Thursday, August 14, 2014

Last Thoughts on Caprica

While I generally liked the pilot on the whole, Caprica as a series was essentially a failure very early on.   I've complained a lot about BSG here, but that series was reasonably consistent compared to Caprica. Maybe it would have found its footing in season 2, but I'm very doubtful about that. The origin of the Cylons already conflicts with established BSG continuity, but if we ignore the revelations in the last season or two, it works okay. Caprica could serve as a decent introduction to the universe for the uninitiated. But little things like Willy Adama turning out to not be who we thought he was felt like cheats. Again, this likely would have been softened as the series went on and we got to the real Bill Adama, but it was bothersome.

Knowing that we've now invested in characters like Zoe and Lacy makes me wonder how they are supposed to fit into the larger Cylon mythology. What becomes of Zoe now that she's go her fancy robot body? Is she immortal? Does she die in the war? For someone who essentially created the Cylons, why is there no mention of her at all in BSG? Problems like this haunt the series.

While it was a curious development to say that the Cylons' monotheism came from the humans that programmed them, that monotheism is never properly explored. There are no attempts to really look at how it fits into this universe and the nature of faith. Instead, it is mixed with stock fundamentalist villainy tropes to say that religion started the First Cylon War. The show comes across as being very anti-religion in a way, and this seems at odds with itself when you consider the angels that supposedly were behind it all. The tensions between the polys and the monads was never properly explored beyond "those guys are terrorists". It was lazy world-building.

And yet there were great moments scattered throughout. The intercutting of Zoe-bot with Zoe-avatar was inspired. There were some nice character moments. But it's unfortunate that so much ended up centering around a misunderstanding of apotheosis, and gang warfare. When Adama would talk about his dad the lawyer on BSG, it excited me to see Joe Adama on Caprica practicing law. I would have liked to get a show that was part legal drama in space. Instead, attention shifted to his mob connections.

Characters like Amanda Graystone would have a few great moments, and then oscillate between extremes of craziness. It was clear that the writers had no idea what show they were writing for the entire duration of the season. Even after "retooling" halfway through, the series remained adrift. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Tamara who simply had no reason to be in this series and every attempt at stringing the narrative along with her resulted in abrupt dead ends. So we wait for several episodes for Adama to find her, only to have him immediately booted from the game. Then we wait for episodes for her and Zoe to reconcile and discover their purpose, and she's just written out. She was inconsequential and it dragged the series down. That's true of so much of the series: it had so many ideas that ended up just being there dragging things down instead of developing or paying off. BSG was guilty of this too, but not so much so soon.

Eric Stolz was wonderful, though. I single him out as the best acting on the show. No matter what curveball the writers threw there, he was always in the moment as Daniel Graystone. I could disagree with the writing, but not with his performance. It was always strong. Other performances were strong as well, but it's much harder to get behind some of them when the characterization is so bad. Yet Amanda finally reconciling with Zoe, or Clarice's realization she killed the wrong spy, these are moments that stand out.

In the end, Caprica was not essential viewing and I didn't really miss much by giving up when I did. It succeeded at least in getting a mostly self-contained story into that first season. While it's a bit of a shame Sci-Fi cancelled it when it did, just before it picked up again, it's just as well the series ended. I don't think a second season would have been good for it. To go further down that rabbit hole, now with the added knowledge of 5 years down the road, would probably have been no more successful than what came before.

Sorry, Caprica, but you'll stand as a testament to how inconsistent writing can kill a show.

Best episodes: the pilot, "Gravdancing", "Here Be Dragons"
Worst episode: "Unvanquished"

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