Caprica: the Debate

E: I caught up to the new episodes of Caprica just in time for the season to end.  Now, it doesn’t have the urgent momentum of Battlestar Galactica, or the same amount of action, but the acting is pretty good, it looks gorgeous, and it presents some interesting plotlines and moral dilemmas. I have to say, I’m enjoying it.  I get the feeling you aren’t.  What’s up with that?

M: It’s going to take some time to explain, because there are things that I do like.  In fact, I think I like each individual episode FAR more than I like the show as a whole.

E: Huh.  That’s funny.  I think I like the concepts being raised and the ideas behind the show more than the individual episodes, which I think can often fall short, and don’t always have a strong narrative structure.  It feels like disconnected bits of an interesting overarching story to me.

M: What exactly is that overarching story?  I can’t figure that out, but that occasional episodes where they go down a plot I like, like the first foray following Tamara into New Cap City (even though I kept waiting for Mario Van Peebles to show up), are good.

E: That’s my favorite part!  New Cap City and Tamara were absolutely the highlight of the season.  I thought the air went out of that plotline when Josef started wandering about aimlessly looking for Tamara, but “There is Another Sky” was easily my favorite episode.

M: Ahh, and instead of ending it on a satisfying note, they decided to knock Josef out of the world and have his assistant be jonesing after him.  Ick.  Anyway, there there are a few major factors for me that hurt it overall.  The first is that while I love prequels as a concept, the execution of them is almost always butchered.  As a concept, you get to learn the back story of the characters or the world that you have become a fan of in some other work.  yes, you know how they end up, but the way that they get there and the things that made them who they were are a fertile ground for creativity.  It’s why we like “flashback” episodes of TV shows, like the “Spring Premiere” of Fringe.  The problem in execution, especially in Sci-Fi shows (not just SyFy shows) is that the prequels are made in a time when special effects technology is far more capable, and the people making the prequel inevitably fall into the trap of making the technology of their world vastly superior to what it is in the “future” stories.  In the Star Wars prequel trilogy the technology is vastly superior to the technology in the original trilogy, and that’s a problem for believability.

E: Kind of like the fact that they have space ships in Starship Troopers, but not tanks?  Now, you know I vastly prefer the look of the original Star Wars trilogy to the newer series, but wasn’t it partly purposeful?  We see the Old Republic in its glory, and know that the Empire sucked the life out of all that?

M: True, but I have a problem with it there, too.  While a repressed society would have less technology available to them, the Empire itself would have more.  In Caprica, there are major technologies that are light years ahead of the technology on BSG, which is set some 60 years later.  Technologies that have apparently disappeared not only from use, but from memory.  You have holobands, which are a blatant rip off of the holodeck on Star Trek: TNG yet are completely gone from memory by the time BSG rolls around, you have the weeble-like rolling robots that are far more technologically advanced, and artificially intelligent, than the “original” cylon centurions that Greystone is trying to create, and that Zoe is trapped in, and you have the “bring the dead to life” avatars.  These all come across as things that the people of the BSG timeline would be amazed by.  I just can’t buy that.

E: I don’t understand this objection at all.  It makes sense as a general issue with prequels and effects, but not in this case.  Of course the technology was more advanced and more linked together!  That’s the whole reason that Galactica survived the holocaust of the original series – because it was part of the sort of anti-technology technology that was needed in the Cylon wars!   Why is it any wonder, after the holoband has been used to ultimately betray humanity, that there’s no replacement for it?  Fifty years from Caprica‘s present, people were only beginning to feel free to use  sophisticated machinery.  They were just taking the plunge from analog back into digital.  They wouldn’t have robots to open their doors – that’d be obscene, after what they had suffered.  I’m sure we’re going to get into all that, as the series goes on and we see the way technology compromises them.

M: First, I think you’re giving the writers a lot more credit than they deserve.

E: Maybe.  I guess I’m more invested in thinking they have a plan than thinking they don’t.

M: They don’t even have “many copies” yet, never mind a plan.  😉

E: Har har.

M: Second, even if there is a question over the benefits of technology, at no point in history has technology ever actually regressed.  It ALWAYS advances.

E: Someone clearly didn’t take a history class which included the Dark Ages.

M: Really, you’re doubting the history buff on this one?  Technology didn’t regress in the Dark Ages.  It didn’t advance at the rate that we normally see, but as a race we didn’t lose technologies.

E: Yes, I am definitely doubting the history buff.  Did Gothic roads surpass Roman ones?  Where are the Visigoth aquaducts?  Why don’t we study Vandal literature? The Renaissance isn’t called a rebirth for nothing, boy-o.

M: The Goths and Visigoths were not the same people or culture as Rome, they never knew how to make that technology, so its apples and oranges.  Plus, technology was still advancing in non-European areas like China, so if they had been at a point where all societies were communicating, like the 12 Colonies in Caprica/BSG, it would have continued to advance society-wide.

E: Yes, but if all 12 Colonies central to this story are affected by the Cylon wars (as we know them to be), then technology’s advance elsewhere in the galaxy isn’t remotely relevant.  Also, the Romans controlled areas which had technologies that they lost when the Romans were overrun by the barbarians.  That’s what I’m saying – that war can cause blips in the progress of technology, that it isn’t a smooth or straight line.

M: As an example, many believe that TV dulls the mind, makes us lazy and rots the soul…  that hasn’t stopped TV from becoming more and more prevalent in society.  Books have been banned and burned, but the technology that makes them easier to publish and more accessible continually advances.  The holoband technology would never go completely away, at most it would be adapted and changed to adhere to where society was going.

E: Even if it allowed psychotic robots to kill you?

M: Wait, so without any evidence you’re blaming holobands for the first Cylon War?  You’re on solid ground there, E.

E: I think it’s pretty clear that’s where the writers are headed – if for no other reason than the fact that they don’t have them, or anything like, 50 years later.

M: I think they don’t have anything like them 50 years later because when they were creating Caprica, the writers though “Hey, this would be a cool idea!” and ran with it. To the point of Galactica being old tech, it in part survived because it was an older, but the rest of the rag-tag fleet, and the citizens of it, would have retained the technology of the time.  At least one person would still have had a holoband.  And while Galactica was older, the rest of the fleet, especially ships like the Cloud 9, would have still had every amenity of the society at the time, and would have some form of technology that was 60 years more advanced than anything we see in Caprica, even with a technological backlash.  They didn’t.

E: I just do not agree.  They had to go in a different direction technologically, and it while it may have advanced, it may not have been on the same level they’d previously achieved.

M: Well, since neither of us are making headway, lets move on to my next gripe.  They are totally rewriting the history of the Adama family.  In BSG, according to both Lee and Bill, Joe Adama was supposed to be a virtuous civil rights lawyer.  In Caprica he’s a sleazy mob lawyer.

E: Yeah, I’m with you there.  I’m fascinated by the sociology of it, the fusion of Russian and Italian and Jewish mob stereotypes, the insults, the tattoos, the self justifications and the personal anguish, but it doesn’t fit Bill Adama.

M: Not at all.  Instead, young ‘Willie’ is basically the kid from A Bronx Tale, a fan of the mob and a would be trouble maker, not the principled, morally resolute rule follower that was at the core of his BSG character.  None of it rings true, and even if they have the characters come to those places later, they have sullied them in doing what they have done.

E: No two ways about it.  I’m all for nuance, and I like what they’ve done to a certain degree, but it doesn’t make sense with canon.

M: Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that I’m just not that interested in the story, or most of the characters.  Two of the main planks of their overarching plot at the religious tensions between the polytheists and monotheists, and the “racial” tensions, primarily between Capricans and Taurons, but also natives of any other the other 10 planets.  While I enjoy some of the parts where they delve into the Tauron background, most of the tension just feels really forced.

E: Now, hmm, I’m completely fascinated by the whole Tauron culture clash thing (have they ever explained why people call them dirt eaters?) and particularly by the idea of monotheism as a dangerous extremism, and I love the way it fleshes out the Cylon religion from BSG.

M: See, I don’t think that what they’re doing with it, turning them into fruity, hookah smoking polygamists who blow up things and search for everlasting life in a digital form, is fleshing out the Cylon religion.  It feels like another thing that they grabbed the concept of from BSG, and are now completely making up as they go, with no regard for how it fits in with the “future”.  But again, some of the individual episode plots with it are interesting, but the overall just feels lacking.

As for characters, the Greystones are barely interesting, and with the recent introduction of Daniel Greystone’s business nemesis, Tomas Vergis, I think I like him much more than I like Greystone, especially with all the “I’m going to find out if you’re Zoe by torturing the robot” crap.

E: Yes and yes.  Greystone gave you a lot of sympathy for the Cylons; it certainly made me want to wipe him off the map.

M: The Adama family is spotty.  Josef’s mother-in-law is an ornery, racist witch, and I think she’s the most compelling character in the family, edging out the mafia hit man brother who keeps filling his nephew with horrible advice.

E: I don’t think we’re supposed to like the mother-in-law.  I like the brother, in general, even if he is mostly cliched.  I guess the actor, Sasha Roiz, is just compelling enough to overcome that.

M: No, we’re not supposed to like the mother-in-law, and we genuinely don’t, which is why I think she’s one of their few successes.  As for the brother, he is such an amalgam of cliches that at times it feels like he’s a schizophrenic, but you’re right, he is likable.

The teacher/zealot/cult bigwig Sister Clarisse is creepy, and not in a good way.  None of the ‘teen’ cast is bad, but none stand out, either.

E: Now, I do like Clarisse.  She’s a prim nun!  No, wait, she’s a bisexual polyandrous hippy!  And she’s also a drug addicted terrorist with an absolutist vision for humanity!  These things shouldn’t fit, but (in my opinion) Polly Walker makes it work.  The teens are a disappointing bunch, though.  They really ought to be better.  Well, let me take that back, at least a little.  I think Zoe is quite good.  I love the way they transition between her body and the Centurion’s, and I’m fascinated by all the levels of her relationship with Philomon.  I don’t exactly love her, and I don’t always sympathize with her, but I find her mostly compelling, well acted, and definitely a more relatable person than, say, her father, who is certifiably creepy and brutal.

M: Ok, I find her to be the best of that bunch, and I’m a couple episodes behind so I’m just starting to get into her relationship with Philo, which does look like it has potential, even though it’s clear she’s at least 95% using him.  Speaking of Philo, the secondary characters are pretty inconsistent.  At times I like the police chief and two detective, but at other times they are just stiffs and stereotypes.

E: No argument with that last bit – but you really need to finish the season before we can talk about all the character arcs.

M: Additionally, they have so many characters that none of them are getting consistent screen time, and some go far too long stretches without us finding out what they have been doing, yet they seem intent on adding more and more, like Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson), talk show host Sarno (Patton Oswalt) and the aforementioned Philo (Alex Arsenault), all of whom I have enjoyed in their small stints.

I think C put it best when we were talking about it before…  they took all the parts of BSG that I didn’t like, and left out all the parts I did.

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7 comments on “Caprica: the Debate

  1. Krizzzz says:

    I still don’t think they left enough time between this universe and the BSG timeline. Some of the stuff you’re saying (cultural clashes, techno-loss/gain) might have been helped by a distance of, say two hundred years rather than one generation.

    Geek alert:

    Part of why I enjoy the Tauron/Caprican clashes are…the ancient/modern Greek echos. Zoe! The girl in the machine is named “Life”! Josef’s brother calls him, if I heard him correctly, “Sofistas” — which is either “Sophist” or “Wise Guy” or or “Lawyer” or something, depending on how it changes between ancient and modern Greek (wish I knew). Even without knowing exactly what the modern Greek is, or what exactly the writers are going for, it’s just full of resonance.

    • E says:

      See, I knew the writers weren’t the witless idiots that my brother suggests. 😉 I love that about Josef, because in some ways, all three apply. Excellent.

      I don’t think he’s making enough allowances for what we don’t know of the Colonial lifestyle at the point of the disaster that starts the BSG series. We don’t get to see a lot of their recreation methodology, if any.

      • M says:

        But we did get a lot of the clash between the different “colonies”. Most of it was in the depiction of, I believe, the Sagetarons, or whoever the faith healer people that Dee was from were.

        I do like that they are delving into the differences between the cultures of the different planets, I just don’t think they are doing it well, and certainly not as well as BSG did.

        Lastly, while I may disparage the writers intelligence, they do obviously have some. I just think that they are not linking what they are doing back to the reality the show that they are spun off of. I agree with Kriz that a larger gap in years would have made for a more believable setting, but mroe so I think they needed to go more to the stylish feel that they have at times, with the old cars, the suits and hats and stuff, and less with the technology. If they made it feel more film noire, I think that would work better with what they are trying to do with the plot. If they made it feel more like Gattaca, maybe….

      • Krizzzz says:

        I should clarify (in case it wasn’t clear) that I don’t read/speak modern Greek, so I don’t actually know what “sofistas” technically means, or if it’s even a word — it might just be meant to SUGGEST a word. But I’d be really surprised if it’s NOT a word, given how close it is to the ancient. (“Sophistes” == sophist; closely related to “sophos == wise, prudent, etc. The “-tes” on sophistes just means “guy who deals in whatever the root of this word is,” so a “polites” is a guy who deals with the polis: a citizen, and “sophistes” is, at its barest level, a guy who deals with smarts. Hard to separate it from “sophist” in the ancient world and the modern, though.)

        • E says:

          Ah, but your guesses are so fitting! And there’s no saying that Ron D. Moore speaks Greek, either, so the whole point may be adding the vague suggestion of something.

        • E says:

          Huh. Shouldn’t be limiting the Greek knowing (or not knowing) to Moore – could be Espensen, or Aubuchon, or Larson, too.

    • E says:

      I should add – while I was surprised they set two series so close together, I think the idea has to be to show the descent into war. Now we get the build up, and if the show takes off, in the not too distant future we’ll get the first Cylon war. And that’ll bring back all the urgency and thrill and horror of Battlestar Galactica.

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