If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Despite having an enormous affection for the Sy-Fy channel broadcast show, "Battlestar Galactica" during its four season run, I suppose I've become well known on this site for making it known that the ending of the show undercut the entire rest of the series. My absolute disdain for the finale (the second half of it at least) was thorough enough for me to sell my DVD season sets of the rest of the series. I also was seen in local shady 'nerd' bars late at night, getting into it with a number of, I'm sorry, apologists, for the lazy and very literal deus ex machina of an ending the writers wimped out with. I'd often be stumbling home at 3 in the morning, smelling of Romulan ale and with bloodied Nintendo power gloves, indulging in my anger at the expense of overly-forgiving fanboys. And now...after seeing the first half of the season of the prequel series "Caprica" by the exact same folks who made me into a monster of rage...FSM help me, I'm back on the horse. This can't end well, can it?
A warning: this review is a mite bit spoiler-laden for the first half of season one. Proceed with caution...
"Caprica" takes place fifty-eight years before the beginning of "Battlestar Galactica", on the planet that we see get thoroughly nuked at the beginning of that show. The culture at the time of this prequel is wildly exuberant, dominated by its passions, and kept happy by technologies far ahead of our own (but not that far). A virtual world that one can experience in complete VR through the use of Holobands is a widespread addiction in the culture. Despite having a relatively innocuous front-end, it's ridiculously easy to explore a darker, illegal world inside of it, the V-Club, where young folks act out all kinds of horrendous stuff in the privacy and safety of a convincing but only virtual existence. Naturally, there are those who want to shut it all down. The daughter of the inventor of the Holoband, Zoe Greystone (Alessandra Torresani), is part of a group with two of her friends called The Soldiers of the One, monotheists (like the Cylons will be much later) who plan to escape to the fundamentalist planet Gemenon. Unfortunately for Zoe, one of her friends gets ahead of himself and blows up an entire commuter train with her on it, killing everyone aboard.
Zoe's parents, Daniel (Eric Stoltz) and Amanda (Paula Malcomson) are upset enough as it is with the death of their daughter, only to be led to believe that she herself had something to do with the explosion. Daniel also discovers through one of Zoe's surviving friends (Magda Apanowicz) that Zoe was a computer genius herself and had figured out a way to create a perfect replica of herself and her personality as an avatar in the V-Club, who still waits there, anxious about her own path now that her creator and double is gone. He figures out how she did it and in order to try and help the father of another one of the train bombing victims, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), who is the father of William Adama who someday will become commander of the Battlestar Galactica, he creates a similar AI avatar of his deceased daughter (Genevieve Buechner). Joseph is thoroughly freaked out by this recreation at first and is even more disinclined to have anything to do with Daniel Greystone after the word spreads that his own daughter might have been responsible for the blast. Eventually, he becomes desperate to reconnect with her, searching the virtual worlds where she has become almost a folk hero, basically having become the undisconnectable 'Neo' of that existence.
Meanwhile, Daniel has a big contract coming up to deliver robot soldiers to the military, but he can't seem to get them smart enough...until he abducts Zoe's avatar and uploads her into the familiar looking one-red-eyed machine. Although he believes the process to have been a failure and the avatar lost, the robot is very much infused with her consciousness and displays the intelligence Daniel had been questing after, enough to get him the contract, but with no way seemingly to replicate it in other models. Inside, Zoe is waiting for her chance to get away, to take her new body to Gemenon where she believes answers are waiting for her...
I have to apologize for going into so much detail. "Caprica" is an enormously complex interweave of characters and motivations. It's hard to introduce you to that world without going on at some length, I'm afraid. Be clear, I barely touched on it. Numerous other characters populate this story, such as Joseph Adama's brother Sam (Sasha Roiz), who is an enforcer for the crime syndicate that is a strong part of their culture. There's also Zoe's teacher at her school Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker), who while ostensibly is a priestess of the Goddess Athena, is actually part of the Soldiers of the One and has machinations of her as regards to Zoe's digital twin. Also there's....I could be here all day doing this. A sizable cast of solid performers makes up this ensemble show, to say the least.
Much like it's predecessor program, "Caprica" deals with numerous themes of a religious nature, also choosing to remain in a relatively neutral position between the warring philosophical sides on the show. This isn't an easy position to take, with the monotheists being a group of terrorists, and the show's writers are not completely successful at the balancing act. Zoe is headstrong to the point of being an unsympathetic villain (as most teenagers are at least at one point of their young lives) and it's even harder not to see her as one once she takes up residence inside of what will end up becoming known as the first Cylon.
More interesting this time around are the social and moral themes "Caprica" explores. The struggle Joseph goes through with his own son as he tries to both engage him in his culture and keep him hidden from it, is an interesting one. Joseph goes through as sizable arc himself in not much time at all, as he slides into desperation while chasing down the virtual version of his daughter inside of a virtual game world that you're only allowed to die once in, and then are never allowed back in. Daniel is weighed heavily upon by the desperation to keep his company, the moral implications of what his daughter reportedly did, and the possibility that her virtual self still exists, deep inside the robot. Both men commit unscrupulous acts to defend what they treasure most, and then have to deal with consequences of them throughout the season.
There's a sense of dread for the future that is unmistakably intended to affect the audience while watching, as we know that all these developments, all these technological leaps and bounds that are taking place at Daniel's company, all the philosophical beliefs that Zoe holds, all lead to one hell of an apocalypse. The genius here is how it's used to mirror a similar sense of dread many people feel today. We may not know how it all ends, but its all starting to get crazy, excessive, and too complicated to follow, and it doesn't seem like it's going anywhere good. I'm not sure if the creators of the show consider themselves on the side of reason or of faith in this particular discussion but they certainly seem to be on the side of pessimism. I can't bring myself to agree with their nihilism about our culture on the whole, but it's fascinating to watch them skillfully construct it nonetheless.
The 1.0 set adds in a few extra features along with an extended and unrated version of the pilot (which basically adds boobies). There are commentaries from the show's creators, deleted scenes, video blogs by the actors and show runners, a selection of podcast commentaries, three featurettes, and a brief advance look at the rest of the season yet to come.
I guess I have to take some amount of solace in the fact that we already all know how this series of events ends. It's the rare prequel (if any at all) that can tell the events leading up to another known story and make it fascinating in and of itself. "Caprica" succeeds effortlessly so far at doing this, with much of the same quality of cinematography, writing, and performances the original show was so praised for, while not aping its style much at all. Oh, and that MARVELOUS score by Bear McCreary deserves its own separate mention, as it's just as memorable as his work for BSG. You know, even with as much as I'm digging on this new show, I'm going to be just as happy if things go either way; if it all turns bad, I can always be able to say, "I told you so" and if not, we've got one helluva awesome science fiction show going on here.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Caprica: Season 1.0