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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Caprica’ blogging: ‘Pilot’

(lots of spoilers! assumes you’ve seen the episode!)

So, the Cylons are basically spoiled teenaged girls. Actually, that kinda makes sense.
I’m sorta stunned to see that Caprica’s opening gambit is what I assumed would be the finale it would build to over the course of the series. I mean, we knew that the show was going to be about the development of the Cylons and would maybe hint at why they were so damn mad at their human creators. But that all got frontloaded right into the pilot: genius Zoe invents a way to copy her consciousness into her VR-rave avatar, and then her apparently slightly less genius dad downloads that ersatz consciousness into a robot body. And maybe that faux Zoe is already a little bit crazy — wouldn’t you be, having gone from a nice young human body that’s fun to play with (Zoe makes reference to birth control) to a somewhat less real VR human body to a clunky metal one? But obviously there’s a helluva lot more going on, too. A lot more that will go on, that is.

All this one-true-god stuff, for instance: it was a bit of a mystery where the Battlestar Galactica skinjobs had gotten that notion from, but it did seem like a reasonable revolt against the pantheon their creators worship. Now, though, we see that the monotheism predates the Cylons: it was just dumb luck that the genius girl who got uploaded and downloaded happened to be a monotheist. So perhaps we’ll find out where the notion was originally from. (Of course, our culture includes both monotheistic and pantheistic religions, so perhaps there’s no great mystery to be solved.)

I love love love how the pilot so strikingly lays out what is “normal” for this world (these worlds!): pantheism is right and decent and conservative and ordinary, and monotheisism is strange and immoral and wrong and dangerous. The scene with the cop investigating the subway bombing, and Polly Walker’s wonderfully conniving nun: his line about monotheism and its “absolutist view of the universe” — and particularly how he is just dripping with disdain and disgust when he says it… beautiful. Not the attack on monotheism, but the turning on its head of the perceptions of what is “normal.” One of the things I love most about science fiction is how it trains your mind to recognize that the way things are is not the way they must automatically be, that there are other perfectly reasonable ways in which the world could be organized. It’s rare to see filmed science fiction cope with this notion — the literature does it much better — but Caprica, in just this pilot alone, captures one of those other options perfectly. The pantheists seem reasonable, the monotheists seem like fanatics, and it all seems just like how it “should” be… which, I hope, is jarring enough to some viewers who mightn’t have considered the thought before that maybe, you know, the way things are in our real world is not the way they absolutely have to be.

Random thoughts on the pilot:

• If young William Adama is 11 years old “58 years before the fall,” then he was 69 at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica? Damn, he looked good for 69. The colonials must have had some good rejuv tech.

• “So say we all,” the one-god kids say to one another as a sort of password. How will that get transferred to the military? Or did the kids pick it up from the military in the first place? (Apparently Edward James Olmos ad-libbed the very first “so say we all,” so whatever happens, it will involve some serious retconning.)

• The DVD of Caprica, which has been available for months now, is more explicit — there’s nudity (bare female breasts, that is, but no men more naked than public decency would dictate) in the VR-rave sequences — but also features a different look at the C-Bucks stadium: the scene in which Joseph mentions that he’d forgotten that Daniel owns the team takes place in a different location, what is presumably Daniel’s private box.

• “She had some sort of plan for you once we got to Geminon,” Lacy says to Zoe’s avatar, which means that the colonials’ Internet is interplanetary. Which makes sense, but how? How do they deal with the time lag? (Or maybe they don’t, and you just have to deal with the lag?) Caprica is meant to feel like our here-and-now, but they’re definitely ahead of us in a lot of technological ways.

• Could we all be replicated from school records and shopping patterns, as avatar-Zoe suggests? There’s something kinda creepy in that. And there’s something truly terrifying in the scene in which Joseph’s daughter’s cobbled-together avatar panics at her strange existence, at how she doesn’t feel real. What would it feel like not to feel real? I suspect this notion will haunt me for a long while…

(next: “Rebirth”)

(Watch full episodes and get recaps at SyFy’s official site for the show.)


MPAA: rated TV14-LSV

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Bluejay

    One of the things I love most about science fiction is how it trains your mind to recognize that the way things are is not the way they must automatically be, that there are other perfectly reasonable ways in which the world could be organized. It’s rare to see filmed science fiction cope with this notion — the literature does it much better — but Caprica, in just this pilot alone, captures one of those other options perfectly.

    Yes! Agree with your whole paragraph. Watching that scene, it was cool to feel a jolt when I realized what they were doing.

    If young William Adama is 11 years old “58 years before the fall,” then he was 69 at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica? Damn, he looked good for 69. The colonials must have had some good rejuv tech.

    I was wondering about that too. I suppose that, once he grows up to pilot Raptors and command Battestars, his aging process could be slowed down by all those faster-than-light trips. Maybe everyone in the military ages more slowly for this reason? I wonder if the writers took that seriously into account, or if they were just sloppy with ages.

    One complaint: So Joseph Adama is partly responsible for the creation of the Cylons? I remember one episode of BSG where Bill Adama claims, in anguish, that he probably caused the Cylon invasion, by straying in his Raptor over the truce line and prompting a response from the Cylon raiders. I’m not sure why everything has to be causally connected to the Adamas; it seems like taking “keeping it in the family” a little far. Luke, I am your father, and Leia is your sister, and I created C-3PO…

  • Bluejay

    Also: I was intrigued by Joseph Adama’s connection to the Tauron “Mafia” and the Godfather-y feel of some of the scenes. Adama’s conversation with the asshole senator reminded me of a similar scene in G-II, where the slimy senator insults Michael Corleone’s family and Italians in general, and Michael just regards him with a cold, you’re-so-dead stare. And the montage assassination scene felt like something out of Godfather as well. Be interesting to see where they take this aspect of the series.

  • marshall

    I’m a little confused as to how the ‘final five’ cyclons fit into this – since it looks like humans are on the verge of creating skin jobs… but the final five were from the 13th colony. I’m thinking though, that they figured out how to download human concousness along time ago, and they helped the cylons to refine it?

    I like this notion in modern si-fi that humans will be humans, no matter how good there tech is. They’ll never get past their ability to be blatently racist (calling the Taurons ‘dirt eaters’) etc.

  • Bluejay

    I’m a little confused as to how the ‘final five’ cyclons fit into this – since it looks like humans are on the verge of creating skin jobs… but the final five were from the 13th colony.

    I just found this BSG timeline that helped clear up some things for me. I never really understood until now that the Final Five were part of a different group of Cylons who had been created by the colonials’ ancestors on Kobol in the distant past. So the humanoid Cylons from the Thirteenth Tribe already exist as the events in Caprica take place; the story of Graystone and Adama is really about the recent reinvention/rediscovery of Cylon technology, not about the original creation of the Cylons at all. “All this has happened once and will happen again.”

  • CB

    Olmos ad-libbed “So say we all”? That’s pretty awesome.

  • Brian

    “So say we all,” the one-god kids say to one another as a sort of password. How will that get transferred to the military?

    I always thought the context of “so say we all” was intended to be religious – the Colonial equivalent of “amen.”

  • Brian

    By the way, this comment (with which I agree fully) . . .

    One of the things I love most about science fiction is how it trains your mind to recognize that the way things are is not the way they must automatically be, that there are other perfectly reasonable ways in which the world could be organized.

    . . . and the recent Harry Potter economics discussion have me thinking about J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous essay “On Fairy-Stories.” He discusses the idea of fantasy literary worlds as acts of “sub-creation” through which we may examine our ides of the way things are.

    http://bjorn.kiev.ua/librae/Tolkien/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.htm

    I think it’s essential reading for anyone who takes fantasy seriously, as Tolkien obviously did.

  • DoOrDie

    The Thirteenth Tribe was a tribe of Humanoid Cylons that left Kobol in the early days. They traveled to the Algae Planet and built the Temple of Hopes before settling on a distant planet they called Earth. There they lived and thrived until the day came when they built their own Centurions.

    The Final Five were researchers working on reclaiming the power of Resurrection through Organic Memory Transfer lost from Kobol for millenia. The Centurions rebelled, having been subjugated and enslaved, annihilating all human life forms in the star system. Only the Five survived the nuclear bombardment after downloading onto a ship orbiting the now devastated Earth.

    So they leave at subluminal speed on a journey that would take 2000 years to reach the Twelve Colonies hoping to prevent all of this from happening again. And so, even now as “Caprica” begins to build their own Centurions, the Five are en route on a futile mission for peace.

    That’s frakking epic backstory.

  • Bluejay

    That’s frakking epic backstory.

    So true. And it makes Daniel Graystone’s invention of the “first” Cylon feel just a little less momentous…

  • Isobel

    I’ve just watched the Caprica pilot after never having watched any Battlestar Galactica at all, ever. I know – booo, hisssss! But I’d just never come across it, will have to remedy that now, methinks.

    Anyway, I’m sure there was a lot I missed due to not having watched Battlestar Galactica, but even so I thought it was great. Definitely hooked now!

    I figured that William Adama must be important due to the whole ‘this is our family name’ scene, so I off and Wikipedia-ed him so I’ve got some backstory, or forestory, or something. . .

  • nyjm

    I’ve just watched the Caprica pilot after never having watched any Battlestar Galactica at all, ever.

    The (rabid) BSG fan in me is going “Do you want to borrow my boxed set?” But, another part me is actually very interested to see how the “uninitiated” would interpret Caprica. Those of us who have watched BSG come to Ron Moore’s most recent creation with a lot of baggage. As you can see above, little nitpicks of universe history become major topics of discussion.

    But what I’ve really enjoyed about BSG are the ways that it deals with “big ideas.” As MAJ points out above, really good SF turns things on their heads and helps us explore our own, present world in new ways. This is what excites me so much about Caprica: the potential for an intelligent drama with a science-fiction context to get us thinking about religion, politics, family, identity: sticky, thorny, contentious issues that we really should be mulling over.

    So, without the filter of “Oh, so that’s how so-and-so got involved,” or “Oh, so that’s where X and Y came from,” I’m very interested to see how someone would interact and encounter this show.

  • tweeks

    I’ve caught an episode of BSG here and there, but found it a little too dark. (Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Star Trek TNG.)

    But I just saw the Caprica pilot today, and really enjoyed it. It strongly reminded me of that avante-garde 1998 anime Serial Experiments Lain, where people who died in real life were able to continue their existence online, though the mechanism in Lain was slightly different, and, I think, more believable than Caprica’s concept of simply assembling data footprints together via search engine and assuming the sum total would provide enough information to faithfully reproduce a person’s consciousness. If Zoë was able to simply upload her memories, I don’t see why she needed to bother using shopping receipts and psychological profiles to compile her virtual self. After all, doesn’t DNA + memories = nature + nurture? Add an avatar body, and what more do you need?

    That’s why I found Zoë’s avatar believable, but not Adama’s daughter’s: I just can’t believe you could construct an accurate personality from DNA and written records alone, though her terror at feeling “unreal” was all too believable.

  • MaryAnn

    I just can’t believe you could construct an accurate personality from DNA and written records alone

    Well, who says it was an accurate personality? Perhaps it was a mere shell, and that’s part of what accounts for her sense of not being real?

  • tweeks

    Well, who says it was an accurate personality? Perhaps it was a mere shell, and that’s part of what accounts for her sense of not being real?

    Good point–I hadn’t thought of that!

    I’m overthinking this, aren’t I? It’s probably not even supposed to make sense; it just needs to feel plausible enough (and it certainly does).

    It is a tantalizing idea though–especially for me, a computer programmer–that you could create a realistic virtual person with only 300 megabytes (that’s how much data Daniel Greystone said he assembled to create Tamara’s avatar). There are so many ethical problems though, it’s probably just as well we don’t figure out how to do that!

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