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Caprica: "Pilot"

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<em>Caprica</em>: “Pilot”

While some felt that Battlestar Galactica’s finale repudiated much that came before it, both thematically and in its execution, others (like myself) felt the story had come to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Either way, disgruntled or devoted fans of the show—and even those who’ve never seen it—will find its new soapy spinoff, Caprica, of interest. Like its predecessor, which was couched in Bush-era “War on Terror” parallels, the show alludes to present day tensions stemming from Obama’s promise of change, something I discussed at length in a piece I wrote back in April after watching an early DVD release of the pilot.

“Caprica: 58 Years Before the Fall” reads the opening title card to the two-hour debut. The Fall refers to humanity’s near extinction at the hands of their robotic Cylon creations in BSG’s premiere. This prequel explores the fateful forces which led to their creation and rise to prominence. It begins with two young girls perishing in a terrorist attack orchestrated by a monotheistic cult known as the Soldiers of the One (the seed for the Cylon belief in one God; contrarian in the polytheistic society of Caprica). The girls’ respective fathers—Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-like billionaire genius looking for the missing link in his robotics research, and Joseph Adams (Esai Morales), a Michael Corleone-type attorney reluctant to join the family (as in Family) business—are our portals into this show’s world.

Graystone and Adams also serve as doubles tied together by their very different reactions to the possibility that their daughters can be resurrected. Graystone sees it as a matter of science and intellect. If he can bring his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) back to life by imprinting her personality into a machine prototype he’s created, then why not? Ironically, it is his overwhelming emotional regret that blinds this intellectual to the unpredictable repercussions that shall ultimately play out. The earthier and more instinctual Adams comes to grasp the moral implications of trying to revive his own dead daughter. Paradoxically, it is his pragmatism that allows him to step back and view the situation dispassionately.

Duality of this nature recurs throughout the pilot. Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcomson) and Sister Clarice (Polly Walker) represent mirrors of motherhood—the former biological, the latter a spiritual surrogate mother—for the angst-filled Zoe. Sam and Joseph Adams—both natives of Caprica’s sister colony Tauron—convey the complicated feelings inherent in the immigrant experience, one resigned to his fate as a criminal enforcer, the other seeking to escape his destiny by assimilating into his adopted culture. Even the virtual reality in which Zoe and her friends immerse themselves metaphorically stands in for the robotic technology that will soon prove to be at the center of the series. Both are technologies created by the Zoe’s father, and the VR world of the holoband has already devolved into a trashy limbo where people enact their sickest fantasies, something Graystone fails to anticipate.

This duality extends to the way Caprica plays today as opposed to the way it played for me last April. Caprica “...captures the feeling, characteristic of the Obama era, of American life at a crossroads,” I wrote back then. Of course, the tumultuous past year of disillusionment for the left, the rise of populism, and the surge of those who seek to manipulate such forces for their own benefit may date some of the pilot’s original, more calculated allegorical allusions to real-life events. But new insights can be gleaned from its prescient comparisons to issues emerging only recently in the real world. That is to say, while the bright cheery skyline of Caprica City outshines the crumbling infrastructure of our own cities, while the hope in Graystone that he can resurrect his activist daughter Zoe outpaces our own faded hopes once stoked by the switch in presidential administrations, there are still lessons to be learned here about our own society moving too quickly, too grandiosely, and too arrogantly in the direction of change.

Quick Takes:

1. Is it me or does Alessandra Torresani look remarkably like Zooey Deschanel [(500) Days of Summer]? And could this explain the character’s name (meaning was the role originally conceived with Deschanel in mind)?

2. Like Tricia Helfer and Grace Park before her, Torresani is able to imbue each version of Zoe she plays with a distinct personality, making it easy to distinguish each in their brief scenes together.

3. The cinematography by Joel Ransom (subbing for BSG D.P. Stephen McNutt, who returns next week) hearkens back to the Caprican flashbacks from BSG—dreamier and classically lit as opposed to the grittier handheld look after the colonies’ fall.

4. Bear McCreary’s recurring flute theme evokes the feeling of a little girl lost, appropriate in more ways than one considering Zoe’s fate. However, BSG’s ubiquitous drums return when we get our first glimpse of a Cylon prototype.

5. Another nice touch: McCreary’s reuse of a musical motif over a scene that acknowledges the only character that bridges the two series.

6. Also appropriate is the infinity symbol that Syfy has apparently morphed into the series logo during the promo bumps in light of the revelations about humanity and the Cylons in BSG.

7. Two HBO fan favorite alums headline the cast: Paula Malcomson who played Trixie on Deadwood and Polly Walker who played Atia on Rome. Though they have relatively little to do in the opener I foresee their roles taking on greater importance if not equal to those of their respective onscreen husbands.

8. It’s about time we see a professional Pyramid match. Even the ’70s version of Galactica provided us with a look at one.

9. Another nod to the ’70s series: The Cylon prototype’s declaration, “By your command.”<

10. Like Tahmoh Penikett, who in BSG’s pilot so impressed the show’s producers with his performance in the throwaway role of Helo that he was upgraded to series regular, expect to see more of Sasha Roiz as Joseph’s lethal brother Sam.<

11. Haven’t Esai Morales and Edward James Olmos played father and son in other films? Or at the very least, close relatives? The reason I bring this up should become clear to viewers after watching the pilot.

12. Some silly controversies have arisen in the blogosphere over the amount of smoking the protagonists do in the pilot. Personally, I think of it as a distancing mechanism—like the fedoras and overcoats the Capricans are fond of—to reinforce that this is a “period” science fiction drama.

13. Speaking of which, actor William B. Davis does not smoke as the racist Minister Chambers, despite being famous for playing the cigarette-smoking antagonist on The X-Files.

Caprica’s pilot is ambitious, a bit overflowing with plot threads that beg for resolution; generally a strong indicator that a show has legs and will develop into something notable. Consider the comments section below an open thread for your thoughts on the show.

Tony Dayoub considers all manner of films and TV at Cinema Viewfinder.