Performance Review – Caprica: Cylons Have Scratchy Voices

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When I heard that Sci-Fi was thinking of developing a prequel series to Battlestar Galactica, I dismissed it. I mean, really, it seemed like one of those things you hear about, then gets dropped for one reason or another down the line and no one really notices. I mean, a prequel to the edgy, dark Battlestar Galactica remake turning into a… soap opera? It seemed like one of those concepts that would never get farther than its pitch. But Sci-Fi was apparently eager to cash in on the rabid fanbase that was giving the cable network some of its best ratings. They’d be stupid NOT to capitalize on Battlestar Galactica, right? So Caprica was greenlit and eventually arrived straight to DVD as a backdoor pilot for an apparently eventual TV series. Is it as inessential as it initially seems?

Hey, is this the set for Across the Universe?

The pilot starts off with a disorienting opening in a wild and crazy dance club with naked women rubbing all up on each other, people shooting up other people in cold blood and sacrificing virgins to some sort of beast-headed undulating goddess, all set to that sort of generic “oontz-oontz-oontz” techno music. A group of teenagers are trying to egg on a girl to intervene, but she chickens out and… disintegrates? It’s then we find out that these kids are in a sort of virtual reality bacchanalia, where humanity’s most depraved needs can be sated with no real harm done. These kids are the Moral Patrol, however, and think it’s sick and gross and evil, which it kinda is. The apparent leader of them, Zoe, made a virtual copy of herself that she was trying to train to make a difference in the virtual environment, but doesn’t have the strength of will yet to face her fears.

It turns out that Zoe is the daughter of a rich and powerful technology guru (think Baltar if he didn’t come off as such an unctious creep) and a successful female doctor whom she hates because of their WASPy materialist ways. Such is the capricious nature of a teenage girl. She attends a private Athenian academy with her friends, which is a bit ironic, since they all turn out to be closet monotheists, and are planning on running away to another colony because, again, such is the capricious nature of teenagers. One of Zoe’s friends chickens out at the last moment, however, which turns out to be a good thing since Zoe’s other friend decides to blow up the train they’re taking instead.

WE'RE DOING IMPORTANT ADULT THINGS

Zoe’s father, Daniel Graystone, is overcome with loss, and has a chance meeting with a Tauron lawyer, Joseph Adams, outside a press conference of the government vowing to catch the terrorist responsible for the tragedy. It turns out Joseph’s wife and daughter were also on the train and he’s equally inconsolable. They form a rather quick friendship. Then Zoe’s chicken-shit friend returns to her room to see if Zoe’s virtual copy is around and, surprise, she is! And she was programmed to feel everything Zoe felt, too, so she’s pretty shaken up! Zoe’s friend, Lacy, accidentally tips Daniel off to his daughter’s double-life (literally) and he starts scheming up a way to use Zoe’s virtual copy to resurrect his daughter, and perhaps Joseph’s wife and daughter, as well…

It’s a pretty dark story. There’s a heavy atmosphere of grief and isolation even among the crowds of people that swarm across the not-yet-irradiated Caprica City. On top of the grief of the Graystones and Adamses, Lacy has her own survivor’s guilt that she’s unloading onto the Athenian priestess who administers the academy, Joseph’s mob ties and Zoe 2’s issues of existential crisis. With the original dead, does she have a point anymore? She has all of the original Zoe’s memories and personality quirks, but she knows she’s not REALLY Zoe. It’s full of all the great issues of identity, purpose and all that other existential angst that any good AI/robot story should have.

Do you SEE?

But then it also has the Adamses. If you couldn’t guess from the premise, Joseph’s real last name is actually Adama, but he changed it when he immigrated from Tauron in part to avoid the rampant discrimination against his people by the Capricans. Apparently this show takes place before the colonies were united under one government, so there’s still widespread distrust and hate amongst the colonies. Taurons sort of act as the Caprican world’s Mexicans/Italians/Irish/Eastern Europeans all rolled into one. There’s a lot of heavy-handed dialogue about how haughty Capricans think Taurons untrustworthy and barbaric and they call them mudbloods dirt-eaters. And Taurons do themselves no favors, running mafias and getting tatted up all over their faces. Joseph is sort of a shady lawyer, getting off Tauron mobsters and threatening government officials when the job calls for it. Then there’s a whole embarrassing scene near the end when Joseph confides to his son William about how their real name is Adama. Imagine what I just typed in italics was said in a ridiculous Latino accent and cheesy ethnic music cueued up. I think you won’t have to imagine your eyes rolling, though.

I’ll say this right now: the Adamas are easily the worst part of the whole thing. Tacked-on isn’t even the word for them. Their inclusion is just plain calculated and pandering. The word is that this was originally pitched as a generic story about AI and robot slaves, and then NBC/Universal suggested the creator meet with Ron Moore to discuss how it could fit into the Battlestar Galactica mythos. Of the parallel plots of Daniel Graystone trying to resurrect his daughter and Joseph Adama trying to balance his identity as a Caprican and as a Tauron, the Adama plot is so, so much weaker. I really could not care less about it, as it was tantamount to jiggling a shiny set of keys in front of the viewer whenever the story veered away from what was obviously the thematic heart of the show; a way to win some easy loyalty with viewers and pad the runtime a bit. There’s almost no reason in the story for Graystone and Adama to even strike up a friendship. It’s totally artificial to watch. I think this would be a much stronger, more focused show if it had been created independent of the Battlestar Galactica universe, but then it probably wouldn’t have garnered any attention, either.

Oh no! Hypnotoad's got her~

The cast is mostly… unremarkable. The only person I can really commend is Eric Stoltz, who plays Daniel Graystone. He has several impassioned speeches during the pilot, espousing his faith in technological progress and the morals of what he’s trying to achieve that are very impressive. If only the rest of the cast could ante up, as well. The actress playing Zoe Graystone is particularly obnoxious because of her voice. It’s scratchy and cracks and makes several lines nearly unintelligible. Bless her actress’ heart, you can see her emoting so hard, but it rings a bit false. Everyone else is so bland as to not even be worth mentioning.

The music is again scored by BSG stalwart Bear McCreary, who amazed us with the depth and breadth of his music ability in the original series. He’s not quite so experimental here, going more of a traditional route, scoring the pilot with a lot of strings, with the occasional taiko percussions sequence to harken back to the BSG roots of the show. It has a rather lilting, melancholic quality to it, which is nice, but ultimately unremarkable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very listenable… just not memorable. Here’s hoping the TV series score gets a little more adventurous.

Overall, the pilot was intriguing… just a bit unnecessary when framed alongside Battlestar Galactica. I mean, this posits to show us how Cylons got created on the 12 colonies when… viewers of BSG already know the real story about Cylons and monotheism’s place in the world. It seems half-thoughtful science fiction delight, half-predatorial fanfiction. But BSG is over, LOST is gonna be ending and Dollhouse is about as healthy as a HIV-positive cancer patient with tuberculosis. So I’m gonna need my sci-fi fix somehow going into the future. And rather this than Stargate Universe. Yech.

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5 Responses to “Performance Review – Caprica: Cylons Have Scratchy Voices”

  1. Rick Says:

    Gosh, paint a better picture for the show why don’t you.

    I haven’t seen it yet, but hearing all about the Adama side and how ineffectual and pandering it all is, it makes me want to watch an edited version that does only the Graystone side of things. =3

  2. John Mora Says:

    I’d paint a better picture, but the DVD is so copy-protected I can’t take screenshots. >:(

  3. Film Walrus Says:

    Eric Stoltz is the best in the cast. Oh no… that bodes very poorly.

  4. John Mora Says:

    That wasn’t a backhanded compliment!

  5. Virtuality: Virtually Ignored « Grump Factory Says:

    […] reality modules come in. As compact and portable as a pair of bulky sunglasses (reminiscent of Caprica’s virtual reality technology, hmm), the modules allow the user to experience whatever […]

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