Welcome to "Cylons and Other Life Forms: Life on Caprica," my new feature at Blogcritics. I also write the popular feature "Welcome to the End of the Thought Process: An Introspective Look at House, M.D." But I’ve decided to add a new television series to my limited viewing lineup, and share my thoughts with you. Hope you come along for the ride and discover this new series, premiering Friday, January 22 on the Syfy Network, 9 p.m. ET.
I’ve always been a bit of a sci-fi fan. Growing up on Trek Classic, going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey 15 times in one month were part of being a sci-fi geek “back in the day.” I loved the Star Wars saga (version 1.0, if you please), and I’ve always been wary of sequels and prequels, spin-offs and copycats.
Although the “re-imagined” series Battlestar Galactica (BSG) was high on my radar, and I watched it reasonably regularly, I will here and now confess that it was never “appointment TV” for me. I’ve seen most of the episodes by now — and Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, which sort of tells the BSG story from the Cylons' point of view. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. For all I know, you may have never heard the term “Cylon” at all. You may, however, by now heard of the new Syfy Channel series Caprica. It lands on our TV screens Friday night, January 22. And, yes, it is a prequel to BSG, but no, say the producers, prior knowledge of BSG and its universe is not necessary to tune in. And technically that may be true, and if you are familiar with the critically acclaimed BSG, you may view Caprica through a slightly different lens than someone new to the BSG universe.
My feature here on Blogcritics will view Caprica through the perspective of someone not intimately familiar with what happens years in the future world of BSG. We will discover this new series together, although you will have to indulge me to share an “aha” moment or two when Caprica inevitably connects to BSG. But right off the bat, I’m going to ask everyone in the BSG fandom to forgive my ignorance for any details (big or small) of which I’m not aware from that series — and feel free to enlighten or correct my perceptions in the comments section below (consider me a new fan, not an all-knowing one).
Caprica is one of 12 planets colonized by humans far into our future and the inhabitants of these colonies worship multiple gods, like Mars and Athena, the gods out of Greek and Roman mythology. You will hear Capricans, and most everyone else on the show, say things like “thank gods.” On the other hand, there is a group of differently thinking people within the colonies — monotheists who believe in “the one true God.” These folks are heretics and revolutionaries, and this conflict is at the heart of the series.
The series premiere picks up where the pilot left off, so it helps is to watch the pilot episode, which aired last spring and is available for live streaming on Syfy’s website. In addition, online TV site Motherboard partnered with the Syfy Network on a sci-fi short film contest. The winning film, along with the Caprica pilot, will be featured Thursday, January 21.
Taking place more than 50 years before BSG, but within the same universe, the pilot opens focusing on a group of disaffected teenagers and you may wonder if the series is going to be youth-focused. Using virtual reality technology — something called a Holoband — they hang out in a hedonistic teenage paradise (or Hell, to be more precise). But soon the Hell turns real enough. One of the teens, wearing a suicide bomber's vest, blows up a commuter train. And that’s when things begin to get interesting.
The two central characters in the Caprica pilot, Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) and Dr. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), each lost family members in the bombing. Adams lost his wife and daughter; Graystone and his wife Amanda lost daughter Zoe.
Graystone is a wealthy scientist, a cybernetics genius who invented the virtual reality Holoband and robots that can act as polite butlers (he has one in his home) or ruthless killing machines. His dead daughter was, it seems, a chip off the old block, having taken dad’s technology and developing a way to intersect the virtual and real worlds.
Adams’ family originates on another of the colonial worlds, Tauron. It is a place where no flowers grow, where, we get the impression, the people are of a more stoic stock than the Capricans. Capricans don’t think very highly of Taurons, who are an ethnic minority on Caprica, and there is obvious ethnic tension between the two peoples.
Joseph and his brother were orphans of a Tauron rebellion, relocated as boys to Carpica. As he tells his young son William, taking back his family name by the end of the pilot, their family name is Adama. BSG viewers will have little difficulty doing the math and realizing that young William will grow up to become the hero of Battlestar Galactica.
Joseph is a mob mouthpiece. He’s a lawyer beholden to a crime syndicate of which his brother is a member. A chance encounter and their mutual grief connect Graystone and Adams, and when Daniel discovers that his daughter, with all her memories and personality intact, exists, he learns the technology, offering to share it with Joseph so he can once again see and hold his daughter. Daniel also sees opportunity, as he has been trying to secure a defense contract for his robot warriors (who to that point have not had much ability to aim their deadly weapons). Learning that a rival company has invented an advanced technology — a cybernetic brain stem — and knowing Adams’ mob connections, Daniel asks him to have the technology stolen in exchange for an opportunity to one again see his daughter — perhaps even hold his wife again.
Adams agrees, and he makes a deal with devil. The mob asks Adams to deliver a threat to the secretary of defense (William B. Davis, the “cigarette smoking man” from The X-Files), and shortly thereafter as Adams broods over his decision the secretary is coldly killed while sleeping, his throat slashed with a very large knife. The device is stolen as compensation for Adams’ services and Graystone has a brain for his military robot, which he infuses with Zoe’s memories and intelligence.
Making good on his promise, Graystone creates an avatar of Adams’ lost daughter, created from downloading every bit of information about her ever stored in the ether of cyberspace. But for Adams, the experience is terrifying and unnatural. Ending badly, Adams now understands Graystone to be mad. He wants nothing more to do with the genius inventor.
In a demonstration of Graystone’s new robot, we see that with a brain-full of downloaded human data it has found its found its skills vastly improved, impressing the defense department and securing for Graystone’s company a lucrative government defense contract. Asked what he calls his large metal creation, he replies “Cybernetic Lifeform Node: Cylon.” BSG fans know that this is just the beginning and that this one Frankenstein-like act of Graystone’s will ultimately lead to the destruction of most humans within 60 years.
Other salient points to know before the season premiere (if you haven’t seen the pilot):
The colonized planets are named for the signs of the zodiac: Gemnon, Tauron, Virgon, etc. and Caprica is at the center of this universe.
Joseph Adama is also called Yusef in his native language, which is spoken between the Taurans. The Taurans also decorate themselves with elaborate tattoos.
The local high school, Athena, is run by a “sister” who is a closet monotheist. This would be akin to a Catholic school principal being a secret Wiccan. Monotheism is illegal on Caprica, although some of the other planets tolerate monotheists.
Caprica appears to be an overtly racist society, where even government officials are openly racist towards ethnic minorities.
The series tagline is "The future of humanity begins with a choice." They are provocative words, as both Joseph Adams and Daniel Graystone have each made choices in the pilot that will certainly rock the world of Caprica for years to come.