One may not expect SyFy’s Caprica to be the most religious show on television. It’s set in the very distant past in another part of space, fifty-eight years before another recent SyFy show, Battlestar Galactica. According to Galactica‘s finale, our ancestors came from Caprica and the other eleven worlds, which we remember through the signs of the zodiac. Caprica was sold to Galactica‘s audience as the origin of the robots known as Cylons. By the end of Galactica, we knew that it had to be about more, but it’s exceeded my expectations.
Caprica is world at the brink of civil war, torn between monotheistic and polytheistic beliefs. The one is one of Ancient Greece, or perhaps Rome, not long before it’s fall. Fans of the previous series know how it will end, but this show is so different that it is easy to forget what’s coming. The monos, represented most prominently in the series by terrorist organization STO, seek to discredit and destroy the polys, whom they blame for the corruption of their world.
The world in question is in sorry shape, indeed. Teenagers escape to virtual reality, where they populate clubs bent on human sacrifice and orgies. A mob from nearby planet Tauron thrives. Suicide bombers blow up crowded trains. Which is, in fact, how Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani) perished in the pilot, though her foray into virtual worlds, and mixing avatars with reality, has allowed her to still be a main character. Whether the existing Zoe, who lives only in computers, is real is a questions to be debated among the various religions.
Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) seeks to be the voice to lead the Capricans into the next golden era. Last night’s season premiere began with Clarice overseeing a group of people, some of them children, as they smuggled explosives into a crowded sports arena. The stadium and everyone in it spectacularly were leveled. But it wasn’t real. Clarice has developed a recruiting technique for her organization. She wants to promise believers reality post-death, in a virtual world, like the one where she showed the destruction. Her group’s leaders are wary, and order her assassination. But her support is strong, and her friends kill the messenger. Seeing little choice, the leader of them all, known as Mother (Meg Tilly, The Big Chill), asks Clarice what she needs to fulfill her plan.
I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled with Clarice’s character when the show began. Somehow, though, in just ten hours, I’ve decided that she is my favorite character. She certainly had the strongest held belief-system, her morals are unique, and she has dangerous layers that have yet to be peeled back. She’s more powerful than I think we as an audience realize, and she’s highly intelligent. I don’t know how much of her success is due to actress Polly Walker, but I am certainly a fan.
Back on Caprica, Clarice’s one-time student, Lacy Rand (Magda Apanowicz) has stayed with terrorist leader Barnabas Greeley (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s James Marsters). Barnaby made Lacy blow up Clarice’s car in last spring’s mid-season finale in exchange for helping her get Cylon Zoe off the planet. Both missions failed, but Lacy seems drawn to Barnabas. She’s still an impressionable teen, rocked by recent tragedy. She’s perfect prey for a leader such as Greeley.
Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) is grieving, too. For most of this week’s episode, Daniel had us assuming that both daughter Zoe and his wife, Amanda (Paula Malcomson), last seen jumping from a bridge, perished. More on them in a moment. Daniel is sleeping on his couch and getting drunk at all hours. But he has a plan to get back on top, and it centers on taking back his company, which he recently lost to a rival. To do that, he approaches Tauron mobsters Sam (Sasha Roiz) and Joseph (Esai Morales) Adama. Joseph wants no part in Daniel’s immoral science, but their boss orders them to help Daniel. What Daniel’s exact plan is, and how the Taurons expect to use him, is still a mystery.
Zoe spent the first nine episodes of the series in the body of the first metallic Cylon that the current population of the Twelve Worlds has seen (in Galactica we learned that there were Cylons before, as “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”). The Cylon was severely damaged when Zoe tried to drive it in a van through a roadblock. Daniel, who figured out that his late daughter was in his metal creation, believes her lost. But late in the first hour, we discover Zoe’s consciousness (spirit?) alive and well in the virtual world. Although Zoe’s appearance was brief, we do now know that she is trying to track down the other dead-girl-avatar in existence, Joseph’s daughter, Tamara Adama (Genevieve Buechner). What she wants with her is anyone’s guess.
The biggest surprise was to find Amanda Graystone alive and well, now sharing a cabin with Sister Clarice. I don’t think they exactly appeared romantic, though Clarice comes across as bi-sexual. Instead, Amanda may have sought Clarice’s spiritual guidance after the tragic death of her daughter and her own attempted suicide. What is clear is that Amanda has left Daniel, at least for now.
Somehow, Caprica manages to pack more plot into each episode than most shows, and yet delves into greater depths. I’m relieved none of the main characters (except Zoe, of course) is dead… yet. The second half of season one, airing six months after the first half, has much to get through. But the first nine episodes did a fine job painting a vivid world. It’s like nothing else on television, and so worth the watch. It will challenge your mind and your beliefs, and quite a bit of action gets through, too. I can’t possibly fairly compare it to Galactica, as the two are so very different, but that means you don’t have to have seen the first series to understand what’s going on in this one. If you haven’t been watching Caprica, I highly recommend you catch up on what you missed (the first half of the season was recently released on DVD) and join the party.
Caprica airs Tuesdays at 10pm on SyFy.