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Looking back on it, I’m not sure Caprica ever really had a chance. Many of Battlestar Galactica’s biggest fans were disappointed by the ending of the show, and not interested in seeing any more of that universe. People who had never seen Battlestar but who could have been interested in what Caprica was could have been scared away by the baggage that comes with being a prequel to an existing franchise. And there was that weird scheduling, too. The pilot episode was released as a DVD movie almost a year before the actual series premiered, and it may have given people who saw it a bad indication of what the show would be without anything to tell them otherwise for months. Then it went away after nine episodes for months, came back suddenly and almost without warning, and then was canceled after only four more episodes in October. The last episodes were pulled from SyFy’s schedule, a cable rarity, and won’t be seen until early in 2011, unless you live somewhere else or get the DVD. It was a show with a very limited audience that was hardly given an opportunity to cultivate a bigger one, and once SyFy felt they had a better bet with the upcoming Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, it was gone.
And the kicker of course is that a lot of the small number of people who did watch the show didn’t even like it that much, which is a shame. Personally, I was less than impressed with the pilot, and the truth is I was never really passionate about the series. Prequels are usually unnecessary, and I can’t say I was too disappointed to hear about the cancellation. Of course, leave it to the creators to make me genuinely wish the show was getting a second season when I saw the five unaired episodes thanks to Netflix this week. It’s a show that’s hard to define and is weighed down with a cast that’s sometimes difficult to like, but they really explored some interesting ideas in the time they had, and the potential for an interesting mix of drama and science fiction elements was really pretty well explored in this one and only season.
There’s not really a lot that Galactica told us about this era of history while it was on air. We know the humans of the twelve colonies created Cylons to assist them in battle and in every day life, and that eventually those Cylons became religious beings convinced of their superiority over man, and began a war that ended years before the events of the miniseries. And that some time in that period, they were able to create special Cylons that could pass for human, and even develop full relationships with them. Caprica brings us to a starting point for most of these events, as a scientist played by Eric Stoltz named Daniel Graystone has built up his own fortune through the success of holobands, a device which lets users enter a convincing and exciting virtual world. His newest contract is to create robotic soldiers intelligent enough to take orders and understand their surroundings.
His troubled daughter Zoe played by Alessandra Torresani is a programming genius who created her own avatar, a virtual encapsulation of her being that thinks like she does and shares most of her memories. She has a connection to the Soldiers of the One (STO), a monotheistic terrorist group lead on Caprica by her school’s headmistress Clarice, played by Polly Walker. Zoe and a girl named Tamara are killed along with many others in a train explosion caused by Zoe’s STO boyfriend, though her avatar lives on in the V world until her father puts it inside a robot skeleton. Thus the first Cylon is created, and things progress from there as Daniel works to find a way to get the technology to work across multiple bodies and Zoe contemplates her identity stuck inside computers.
The other primary plot thread involves the Adamas, the family of Galactica protagonist William Adama, proud Taurons with heavy ties to organized crime. Joseph, played by Esai Morales is the father of Tamara and William, the husband of Shannon, who was also killed, and the brother of Sam, played by Sasha Roiz and possibly the show’s best character. The show uses the Adamas mostly to help propel the Graystone plotline and also explore how the various cultures of the twelve colonies were different. Young William is actually a red herring; he is believed to be Bill Adama of Battlestar Galactica for most of the series, but he is accidentally killed near the end of the season and his younger brother is named after him when he is born some time later in a Tauron tradition, a little plot twist that you might enjoy or find distasteful depending on your point of view.
The other main characters are Lacy played by Magda Apanowicz, Zoe’s friend, who at first is her only solace when she’s trapped as a Cylon, and later gets involved very deeply with the Soldiers of the One, and Paula Malcolmson’s Amanda, who is Zoe’s mother, and is mostly useless for the first half of the show, to the point where I was disappointed when the midseason premiere revealed she wasn’t killed by her fall in the previous episode, but becomes a key part of the story in the second half. Most of these characters have a lot of emotional issues they’re constantly struggling with, which can make the show difficult if you don’t like them much. As I mentioned, Amanda is troubling in the beginning, grief stricken after her daughter died while they were having struggles, and haunted by memories of her deceased brother as well. Zoe and Tamara both live on in the virtual world and have series parental issues, Daniel gets himself in a lot of trouble using Tauron criminals for corporate espionage, and Joseph is torn between his family and being a good citizen.
A lot of the first half of the show is dominated by these things, and I think a reason the show failed is that most of them don’t get resolved in a way that lets the characters actually begin to confront their problems until it was too late. There were really only two things that saved the show early on for me. New Cap City is a particular part of V World that’s sort of like an MMO Grand Theft Auto, where everything is seedy and no one can ever go back if they’re killed. It’s the setting for a lot of the show’s action, and it’s a pretty intriguing subplot for when things in real life got too heavy. And Zoe’s struggles with personal identity were really interesting, as she wondered if she really had a self or if she was just a copy of someone stuck in a metal shell. Things got especially heavy when Daniel came to believe his daughter’s mind was still stuck in the machine and tried to force her to admit it, doing things like pretending to make her shoot her own dog and surrounding her with fire, something that she’s been deathly afraid of her entire life. It’s a disturbing episode showing how far someone who’s under the stress of public derision and the death of his own child will go to try to get her back.
The second half is a bit easier to watch, as a lot of the threads kick into high gear. It’s just a shame no one was watching. Amanda learns the truth about her friend Clarice’s intentions, and begins spying on her for the police. People within the government of Caprica are on the terrorists’ side. Joseph comes to accept his unbreakable ties to crime. Lacy gets in deep with the bad guys. And the ultimate end game of the season; both Daniel and Clarice try to recreate or find Zoe’s avatar program, the former to save his butt with the Taurons, and the latter to win over supporters of her religion by blowing up a sports stadium and uploading believers into her virtual heaven.
The season ends with her plan foiled and the stadium saved by Daniel’s amazing Cylons, but the series closing montage of what will happen in the years to come is both familiar and depressing for humanity. Cylons become fully entrenched in society, performing a number of important functions. Lacy and Clarice become their spiritual leaders, indoctrinating them with their one-god beliefs and telling them they will have a grand future of war and genocide. Amanda and Daniel help Zoe come back into the real world with a believable human body, the very first "skinjob". And little Bill Adama begins to grow up in a society that will ultimately be wiped out when he is an old man. It’s pretty stirring stuff, and it left me with a better feeling than the final season of Battlestar Galactica.
The show is something we really don’t see anywhere else – it’s both a crime drama and a family drama, with the two elements inextricably intertwined, in a world that happens to be science fiction. Society more or less looks like ours, with some technology we’ll probably be matching in the next twenty years, except obviously for things like perfectly realized virtual worlds and commercial interplanetary travel. The show isn’t particularly action-heavy, and after a show with so many gun battles and dog fights in outer space, I can understand why people would be let down. But Galactica really worked because the philosophical questions and moral quandaries raised by its mythology and sci-fi trappings were so interesting and well considered, and those elements are fully intact in Caprica. Maybe there isn’t a place in the world for a series that’s a soap opera in one scene and a weird mix of The Matrix and A Clockwork Orange in the next, but I have to say I’m disappointed that there isn’t. Even if you stopped watching the show because the first few episodes bored you, I think anyone who enjoys intelligent, nuanced science fiction owes it to themselves to see the whole thing.