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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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

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