Posted by: Ken Brown | April 22, 2009


capricaIt’s not Galactica. Ronald Moore and David Eick’s prequel Caprica is less gritty action-thriller and more contemplative family drama. The special effects, what few it includes, are lower quality than they were on Galactica, and the pace is much slower, with long stretches of dialogue and rather a few too many scenes of people staring off into space. To be honest, Caprica isn’t nearly as engaging as its predecessor, but complemented by Bear McCreary’s beautiful but melancholy soundtrack, it works moderately well. More importantly, it continues Galactica’s honest exploration of  questions like what it means to be human, whether humanity can, or should, be “copied,” how technology can be used and abused, how corruption and relativism can feed religious extremism, and even (a subject we’ve discussed recently) how the life of teenagers can be much more than meets the eye.

The first sequence is particularly jarring in how it subverts our expectations and undermines our comfortable assumptions about what is “real.” Watch out though, as it includes some very explicit and disturbing sexuality and violence almost from the opening frames. It’s gratuitous—particularly when they return to it a second time later on—but it is supposed to be disturbing, for it forces us to recognize the abuse of sex and violence that many of us have already accepted in other, slightly less technologically advanced, forms of “entertainment.”

In short, if you thought the flashbacks in the Galactica finale pressed the moral degradation of life on Caprica before the war, it was nothing compared to this moral anarchy. Illicit sex and drug use (and worse, it is hinted) run rampant among the young, and corruption and murder, racism and religious violence permeate society to the highest levels. Caprica city may be shiny and picturesque on the surface, but the seeds of its destruction are already sprouting from its dark undergrowth, with or without the Cylons’ help. In that way, it looks a lot like our own society.

The show’s primary focus, of course, is on the potential and danger of artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we might go to try and cheat death, but I found it’s exploration of the potential and dangers of virtual worlds even more interesting. Caprica also provides a reasonably believable explanation for the religious extremism that the show also explored. In the midst of so much naked wickedness, it is little surprise that belief in a single God, “who knows the difference between good and evil,” would prove attractive. Unfortunately, Caprica lacks some of the care which marked the more balanced of Galactica’s treatments of religion.

For the most part, the Colonial polytheistic religion is seen as a meaningless tradition, while monotheism is presented as little more than a doorway to violence. As one character asks:

It doesn’t concern you… that kind of absolutist view of the universe? Right and wrong determined solely by a single all-knowing, all-powerful being whose judgment cannot be questioned and in whose name the most horrendous acts can be sanctioned without appeal.

It’s not an unfair remark, given what has happened and will happen in the story, nor is the history of monotheism in our own world innocent of such a charge. But ignored is the fact that the vast majority of monotheists have and remain neither violent nor extremist. Ignored is the way faith can be far more than a reaction, how it has also been an engine for reform and personal transformation, how it has fostered community and democracy and art and much else. None of this is acknowledged by Caprica, which instead trades on the same old fears of suicide bombings and narrow-mindedness, with only the slightest nod to the possibility that such might be a corruption of true belief rather than its proper expression.

In the end, however, religion is only one part of Caprica (though a central one), and this is only a pilot, so I have hope that when the full series kicks off next year they might present a more balanced picture. For now, the jury is still out—on that theme, and the show as a whole.


  1. great review, ken! we haven’t seen it yet, but i’m putting it on our netflix list – thanks! how was eric stoltz, by the way? it’s been awhile since i’ve seen him in anything . . .

  2. Stoltz was pretty good. I can’t watch him in anything without thinking of his creepy character in The Butterfly Effect, but a bit of ominous gravitas doesn’t hurt him here. I probably liked Morales a bit more, but I’m not sure that had anything to do with acting ability.

    When you see it come back, or post your own review–there’s lots to talk about that I don’t want to spoil.

  3. Hmm, now I might need to rent this before it comes out on TV. It is a pilot – so hopefully the pacing will pick up.

    BSG seemed to have pacing down from the moment they opened because they deliberately filmed the mini-series (*cough*pilot*cough*) as a military documentary with dialog – so they had a framework. Caprica is new, so it’s not surprising that it needs some time to breathe. Kinda like how DS9 and B5 only started to hit their pace in the second season…

  4. Just a caution. I wasn’t kidding about the explicit sex. The scenes that include it are brief, but extreme–topless nudity and group sex, followed by some graphic violence. Like I said, it is intentionally disturbing, and is sure to be skipped over (or replaced with something milder) when they actually broadcast it. For my part, I wouldn’t watch it again without skipping those scenes.

    Anyway, I suspect you’re right about the pacing. They said part of the reason they released the pilot now is so they could get feedback before they start production on the show this summer, and it seems that “slow” and “boring” have been pretty common complaints, so I fully expect them to work on the pacing.

  5. From the previews it has a semi soap-opera feel to it. But I’ll give it a try.

  6. Hey , thank for the Review, I was thinking that the plot is an allegory for the main society (Greek/roman) was when Christianity started. Christians were considered terrorist and most of the world believed in Polytheism. Also Paul talk about the rampant debauchery in a lot of cities. In Caprica they even said that they were sacrificing to the gods in the v club. Also notice that the teacher finished the “infinity” symbol just like the early Christians would draw the fish when they went to underground meetings (before Constance). Also there is already this theme of life after death. Anyways just my too cents, i hope the series does well.

    • That’s a great observation, Andrew! I’d noticed the similarities to the pre-Christian Roman empire, but didn’t make the connection on the other points.

      Of course, unlike the depiction here, the early Christians did not kill people for their faith, but rather were killed for it. Another reason to hope the full series gives a more balanced approach, I guess!

  7. […] Premiers Tonight The Pilot airs tonight at 9 (and again at 11) on SyFy. I reviewed it here when it first came out on DVD, and Carmen also has a good review here. I expect the televised […]

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