Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goodbye Caprica...and Good Riddance

When the creative team behind the excellent remake of Battlestar Galactica announced that it was creating a new show that would be something of a prequel to BSG, I was pretty excited. The show - Caprica - promised to explain the origin of the Cylons, and how they went from mechanical helpers to the destroyers of humanity. Beyond that, the producers were pretty vague as to exactly what the show would really be about. One thing they did reveal was that not everything in Caprica would line up exactly with BSG, despite making the two shows tie-in together.

When the initial pilot film of Caprica was released, I snatched it up immediately. It was okay, but what threw me was the obsession with virtual reality (V-world) that permeated the show. I didn't like how V-world was portrayed, as it seemed little more than an orgy of violence set to bad techno music. My virtual reality would not be anything like that. Though the pilot was questionable, I figured the show itself would be better. Sadly, it wasn't.

From the get-go, the overtly religious elements seemed to overwhelm the show. BSG fans will remember that it, too, had a strong religious element - Cylons were monotheistic and humans were polytheistic - but there was so much other drama and action, that it rarely defined the show. There were plenty of references to god, and themes of killing in the name of one's god, was often referenced. But, to me, what really drove the Cylons to do what they did was simple revenge. Revenge for being enslaved, and revenge for humanity's disinterest in whether or not Cylons were, in fact, sentient lifeforms.
When the SyFy Channel announced last Fall that it was canceling Caprica in the middle of its first season, the first thing that crossed my mind was whether or not the show would ever get to the point where it really explained the origins of the Cylons, how they found religion, and why they decided to kill nearly all humans in existence. The first episodes spent a lot of time focused on the Graystone family and their vast technology empire. Mr. Graystone, a scientist and tycoon, invented the virtual reality bands (seen above) and V-world. He made billions of dollars with it and also made billions from working with the Defense Department.

The Graystone's daughter, Zoe, got caught up with some religious fundamentalists known as the Soldiers of the One (STO), who were monotheistic. When she inadvertently helped STO in a terrorist attack on public transportation, she threw her family into the religious conflict. Zoe died in the attack, but before she did, she uploaded her avatar into V-world. She essentially made herself immortal. The attack is also how Mr. Graystone first came into contact with Joesph Adama (father of Captain Adama from BSG). Adama's wife and daughter were killed in the same attack. That is the only real tie to BSG, actually.

Zoe and Adama's daughter ruled V-world, and much of the series focused on finding them inside it. In an attempt to unlock the secrets of Zoe's avatar program, Mr. Graystone inserted a copy into a prototype of the Cylon robot he was creating. The robot was designed to be a military machine: one that would kill on command and never question orders. Adding Zoe into the mix gave the machine a level of unpredictability that was unanticipated. Graystone, himself, did not really realize it was his daughter inside for quite a while.
This was a major gripe for me about Caprica. The producers kept showing us, the viewers, Zoe Graystone as both a Cylon robot and as herself. I found it quite annoying, and the constant need to show us that it was Zoe inside the big metal thing seemed like a bit of an insult to my intelligence. I get it. She's a Cylon now.

By the end of the series (whose last five episodes aired the other night on SyFy with little fanfare - and can be found streaming on Hulu), Caprica was really about a battle between STO and the authorities - which essentially made the show almost exclusively about a religious war. When STO was planning a massive attack at a sporting event, it was the Cylons that were used to foil the attack (with some of the cheesiest effects  in the history of TV). This endeared the Cylons to humans, and prompted the non-military use of the robots.

During the last two minutes of the final episode, Apotheosis, we see a Caprican society fully utilizing the Cylons to do any number of menial tasks that used to be done by humans. I guess this is what drove the Cylons over the edge, but it was such a brief glimpse into that world, that it left a lot to be desired. STO leader Sister Clarice is shown, in the episode's final scene, teaching a few Cylons about the nature of monotheism and the "one true god." This would sew the seeds of their later rebellion, but again, this was so brief that it had little to no effect.

So, I guess if you took Caprica to its logical extension that the end of humanity was caused by an angry teenager (Zoe) who was pissed off at her parents. Her involvement with STO and virtual reality ultimately led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the future. Somehow, I thought it was about more than that.

Actor Eric Stoltz, who played Daniel Graystone, recently commented in an interview that he knew that Caprica was not what BSG fans wanted, "I don't think [the show] was what the majority of Battlestar fans wanted," he claimed. "It probably would've served us all better to have not even been connected to it."

He's right, of course. But without that connection many might not have ever watched it in the first place. I guess that was Caprica's catch 22. Oh long Caprica.

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