When writer/creator Ron Moore described the forthcoming Caprica as akin to Dallas I was a tad concerned. A soap opera with Cylons? Does one of them emerge from a shower having declared the last four years of Battlestar Galactica as just a dream? Suffice it to say I wanted to be impressed when I finally watched the 93 minute pilot episode which is due out on DVD on April 21st.
...a virtual world of sex games, killings and sacrificial virgins
If you're a Battlestar fan and you're looking for more of the same then you might need to think twice. If you're a fan of intriguing, character based drama that deals with topical political, religious and cultural issues (which for all the flim flam of its special effects and space opera setting was what essentially BSG was, I'd argue) then Caprica should hook you immediately. Set 58 years before the fall of the titular planet under a barage of nuclear warheads courtesy of the Cylons, the pilot sets up the intertwining family sagas of the Graystones and the Adamas. Daniel Graystone is a research scientist working for the Caprican government on military robots whilst Joseph Adama is a corrupt lawyer, linked to the Tauran mafia. The pilot opens in rather dramatic style, plunging you into a virtual world of sex games, killings and sacrificial virgins; a world where troubled daughter, Zoe Graystone, seeks not only vicarious thrills but also a Second Life/My Space/Facebook refuge to exercise her monotheistic beliefs with fellow teeens Lacy and Ben. It's a clever extension of our own relationship to the transmedia world we find ourselves exploring and exploiting.
...the emotional journey of the two grieving fathers
The Second Life analogy is the most apt here. Zoe, Ben and Lacy decide to leave Caprica and find tolerance for their religious beliefs off world. However, Ben has already decided that their rejection of the pantheon of Caprica's gods needs a bigger gesture and he promptly blows up a commuter train, killing himself, Zoe and Joseph Adama's wife and daughter, Tamara. Moore's obsession with religious tolerance and the acts committed in the name of belief systems and deities is given a much stronger voice here simply because it is a much closer reflection of our world today. We're not seeing this refracted through spaceships, dog fights and Cylons. The pilot then takes the emotional journey of the two grieving fathers and engages in a meditation on mortality, identity and the soul, seen through the prism of advancing science and technology (the paper, fold out computer desktop is probably very accurate). Again, this is something that BSG routinely discussed but here it is the central tenet of the pilot. Graystone discovers a way in which both daughters, Zoey and Tamara, can be revived via their virtual world avatars whilst at the same time he uses Joseph's underworld connections to steal the technology that will allow him to recreate them in the real world. As this progresses, we also see his ongoing development of what clearly will be the first Cylon warriors.
More of a futuristic The Godfather perhaps?The twist is that it all goes horribly wrong for both men. Joseph simply can't cope with the idea that his daughter can be brought back from the dead and believes the idea is an abomination. Graystone botches the transfer of Zoe's avatar into the prototype Cylon in a freakish parallel to the Frankenstein story. With the intuitive, human consciousness implanted into the cybernetic body, he succeeds in refining the machine to impress his defence contractors but is unaware that Zoe is still trapped inside the machine. There is a fantastic contrast between the now familiar utterance of 'By Your Command' from the Cylon and later, the plea for help from Zoe from within it. It's an intriguing and chilling premise and the pilot certainly leaves you wanting more and raises many questions about the human/machine interface, the rampant culture of technology, the beliefs and obsessions you would be prepared to steal or die for and by extension the very nature of fatherhood. Where the pilot more or less concentrates on Daniel's story, it doesn't do as well by Joseph and his family. There is much hand-wringing about Joesph's inability to connect to his own son, William, but it feels somewhat underdeveloped and that's probably because there just isn't enough time to do it justice in the pilot. There is also a developing mystery about Zoe and Tamara's school and their headmistress Sister Clarice (a very underused Polly Walker) that's left hanging and will hopefully be picked up in the forthcoming series.
It's a good start, especially if you are keen on dynastic family sagas, which is certainly the template they are following here. It is stylistically distanced from BSG too, that handheld faux documentary style is absent here and is replaced by a sleek, slightly colder visual style. The scenes within the virtual club are given a nightmarish flavour all of their own to provide an interesting contrast to the domestic and street scenes on Caprica itself. I did have some niggles about the CGI train and subsequent suicide bombing and felt the quality of the effects just wasn't high enough in those sequences. However, the effects for the prototype Cylon were, by contrast, particularly good. The performances are uniformly excellent, and special praise to Eric Stoltz as Daniel Graystone, and Bear McCreary's score is simply beautiful and lingers in the mind long after watching this. Moore's comparison to Dallas is a rather silly one because judging by the pilot it has managed to avoid the rather anodyne qualities of 1980s soap operas. More of a futuristic The Godfather perhaps? If they can avoid descending into those areas and can keep the writing and the characters complex and as fully nuanced as they have here, then the series Caprica will be one to watch.
CAPRICA - The Pilot (Universal Home Entertainment - Region 1 - Unrated - DVD 61109037000 Released 21st April 2009)
Cathode Ray Tube Caprica Pilot Episode