Caprica, SyFy, Airs Fridays 9pm EST/8pm CST
Episode: Series Premiere
Synopsis: The first episode of SyFy’s Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel, begins in medias res, which is Latin for, “in the middle of a debaucherous virtual nightclub where teens get their jollies by watching the ritualistic sacrifice of their peers.” Beginning the series so audaciously and with no back story, save for a single title card that simply reads, “Caprica, 58 years before the fall,” is of course a way of immediately engaging viewers by thrusting us into a world that is so completely different from the militarism of BSG. But this also forces us to judge the series on its own merits.
It is in this “V-Club” that we meet Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Toressani), 16-year-old wunderkind and daughter of mega-rich, super scientist Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz). Zoe, her extremist boyfriend, and best friend, Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) are super sanctimonious monotheists with plans to leave Caprica and in some yet-to-be-revealed way, use a Zoe-clone to promote their One True God agenda.
Review: For my own nerdy reasons, I’d already seen this pilot four times before last night’s premiere. (Although, this slightly enhanced version extended a scene in which Daniel, Joseph, and William attend a Pyramid game. If you don’t know what Pyramid is, think Quidditch. If you don’t know what Quidditch is then you are clearly cooler than I am.) With each viewing, I’m impressed by how gracefully the series’ groundwork is laid down—we’re introduced to a fairly large roster of characters and all of these complex themes (religion, class discrimination, the ethics of technology), yet the gripping, operatic storytelling that often made BSG so much fun, isn’t neglected for a second. Actually, Caprica is almost entirely devoted to that kind of character-based, personal drama and all of the warfare and peril that were integral to BSG, have been totally discarded. This may turn-off some viewers but the solid writing and well-wrought tension are bound to attract those who don’t usually find sci-fi very palatable.
One of the more compelling subplots introduced in the pilot revolves around Lacy and her relationship with Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker), headmistress of the Athenian Academy and all around shady lady. Struggling with her best friend’s death, Lacy consults Sister Clarice, who surreptitiously persuades the impressionable, grieving youngster to snoop through Zoe’s work on the avatar. It is later revealed that Sister Clarice is a monotheist, despite being the head of a school that promotes polytheistic values. Though her role is relatively small in the pilot, there is definitely something sinister about her and it will be exciting to see how her storyline plays out.
Like those menacing monotheists, the Taurons are also a maligned subset of Caprican society. Several peripheral characters are very vocal about their deep-seated prejudice against them—this is evidently why Joseph changed his name from “Adama” to “Adams” when he first came to Caprica. The Ha’la’tha crime organization—that funded Joseph’s law school education and to which his brother Sam (Sasha Roiz) belongs—definitely aren’t helping the Tauron image. Toward the end of the pilot, Sam, shirtless and covered in tattoos that conjure up fond memories of naked Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, performs a coup de grace on the sleeping Caprican Minister of Defense. While this series is definitely more subdued than BSG, the action that we are offered will undoubtedly have a lot to do with the Ha’la’tha settling scores.
In the end, enjoying this show is probably dependant upon seeing it as its own entity, separate from other sci-fi shows, separate from BSG. Though Caprica and its predecessor exist within the same continuum, this series probably has more in common with the emotional complexity and social-critique of shows like Mad Men or The Wire than it does with the combat and elaborate, sometimes distracting, technology of your prototypical sci-fi fare.
What do you think?