Caprica: Doom, Despair, and Robots

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I was thinking I'd rather be used as a living incubator for a human-Cylon hybrid than watch last Friday's premiere of Caprica—the prequel of sorts to Battlestar Galactica. After the exhausting rollercoaster of Battlestar, which swooped from the heartbreak of the pilot movie to the sheer crappiness of mid-Season 2 to the brilliant-yet-frustrating finale, I just wasn’t sure I could go there again—especially knowing that no matter what happens in Caprica, it’s going to result in the near-destruction of the human race that begins Battlestar Galactica. Talk about a spoiler alert.

But like being caught in the tractor beam of a Cylon Tartarus Class Destroyer, there I was, pulled along for another love-hate ride. My reward? The pilot was complex, involving, and exciting. If you're thinking about jumping on board, here's what you're in for...

Frankenstein and Family
Instead of another BSG-style “Exodus” in space, Caprica is a planet-bound Frankenstein tale. Caprica’s herr doctor is Daniel Graystone, played by the sympathetic, yet chilly, Eric Stoltz. Its monster is the re-creation of Graystone’s 16-year-old daughter, Zoe, killed in a terrorist attack. Conveniently, Zoe had already built her own digital twin before she died. Graystone’s goal: To transplant the digital Zoe from her shadowy virtual world into a Cylon (Cybernetic Life Form Nodes) body.

Like Mary Shelley’s original Dr. Frankenstein, Graystone is clearly setting himself up for destruction through his own arrogance. Told that it’s wrong for humans to appropriate the power of life and death from the gods, Graystone replied, “I don’t accept that.” Generations of TV and movie history promise us that no good will come of that attitude—although it sure can make for good TV.

The Big Questions
Like BSG, Caprica is all about good and evil, and how to know the difference. On planet Caprica, the monotheistic underground is challenging the polytheistic majority with a disturbing new claim on a single truth. An anti-terrorist agent critiqued monotheism as an ”absolutist view of the universe” in which right and wrong are “determined solely by a single, all-knowing, all-powerful being whose judgment cannot be questioned, and in whose name the most horrendous of acts can be sanctioned without appeal.” This is not Real Housewives, kids.

Racism is another major moral issue on Caprica the planet. Interestingly, skin color seemed irrelevant to the Caprican racists—it was all about planet of origin, like when a high-ranking Caprican called the Taurans “frakking dirt eaters.” Sort of a Malibu vs. the Valley mindset.

People Who Need... Cylons?
Daniel Graystone’s counterpart, Joseph Adama (the very talented and handsome Esai Morales), is a Tauran immigrant who changed his name to the more Caprican-sounding Adams. He’s a mob-connected lawyer whose wife and daughter were killed in the same attack that took Zoe Graystone. He’s also the father of young Willie, who will grow up to be Captain Bill Adama of the Galactica. Adama’s finest moment came when he rejected Graystone’s offer to recreate his daughter in Cylon form and instead promised his son that the two of them would rebuild their lives and honor their Tauran roots. The continuing tension between Adama and Graystone could be tasty.

As Adama’s doomed daughter Tamara, Genevieve Buechner shone in just a few scenes. Even better were Alessandra Torresani as Zoe (both the live and digital versions) and Magda Apanowicz as Zoe’s best friend Lacy, conveying the excitement and idealism of young people discovering a new way to look at the world. It’s easy, and chilling, to imagine their youthful commitment to monotheism being transformed into the Cylons’ genocidal fanaticism a generation later.

Mysteries of the Cylons You can’t talk about Caprica without talking about the robots. At the beginning of the pilot, Graystone couldn’t even make his Cylons beat smaller, cuter robots in a paintball fight. Toward the end, he watched in grim satisfaction as they blasted the cute blue mini-Daleks into itty bitty pieces. So the pilot’s final scene—in which a huge silver Cylon got up from a table in Graystone’s lab and phoned Lacy in Zoe’s voice—was thoroughly scary. What on Caprica is Cylon Zoe going to do with that single, glowing red eye?

Like all good pilot episodes, Caprica's asked as many questions as it answered. We learned in the final episodes of BSG that the “skin jobs”— Cylons that looked like humans—came from our Earth. But how did they meet the Caprican Cylons? Why did they all convert to monotheism? And who started the first Cylon rebellion?

Damn it, I'm in.

What did you think of the premiere?