No one can deny that Battlestar Galactica was a phenomenon among sci-fi fans. Well-written, well-acted...and it's very own curse word, 'frak' became part of the geek lexicon (so much so that it showed up on a t-shirt in last week's Chuck). Fans were thrilled to hear that we would have another chance to visit the world in the prequel series, Caprica. But the show isn't BSG the Early Years. This one is about family rivalries, ethnic tensions and religious fanaticism. It's got a very, very different feel. And we're curious...are you watching? Perhaps more importantly...should you be watching?
Hardcore BSG fans were desperate for anything new connected to the world of Cylons after the series ended. But for the most part, spin-offs and the like are disappointing. So I tried to go into this with an open mind, prepared for the differences. If you haven't watched yet and you want to start, here is what we know, three episodes in (Spoiler Alert):
The show begins on Caprica, one of the twelve colonies, 58 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica. As in that series, each of the colonies has it's own distinct culture and the clashes between them are coming to a head.
Humans in the BSG/Caprica world are largely polytheistic, but there is a group of radical monotheists who are working as a terrorist organization to try to reform society. A part of this group is high school student/first cylon Zoe Graystone (Allesandra Torresani). (You'll remember that the cylons in BSG were monotheistic as well.)
In this world, there exists the coolest device since the holodeck from Star Trek, the holoband. This metal band, when worn across the eyes, transports your avatar to a virtual world where you can experience anything and everything you desire with no physical consequences. Zoe, her boyfriend and her friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz), after first participating in the debauchery, join a radical religious group who use terrorism to attempt change.
Zoe is something of a computer genius. She had created a copy of herself that exists in the virtual world. But this copy feels like a real person and has the desires, feelings and consciousness of her maker. When Zoe is killed, (see below) the avatar Zoe is covered in blood and claims she felt the human Zoe's death.
While running away with her boyfriend to start a new life on the colony of Gemenon, (Lacy chickened out), her boyfriend blows up the transport they are on, killing a huge number of people, including the daughter and wife of Tauren lawyer Joseph Adama (Esai Morales). (Adama is the father of our beloved BSG Adama, who we see as a child.) Adama meets Zoe's father Daniel Graystone and the two begin what looks like a friendship...until Daniel finds out about Zoe's avatar. Daniel is a wealthy owner of a robotics company and he attempts to download avatar Zoe into one of his creations; a metal robot he calls a cylon. It fails. He thinks.
Zoe wakes up in the cylon body and keeps it quiet from everyone but Lacy. And Lacy is falling under the influence of one of her teachers, Sister Clarice (Polly Walker), who is part of the same religious group.
Adama's brother and a large number of the Taurans on Caprica are involved in a bit of a mafia-style crime ring...one that is beginning to influence the young William (Sina Najafi). Adama uses his connections to steal a part for Graystone, but freaks out when he sees the avatar of his dead daughter that Graystone created. The avatar is terrified and has no idea how she got to the virtual world. Graystone erases her. He thinks. Zoe and Lacy later find her in the virtual world.
Zoe's mother, Amanda (Paula Malcomson) finds out that her daughter had a life she didn't know about. When she is given evidence of her daughter's radical leanings, she publicly states that her daughter was a terrorist and was probably responsible for the bombing. Every news organization in the twelve colonies runs with the news and the Graystone company begins to tank. In one of the more amusing casting choices, Patton Oswald appears as a talk show host a la John Stewart who is trashing the Graystones on TV.
So, should you keep watching? In my opinion, yes, if you know what you're going to see. This is absolutely not the same style of show. Once you've taken that into consideration, you can appreciate it for what it is. A dark, family drama, full of intrigue and social consciousness. It's well written, with just enough nods to BSG to make it fascinating. I mean, frak, the moment when Zoe's consciousness is loaded into an old school cylon and it stumbles forward saying, 'Daddy? Daddy!' in a robotic voice, the chills that ran down my spine were almost visible. But the show doesn't rely on those moments. They just ice the virtual cake. As with BSG, the casting is what gives this show life.
Allesandra Torresani absolutely commands the screen, going from petulant teenager to religious fanatic effortlessly. So much so that the pace of the show suffers when she isn't on screen. Her chemistry with Eric Stoltz, who plays her father Daniel Graystone brings an almost palpable tension to the screen. Also notable is Polly Walker who plays Sister Clarice, a teacher with a secret. (If you haven't seen her work in HBO's Rome, rent it right away.)
The lore of the universe is already in place and with a recent and set mythology to go on, Caprica has a much easier time building it up than, say, the recent relaunch of V. And because of that, the audience (at least the BSG fans) have visual tidbits and symbolism to immediately make them comfortable in the world. It's an interesting experiment. Take a show...a beloved show, and do a prequel and change the style. And do it knowing most of your audience knows the end point. We know where you're going to end up. It's like Clone Wars in that way. But from what we've seen so far, it looks like there will be stories enough to last for seasons.
God, the red cylon eye lights still freak me out.