Thursday, 7 May 2009

Caprica Pilot Episode Review

I watched the pilot episode for Caprica on the plane to and from Switzerland last weekend and wanted to jot down a review to share what I thought of the 2 hour show. I've been a big fan of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica show - just look at my tag cloud if you don't believe me... And I have to say, while I was expecting the raw 'guns and space battles' from BSG - this spin off really isn't half bad...

Caprica is set 58 Years Before The Fall of the 12 Colonies, is the prequel to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series. This is the story of how humanity came to create Artificial Intelligence and set itself on a path to near annihilation. Caprica has long been billed as a change of pace from its gritty, militant predecessor, and as I mentioned above, the series certainly has an entirely different look and feel - immediately obvious in the opening minutes where there are a couple of topless 20 something girls dancing about (I'm not sure if the old lady sitting next to me on the plane noticed this or not!). Overall though, Caprica isn’t a million miles away from BSG where it matters most: the way in which character interrelationships are portrayed. Make no mistake, this is a grand (space) opera.
And that’s exactly what the opening episode drives home.

First things first, though. With all the fuzzy continuity of BSG, it’s better if you just try not to think about how this all fits in with BSG. For better or worse, in order for Caprica to work as a series, it needs to be taken on face value, as its own entity, with only minor and minimal connections to the events of The Fall and subsequent Exodus of humanity. What is worth noting, however, is how Caprica attempts to explain how and why the Cylons became so rooted in their belief of a One God, as opposed to the Colonial Polytheism. This comes by way of the Pilot Episode’s most pivotal character: a teenage girl, named Zoe.

Zoe is your typical rebellious , except for one very important thing: she’s a fantastically gifted computer programmer – a prodigy who has managed to artificially replicate the human identity (but considering she is 17 at a push, makes me think the only other person who could show the same level of wow, would be Dougie Houser M.D.). What’s most intriguing is the question: If you replicate a personality, do you also replicate the spirit, the soul of the individual? This, along with theological tensions in the episode lead to the best, most sophisticated elements of the series. At its heart, Caprica wants to be an exploration of the human equation and based on the pilot the series is off to an excellent start.

Two families, the Greystones and the Adams are thrown together following an attack and brings to life the question, just because we can do something, does this mean we should do something?

What was really interesting for me were a few distinct elements [SPOILER WARNING]:

1. The colonies don't exist in the way we thought of them in BSG. A few of them are mentioned by name but they are not united under a single banner and there is a great deal of discrimination between the rich and poorer colonies.

2. Yes - we do get to meet a young William Adama. But no, he doesn't have a model of Galactica hanging from his bedroom ceiling - presumably because it hasn't been built yet.

3. Cylons... We'll I'll leave it to you to watch the pilot as I don't want to spoil anything
As for the sci-fi elements of the series, there’s not a whole lot of new ground here. The holographic programming which pervades many of the episode’s scenes is like a strange mixture of The Matrix and Star Trek’s Holodeck. The idea (and dangers) of creating “life” is certainly not a new topic of exploration. Nor is the discussion of whether or not Zoe’s avatar is a real life – again, Trek has a long history of exploring what it means for unusual entities to have life.

In the end, Caprica hooked me enough to deserve a closer look once the series finally ramps up and gets going. However if you’re looking for something to fill the void left by BSG, you’ll likely be disappointed. In fact, I’m not precisely sure exactly what audience this particular series is aiming for. Also, considering Ronald D. Moore’s haphazard way of crafting the BSG story, viewers here need to be especially wary of any long-term continuity – which is a distinct liability at the beginning of a series.

On the whole, I'd give this a well earned 8/10...