the avatar of Zoe Graystone to a bunch of weird creeps like Numbers One through Eight? How does the uprising go down? How do the Cylons go from being worker robots to having their own spaceships and weapons? These are the sort of things I was hoping to see when the BSG spinoff was announced, a show about the Cylons, instead of a family soap opera where one of the characters is the first Cylon. Still… it’s a damn fine soap opera, and is definitely worth recommending.

Score: 8.6

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