Caprica off to a good startApril 21, 2009
The creative team behind Caprica, the new prequel series, has explained one of the reasons behind the early release of the Caprica pilot onto DVD is a desire to gauge fan reaction for the forthcoming series. They needn’t have worried. I believe most Battlestar Galactica fans will watch the new series, and it may stand a better chance of garnering a mainstream audience. Why? Because it’s good drama. Compelling characters caught up in interesting conflicts, even if there are no spaceships in sight.
Behind the cut are my thoughts on the pilot episode. It’s a detailed review and therefore contains spoilers.
The performances are top notch. The three leads all deliver powerful and compelling performances in the pilot. Esai Morales’ Joseph Adama is a conflicted man who has made poor choices in the past, most notably in his associates, but who has also not devoted as much time as he wished to his family, a point that haunts him after the deaths of his wife and daughter. Eric Stoltz is ruthlessly ambitious businessman Daniel Graystone, who is eager to learn from his daughter’s genius, but may have more to learn from her humanity. Paula Malcolmson’s Amanda may develop into the series’ moral compass, a doctor struggling to connect with life after death. Even the young members of the cast, Alessandra Toreson (most recently seen by genre fans in Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Magda Apanowicz (from Kyle XY) shoulder a good portion of the emotional punch for the pilot, and both deliver nicely.
The pilot clearly benefited from the four-camera shooting technique used by director Jeffrey Reiner. With so many cameras, both actors can be captured in the same take, allowing for fresher performances as the actors do less takes, and nearly seamless editing. If there is any way the series can maintain the four-camera shooting, I have no doubt there will be acting Emmys down the road.
The pilot has shown there are a good number of conflicts which can be mined for future episodes. The first few minutes of the pilot are designed to shock the viewer, and I suspect at least some of that scene will not make it past the censors, should the pilot end up being the first episode aired on TV. The wealthy students at Athena Academy are using technology to indulge in the most hedonistic behaviors in an effort to fight their boredom and frustration. When even human sacrifice can no longer satisfy what they need, they are ripe targets for recruitment by the Soldiers of the One.
If there was one sour note for me in the pilot, it was too much emphasis on the religious zeal behind the One True God. Just one look from Polly Walker made me believe there is plenty more storytelling to be done about Sister Clarice and the Soldiers of the One, but a small dose of religion goes a long way. Get too didactic and you will do is turn away viewers. “Big Love” may get big ratings numbers, but “Touched by an Angel” could never escape the label of Christian TV. I understand that Zoe’s fervent beliefs will become the basis for the future Cylons, but my own opinion is that too much talking about religion makes for boring TV. I want to see how it drives the plot and the characters.
Racism and prejudice run rampant within Caprican society. If you thought the Sagittarons on BSG had it bad, wait until you hear what they say about Taurons. Not surprisingly, the proud immigrants are fighting back and Joseph Adama is up to his elbows in the fray.
The main reason I had been looking forward to Caprica was to see how they explore the ethical choices around robotics and artificial intelligence. I’m not sure we will see much of this until much later in the series, since some choices have clearly already been made. The Graystones have a household robot who seems cute and harmless (if rather phallic), but who is also only as wise as his programming. How smart do you really want your robotic butler to be? The issues around the super soldier are clearly more dangerous. We didn’t learn exactly how the Cylon made such a leap in combative ability, though we can assume it had something to do with what Daniel learned from Zoe’s accomplishments with the avatar. I suspect no one has programmed in Asimov’s Laws into these guys and Capricans will pay dearly for that oversight in less than twenty years. Again though, ethical battles are only as interesting as the characters caught up in them and the plots that develop around them, so we will see. The extensive use and sadistic abuses of holo-band technology are clearly a more pressing issue for the youth of Caprica. Yet the only parental figure to see it so far seems barely concerned about what drove his daughter to her death or is simply blinded by the profitable technology she led him to.
If the studio wants to hear the good, they ought to know what didn’t work as well.
I love the possibilities of retro/futuristic style and wish it had been more consistently applied across costumes and set dec. What they achieved is pretty generic, mid-twenty first century Canadian. Clearly most of the pilot was shot on location so I’m hoping that once they get their own studio space, a design team can come up with something more interesting and consistent. Done well, it will enhance the conflict between the have and have-nots in Caprican society, which is clearly an issue they want to explore.
Here’s a totally fan geek nitpick point. If the painting in Admiral Adama’s quarters of the “First Cylon War” features Cylons wielding swords, why are they packing the most up to date automatic weapons? They didn’t need blades, but the weapons should have been as retro as the fashions. They’ve given themselves no room for improvement in artillery over the next sixty years, and that just isn’t believable.
The smoking lamp is clearly on, since both of our male leads indulge, albeit reluctantly. The beautiful curl of smoke in front of Joseph’s face at the diner is a seductive image, but I hope they don’t borrow too heavily just for stylistic reasons. It’s only retro cool on Mad Men because it reflects the entitled attitude of men who lived on the cutting edge of that era. The “can I get a light” introduction of the two leads here was weak, and would have been better motivated had it been clear that Graystone had done his research about Adama’s mob ties long before he introduced himself.
There you have it, one opinion. Now I want to know, what did you think?