Emily S. Whitten: Caprica: Before the Fall

it-has-the-word-avatar-in-it-lets-throw-it-some-of-that-money-guysCaprica, the 2010 prequel show to the 2003 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, has been on my Netflix watch list for some time; but I blame Mindy Newell’s recent column for bumping it up to the top and getting me to actually start watching (I’m about five episodes in now). I love the modern Battlestar Galactica series, and thus would naturally have a desire to watch anything related to it; but BSG was such an entity unto itself that I was a little afraid of re-visiting it in this prequel format for fear it wouldn’t measure up. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. It’s a different kind of show, and self-contained enough while still referencing BSG to be enjoyably tied to BSG without having to match it measure-for-measure.

For those who aren’t familiar with the prequel series, Caprica takes place “58 years before the Fall” of the Colonies that kicks off BSG, and focuses heavily on two families, the Greystones and the Adamas (yes, those Adamas) It’s the story of how the first AI robots, i.e. the Cylons, were created; and it’s a much richer story than I would have imagined, stemming from love and loss and grief, and the inability to let go coupled with society’s reckless and headlong quest towards building increasingly advanced technology. Injecting humanity into the robots’ point of view is what the creators of BSG and Caprica do so well; and Caprica‘s story starts with a human girl and computer genius, Zoe Greystone, being killed in a bombing after downloading her personality into a virtual world avatar formed of all documented computer data about her life. This avatar eventually ends up installed in what becomes the first Cylon.

Zoe is a compelling character, played arrestingly by Alessandra Torresani, who does a great job of switching between her roles as human Zoe, avatar Zoe, and eventually, Cylon Zoe (I love the shooting method which shows Cylon Zoe in action as the robot, and then switches perspectives to show her as the girl in the same scene, i.e. how the personality inside the robot would see herself). It’s interesting to think that while in BSG, at least at first, the Cylons were completely unsympathetic characters, in Caprica, thus far a Cylon is the character I’m most invested in. So far, Torresani as Zoe really holds the show together, although the acting overall is excellent. The pacing does feel a bit slow; but then, this show was not intended to be like BSG in action and pace.

It’s hard to watch Caprica without comparing it to BSG, despite it being a show that can stand on its own. But looking at the two together, Caprica tackles the big issues faced in BSG (the use of technology, the varying religious beliefs, etc.) from a different angle, and shows how a change in perspective can influence viewer feelings on the issues. It’s also interesting to observe that as seen in Caprica, life on the colonies wasn’t nearly the peaches and cream existence that BSG Colonial refugees might have nostalgically been longing to return to.

It’s also fun to see Intriguing little bits and pieces of information about the future characters of BSG. In particular, seeing the Adama family fifty-eight years in the past gives me a whole new perspective on Bill Adama in BSG, and makes me wonder how much little Bill Adama knew about his dad’s crime connections and his contribution to creating the Cylons. (Maybe I’ll find out?) And seeing the purposeful echo of Little Italy and mafioso culture in Little Tauron and Adama’s brother Sam’s life is an interesting approach to turning specific Earth culture traits into those distinguishing the Twelve Colonies.

While BSG is a show where humanity has been forced by circumstance to a militaristic culture and general simplicity, Caprica is rich with the diverse culture and prosperity that leads to much of the conflict sewn into the plot of BSG, as people try to hold onto their roots or what they think they are entitled to based on the old world. The setting is completely different; it’s rooted in scenes that feel technologically advanced but culturally familiar, as opposed to the epic space battles and antiseptic feel of BSG. BSG is rooted in a fear of technology; whereas Caprica is about the driving desire to create and improve on it. And while Caprica so far paints the monotheists of the plot’s religious conflict as terrorists, in BSG the “messengers” espousing the monotheistic religion are often portrayed as actually having some sort of divine or at least unique understanding of events that may happen (although even that is ambiguous, which is par for the course with BSG). 

The complexity and imperfections of the characters are akin to those in BSG, but in Caprica, it seems more like they are searching for meaning in the world they inhabit than for a way to build a system that best serves their needs. And in contrast with BSG, wherein both Commander Adama and President Roslin provide a theme of hope against all odds despite the monumental loss that begins the show and the desperate struggle that defines it, Caprica carries a sense of foreboding with it, subtly woven into the fabric of the show – although the feeling might also stem in part from my foreknowledge of the BSG storyline, or the general sense of wrongness felt when faced with the idea of humanity extending a life indefinitely by turning a machine into a “human.” And yet despite all contrasts, Caprica shares with BSG an intriguing moral complexity, and an epic feeling that makes even the opening credits give me a little chill, albeit a different, weirdly sadder chill than that I associate with the opening of Battlestar Galactica. So far, I find it worthy of continued watching, and of further thought.

That’s it from me, so until next time, Servo Lectio!