EPISODE REVIEW: Caprica: “Pilot” (Episodes 1 and 2)

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Yep. I’m the one who’s going to be reviewing the Caprica series. I know, I know, I know, I’ve been pretty damn vocal about the creative crash-and-burn that the RDM Galactica became, the massive disappointment that was its entire final season, and how the finale was ultimately kind of a betrayal of the fans. Obviously, those of you who are aware of my stance on the show are going to be pretty nervous about me reviewing the new spinoff/prequel.

Let me calm your not-entirely-unfounded reservations before we begin:

1) Galactica has festered a bit in my mind since it went off the air. I was still giving it occasional guardedly positive reviews up through the end, and while it’s true that the conclusion utterly ruined the entire series in my mind, it’s also important to remember that I absolutely loved the show for a while there. From “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Pt 1” in Season 1 up through “Collaborators” in season 3, it was the best damn show on the air, and I still respect most of what they accomplished in that stretch, even if they ultimately fumbled the ball and lost the game. I’m not critical because I hate, I’m critical because I love, and I do think that makes a huge difference.

2) I don’t really intend to compare this show to Galactica all that much, anyway. I don’t believe that the sins of the father should be visited on the son, you know? This is a different show, with a different story, and different sensibilities, and while it’s somewhat hamstrung by what we know of Colonial backstory (Which is surprisingly little, really), it will hopefully go its own direction and do its own thing. As such, it should be judged on its own merits, and not be forced to live up to the disdain I have for the way the RDM Galactica ended. I’d also mention for True Believers out there that this cuts the other way: This show shouldn’t be forced to live up to the love you have for the RDM Galactica, either.

While the road to production of this series was rocky, and while its future is looking pretty damn bleak at present (It’s officially a “Troubled Production” now that will be lucky to live past its first season), there’s some elements here that give me hope that the show might actually end up being pretty good. I have my suspicions that it will *not* fall prey to the curse of the Star Wars Prequels (To wit: Spending seven and a half hours of screen time to tell us crap we already knew or suspected, and adding nothing new of consequence), and while the pilot didn’t really blow me away or anything, it wasn’t what I was expecting, either.

That alone gives me some hope for this show. And who knows, maybe the entire RDM Galacticaverse as well.

PLAY BY PLAY

Fifty-Eight years before the fall of the Colonies, we visit a massive, massive rave. Like all raves, it’s pretty big and wild and overpowering, and, ultimately, kind of boring. This one is a bit more over-the-top than most: Teens are running around shooting each other, there’s a stage where a heavy metal floorshow is performing human sacrifices, there’s a fight club, and of course there’s an orgy. The camera spends a lot of time lingering on the orgy. I admit I was a bit surprised by that. The RDM verse has a thing for lipstick lesbians, but I hadn’t anticipated any actual nudity.

Anyway, Zoe, her boyfriend Ben, and their friend Lacey are on the balcony watching the human sacrifice. Another Zoe - a virtual copy - is supposed to jump up on stage and do something to put a stop to this debauchery, but she glitches out, and that’s that. Turns out the whole Rave/Orgy/Bloodbath/Tyler Durden thing is virtual, it’s an online thing. We also discover that Zoe, her beau, and her friend all worship the One True God.

Zoe gets in trouble with her school for cutting class so she can sit in the bathroom with holographic glasses on and visit sex parties, and she’s yelled at by her impossibly wealthy parents. Her mom’s a surgeon, her dad’s a somewhat less aspergery version of Bill Gates. Mom slaps Zoe, and Zoe says “You’ll remember that for the rest of your life.”

The next day, Zoe, Lacey, and Ben cut class, and are planning to run away from home and go to Gemenon, where they’ll have ‘friends and a new family.’ Lacey looses her nerve at the last minute, and stays behind when the others get on a maglev train for the spaceport. Coincidentally, on the same train, is a woman named “Adams” and her daughter. They’re talking to her husband on the phone. Suddenly, Ben opens up his coat, says what he’s about to do is in the name of the One True God who will drive out the others, and he blows himself and the train up, killing everyone on it, including the Adamses and Zoe.

Two weeks later, the families are still grieving. A police investigation blames it on a religious terrorist organization called “The Soldiers of the One,” which has been inactive for about a decade. At school, the creepy Sister/Headmistress is consoling Lacey. She suggests that if Lacey could find something Zoe was working on when she died, it might give Lacey a sense of closure. The Greystones - Zoe’s folks - are clearly disintegrating. We discover that Joseph Adams is a mob lawyer, working for the Tauron mob. His brother is evidently a hatchet man for the mob. The Godfather asks Joseph to please deliver a message for him to a Government Minister, but Joseph begs time to think about it. He’s getting tired of working for the bad guys.

Lacey visits the Greystones and asks to sit in Zoe’s room, then uses her equipment to visit Virtual Zoe in the orgy/rave/thing. V-Zoe is all covered in blood, and explains that there was some kind of biofeedback between her and the real Zoe. Lacey tells her everything will be allright, and suddenly Zoe’s clean. Odd, but genuinely moving. Mr. Greystone interrupts Lacey, and asks her what she’s doing in Zoe’s room, but she gets flustered and runs out.

Meanwhile, Greystone and Adams have bumped in to each other, and realize they both lost someone in the same bombing. They bond in a manly way, sitting and smoking and dirking coffee, and not saying anything. Greystone invites Adams and his kid to see the Caprica City Buccaneers play Pyramid, and Adams agrees.

Intercut with all this, we see Greystone working on a proto-Cylon for the Caprican government, but it’s five years overdue and a half a billion cubits over budget. The Government is looking at outsourcing to another colony. One of them claims to have a Magical New Processor that should make it happen. Greystone’s company hasn’t been able to figure this out in a loooong time trying.

Greystone eventually visits the online rave and sees Virtual Zoe, but she runs away from him. He confronts Lacey about this, and she reluctantly gives him access to a room V-Zoe stays in. They argue, and while it’s obvious that V-Zoe isn’t the real item, she’s as close as can be. Greystone decides to bring her back to life. After the Pyramid game that night, Greystone brings Adams by his house to show him how the whole virtual world works, and introduces him to V-Zoe. They get into a big argument about the nature of life and death, but ultimately Adams admits he’d give anything to try and have his daughter back. Greystone says he needs the Magical Processor Chip, and he knows that Adams is connected to the mob.

A cop, meanwhile, is investigating the possibility that Zoe herself may have been the bomber on the train. She wasn’t but certainly the evidence looks bad.

Adams asks the Godfather to get the chip in exchange for delivering the message to the Minister. The Minister reacts badly and in racist fashion to Adams. That night we get an obvious montage of Greystone and his wife having sex, Adams’ brother killing the Minister, and Adams himself sitting at home staring at pictures of his dead wife and kid. Meanwhile, the creepy Sister/Headmistress confides to Lacey that she, too, is a believer in the One True God, and implies that Zoe and Ben were working for her, but that the bombing wasn’t authorized.

The chip is delivered, and Greystone demos the new Virtual Adams Daughter for his friend, an incomplete simulacrum based on medical records, school records, clothing receipts, family photos, blah blah blah. The girl is a wreck, in a limbo-land terrified, with no memory of how she got there, this freaks Adams out, and he washes his hands of the whole thing. Greystone pauses to have an argument with his daughter about whether there’s one God or a bunch of ‘em, then downloads her in to the chip and plugs it in to his Neanderthal cylon. It goes horribly wrong and fails while trying to say “Daddy,” and her data is lost completely and forever. She’s dead, again. At home that night, Adams tells his son that they’re going to stop living in the past, and make a new life for themselves. He tells his son that “Adams” isn’t their real name, it’s “Adama.”

Greystone demonstrates the Neanderthal Cylon Killbot for the Prime Minister, and it does really well with the new chip. He holds on to the contract with the government.

That night, in the lab, the Cylon Killbot wakes up, confused, calls Lacey on the phone and says - in Zoe’s voice - “It’s me. I think I’m going to need some help.”

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I’m going to divide this in to two parts: Observations on the story itself, and “Continuity” as this show plugs in to Galactica. Presumably we won’t need to do this very much, but I’d like to get as much of this stuff out of the way as early on as I can.

The short review is that I liked it. It had a lot of problems: It was overlong, the direction was slow and frequently plodding, and there was a leaden pall to the proceedings that can’t really be explained away by saying “It’s a movie about a dead kid.” It was gloomy as hell before the kid died, after all. If you can make a rave look morose, clearly you’re doing something wrong. The sex scenes were gratuitous. The direction was obvious and, while never cloying, it was rather ham-fisted in several places. There was a total dearth of action. I’ve never seen the chaos after a suicide bombing look so damn calm and dull.

Despite all these reservations, however, it held my interest, and if about ten minutes had been chopped out of it, it actually probably would have covered over a multitude of these sins. The lighting was, I think, overly subdued, mostly for mood, but they did too much of this, particularly in large, open, naturally-lit sets like the Greystone mansion, which just ended up looking like they’d mis-adjusted the white balance on the cameras.

Galactica had an increasingly-obvious spiritual debt to Blade Runner, and Caprica continues that in a visual in-joke in this pilot: The "Minister" is wearing the same large, very weird-looking trifocal glasses that Dr. Eldon Tyrel favored in that 1982 movie.

The fundamental story suffers from being open-ended, and this is probably an unavoidable failing in the plot, since it is a pilot after all. Had it ended with a gripping defeat for Greystone, and the second-death for his daughter, had it been a failed Frankenstein project (Which, of course, it is), I think it would have worked better, and then if it got picked up for a series, they could have simply started it up with the Zoe-bot coming to life and calling Lacey. Whatever. It’s not really my (unpaid) job to second-guess them, I just feel like the story ultimately lacks a third act, and so all the stuff they’ve painstakingly built up in the first two comes to nothing emotional in the end.

That said, the organized crime elements of the story are kind of neat, and something I wouldn’t have anticipated, nor thought of in a million years. There’s an interesting racial tension in this show that’s completely absent in Galactica - all the Taurons (Such as the Adams/Adama family) are played by Hispanics who (occasionally) speak a romance-sounding language (With subtitles), and lapse into and out of Hispanic accents. Culturally, the Taurons seem to be a mix of Hispanic - well duh! - and Sicilian, with maybe an element of Irish tragedy thrown in. They’re clearly unofficially second-class citizens in Caprica, though I’m sure they’re officially equal. They’re called “Dirt Eaters” and there’s been a lot of tension between Capricans and Taurons on Caprica in the past. Tauron Mafia have facial tattoos, and evidently extensive body tattoos as well, like the Japanese Yakuza.

Few hints are given to tell us the history, but there was a Tauron civil war within the last 20 or 30 years, which is what ultimately brought the Adama/Adamses to Caprica. The sense I got from all this was that Tauron was probably a vasal state to Caprica, much like Ireland was taken over by the UK, and that in the fairly recent past, the Taurons revolted. Successful or unsuccessfully remains to be seen, but this would explain a lot of the racism, but also the reason there’s so many of “Those people” running around the capital city. This is a fairly typical legacy of colonialism in the real world. Curiously, we’re told that there are no flowering plants on Tauron. They don’t grow there.

The look and feel of the show is fairly 1950s - men wear mid-century suits, most wear hats outdoors. It doesn’t quite work, since the houses and cars all look more-or-less contemporary, but it’s a nice try, anyway. It’ll be interesting to see if they develop that in the series proper.

The Creepy Sister/Headmistress is obviously working for the “Soldiers of the One,” and she’s clearly got a local cell of that organization running. Evidently she’s the one behind Zoe’s conversion to Monotheism (Colonials are traditionally Polytheistic), and clearly she’s the one who was behind trying to spirit Zoe away to Gemenon. Exactly why Ben decided to kill them all, rather than go with the mission as planned is unknown, but that’s actually one of the more interesting unanswered questions of the pilot, and I’m hoping they don’t forget about it when the series rolls around.

This is all interesting in that Colonial Paganism (We’re told here) is all about Moral Relativism, and has no real precepts of right and wrong, whereas Monotheism is about an absolutist view of these matters. This is similar to, but not the same as, how it was portrayed in Galactica itself. In any event, the view of Monotheism portrayed here is somewhat similar to the Jihadist view of things, and pretty far away from the “God is Love” and “God is a Father” and “God is a Shepherd” concept that’s generally put forward by Christians, Jews, Baha’I, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and even most Muslims. Once again in the RDM Galacticaverse, we find that Monotheism = psychotic murderers. Obviously, a lot of our readers are going to have a problem with that.

I must admit I did really find the discussion about whether or not they’re bringing anyone back from the dead fascinating. Clearly they aren’t, they’re dealing with autonomous, self-programming simulacrums. The reason Zoe II works so well is that there was some kind of ongoing feedback between the two, and a lot of information exchange between them. This is directly contrasted with the Adams girl, who’s a complete and utter mess, since she lacked this kind of information exchange. There’s some implication that Zoe II’s biofeedback thing might have functioned as a kind of “Soul Catcher,” but this is nebulous enough that I don’t feel like the writers have worked that out for themselves. The bottom line is, however, that Zoe II is mostly unique, and will be for some time. I like how this played in to both men’s relationship with their faiths: Greystone clearly doesn’t care one way or another about the gods, and Adams is a self-stated atheist who can’t quite rid himself of the feeling that he’s treading on things Man was not meant to know. Interestingly, though he’s horrified by the ’ghost’ of his daughter, he doesn’t tell Greystone to shut her down.

And yet...you know, no matter how interesting the philosophical debates here are, none of them ever quite fully connect, none of them ever quite drive their point home, they all kind of fuzz-out and grind to a halt logically without reaching the end of the track, that is when they don't jump track. There's nothing egregiously wrong in them, mind you, but they come close to neat ideas and manage to seem unaware of it. It's got the feel of the kind of philosophical dialogs one has when passing the bong around the dorm at 3am, it seems reasonable enough at the time, but the next mornign when the guy who said "Wait, dude, I gotta' write this down!" checks his notes, he finds it wasn't quite as brilliant as he rememberd it being, and there's a whole bunch of stuff in there about pubic hair that he can't make any sense of at all. One gets the feeling that the writers of this show are just playing at philosophy in a pretentious undergrad sense, it's not something they're really invested in beyond the 'hey, look at me! I'm philosophisin'!" level.

The creepy Sister/Headmistress uses the Infinity sign in much the same way that First Century Christians used the sign of the fish to identify themselves.

The nudity was all pretty leering and useless, and also fairly inconsequential to the plot. It was deliberately filmed so it could be edited out easily, which bets the question ‘why bother to include it in the first place, if most of your audience will never see it.’ Yes, I know the purpose was to show how depraved these people are, but you can do the same thing by having topless chicks facing away from the camera - that’s a fairly standard dodge on TV for these sorts of things. In the end, it felt like just an excuse to have a lot of strippers and Canadian Hookers running around the set in the buff. Nice work if you can get it, but hardly appropriate for most audiences. Again, many of our readers will have a problem with that, though of course if you stay away from the DVD you should be fine. They’ll cut it out of the TV show.

Acting is mostly quite good, but rather overly sedate. The cast mostly seem quite competent, but I’m hoping it’ll liven up a bit when they go to series. The only person I really didn’t care for is Zoe, and while she doesn’t do anything terribly wrong, there’s just something about the combination of her delivery and her voice that grates on me a bit. Eric Stoltz is, as usual, very solid and just this side of great.

The Virtual Technology that people are using was invented by Greystone himself, and has only been available for about five years. The first group to license it was the porn industry. Of course. The Virtual Rave/Orgy/Bloodbaths are illegal, but evidently about as illegal as Pot is in our world: It’s against the law, but the cops aren’t going to go looking for it, and they might or might not bust you for it unless you’re annoying. There’s actually several funny/subtle visual comparisons between “Holobanding” and smoking pot in the series. Clever.

Caprica is run by a Prime Minister. Does that mean the planet is a monarchy, or perhaps a parliamentary Republic like France and Italy?

This may or may not be relevant, but “Caprica” originally started out as a series that was pitched to NBC about five years ago called (If I’m not mistaken) “Greystone.” The writers were unaware of Galactica when they wrote it. NBC passed on the script (Probably for many of the reasons I’ve stated above), but eventually suggested they try to shoehorn it in to Galactica, which was approaching the peak of its buzz and fame at the time. The story was retreaded and shoehorned in to the RDM Galacticaverse, presumably all the Monotheism/Polytheism stuff was added, and there was some attempt to have this show run concurrently with the third season of Galactica, but then, for whatever reason, Galactica started its downward spiral and the “Greystone/Caprica” project was put in turnaround. It sat in development hell for a couple years, but then the Sci-Fi Channel (Now Syfy) was desperate for a lower-cost replacement for Galactica, and they revived it.

In the end, I think it’s got some promise, if it can shake the ponderousness. It’s already gone one or two places I hadn’t seen coming and one place I haven’t seen before, so it’s above average for Syfy shows. I do actually want to see where this one will go. I expected to flat-out hate it, but I was slightly intrigued.

CONTINUITY

This show takes place fifty-eight years before the destruction of the Colonies. That means that Commander Adama was sixty-Eight when the show started, which seems a bit much to me. (Olmos was only 55 when he shot the Galactica miniseries). The First Cylon War ended Forty Years prior to the Miniseries, which means it ended Eighteen Years after the Caprica Pilot. Now, the First Cylon War lasted twelve and a half years, which means that it must have started six or seven years after this premier episode of Caprica.

Well, there’s your conclusion of the series for you: The First Cylon War starts.

Curiously, this means that young Bill “Husker” Adama is 16 or 17 when the war starts, but they make it pretty clear in Razor that he doesn’t actually go in to combat until the final mission of the war, which would mean he’s like 29. What’s the holdup here?

The Colonies didn’t unite until the First Cylon War, when they bonded together for mutual defence, and sure enough in this episode, Caprica is an independent government, and Caprica City hasn’t become the seat of the United Colonies government yet.

Something that nags at me: Before the “Greystone” show was dreamed up, we were told by the producers that Cylons had been used for generations, possibly centuries, as grunt labor and shock troops for wars between the colonies, until they finally revolted. Now, they never SAID any of this on the show, but it was an underlying assumption of the writers during the first half of the Galactica series. Saying that Cylons are brand new is a massive retcon. It doesn’t actually change anything they said onscreen in that series, nor contradict it, but it does seem unlikely that they could go from Prototype Zoe Killbot to Scourge of Humanity in just six or seven years. This is a quibble, of course, but it changes the tone of what we’ve assumed. It’s not a deal breaker, but it could be a concern. Something to keep our eyes on.

It’s odd that in 4 years of BSG, Bill never mentioned his involvement with the creation of the Cylons, isn’t it?

All these concerns pale, however, beside the most obvious continuity error of this show: None of the technologies we see in this pilot are in existence in the time of Galactica. Now, we can argue that the Galactica was old-fashioned tech, swell, but since the Galactica was built AFTER the start of the First Cylon War, obviously it’s tech should still be newer than this stuff we’re seeing here.

It isn’t. We’re seeing touch-sensitive computerized paper, full-sensory Cyberspace, computer/human integration, and various other technologies that are obviously completely nonexistent fifty-eight years later. Why? Well, obviously, because RDM didn’t think ‘em up while making that show. (Nor did he think ‘em up here, remember, this started out as someone else’s baby), but we need a subjective reason. Was this technology banned? Why? Most of this stuff would have been amazingly useful in a war with the Cylons, and it’s unlikely to me that a society would agree to back away from something like this. And yet fifty years later, we’ve got Felix Gaeta asking to watch porn on DVD, when you could have the full-sensory virtual thing? Seems unlikely, don’t it?

The whole “Society is Decadent and deserves to be destroyed” riff from Galactica is played on here again. I assume the Cylon’s obsession with Jihad and Monotheism is an echo of Zoe’s original programming, but it’s weird, don’t you think? To hit that note so hard so early on? I mean, there’s tens of thousands of teens in the rave. Do all Caprican kids like killing and dying and orgies that much? Granted, it’s illegal, but as I said, there doesn’t appear to be much attempt to stop it.

Musically, there’s a nice nod to Galactica: We get wholly new music for most of the episode, but when Joe tells young Bill what their real name is, the music segues in to the fleet theme from Galactica (Which you can listen to here

if you don’t remember it, or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEJCaTLfRGQ if that link doesn’t work). Curiously, Bear McReary intended this to be the Adama Family Theme for Galactica, but it ended up morphing in to the leitmotif for the Galactica herself and/or the fleet. Here, Bear appears to be re-appropriating it for it’s originally-intended purpose. Nice.

(Just for the hell of it, here’s another version of that theme that turned up immediately prior to the assault on New Caprica:

or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KolccUy3fQw I really like it, though the sound quality is low here)

Also, when the Protocylon becomes active in the end of the episode, we get the full-on Japanese drumming that he’s known for.

A personal bias: I kind of didn’t like it when they did flashbacks to Caprica in Galactica. They went to great lengths to establish a design aesthetic for colonial architecture, but they couldn’t afford sets that incorporated it on the planet, and hence mostly had to limit themselves to pre-existing structures gussied up with some CGI. This is true in this episode as well - there’s plenty of right angles on buildings, doors, walls, picture frames, you name it, which is something the previous show avoided whenever in their budget to do so. We do see Lil’ Bill reading a cut-corner book towards the end, but that’s the only nod to the aesthetic from that show.

My biggest reservation about this pilot is coincidentally my biggest hope for the show: Since this started out as a show unrelated to BSG, I have some faith that it'll go in directions that are more unpredictable and less shopworn than if it had been conceived of by RDM et al. On the other hand, it's hard to watch this and not feel that the obvious "Galactican" aspects of the story - the Cylon subplot, the Polytheism/Monotheism debate, the whole Adama lawyer thing - feel rather grafted on, and kind of out of place. They're distracting. Hopefully they'll be integrated better in to the actual series.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Why did Ben kill everyone rather than just taking Zoe to Geminon like he was supposed to?

What were the Soldiers of the One planning for Zoe? Why did they want her on Geminon? What’s going on in the Terrorist Training camps there?

What was Zoe II built for? What was she trying to do at the show, and what was the larger plan Zoe had in store for her? Will this programming just kick in at some point, like if she happens to go to Geminon?

Will we see other Colonies in this show? Finally? Please?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS SHOW?

Nope. Nope. Absolutely not.

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