The build up to the premiere of Caprica made much of the fact that you didn’t need to know much about Battlestar Galactica, the show that it’s a prequel to, to really appreciate it. That may be the case: Caprica, after all, has kicked off with a smart, engaging double episode that lays some interesting groundwork and delivers some punchy drama. But for those of us schooled on Battlestar over the past half decade or so, this was a prequel that was still quite rich in its franchise roots.
Essentially the story of the rise of the Cylons, the pilot episode of Caprica is centred around two men. The first is Daniel Graystone, played by Eric Stoltz. He’s a rich man, with his own sports team, a flash house and a block about to be named after him at the school he attended. The heart of his riches comes from his invention of the holoband, a device that, at first glance, appears to be something akin to Second Life if it’d been invented by James Cameron. The wearer gets to send their avatar off to experience things they’d otherwise struggle to (read: porn), and the invention has made Graystone a very, very rich man.
Mind you, it’s not made him any more popular with his daughter Zoe, though (played by Alessandra Torresani). She, however, is a lot cleverer than he’s given her credit for, and as the episode plays out, it transpires that she’s furthered her father’s technology, allowing for the retrieval and storage of the data that’s stored in the human brain. Using this, she evolves the avatars contained within the holoband technology, which sets into motion the events in the back end of the episode.
The second man, we learn by the end, is William Adama’s father (and just what a lovely geek moment that was: I almost feel like I have to salute his son already). Named Joseph, and played by Esai Morales, he’s a man in the pocket of unsavoury characters who want him to deliver messages he doesn’t want to deliver, and represent people he doesn’t want to fight for. He’s happiest with his wife and daughter, which brings into the focus the incident that sees Graystone and Joseph’s paths crossing.
For Graystone and Joseph are united by a terrorist train bombing that claims both of their daughters, and Joseph’s wife. Zoe Graystone was on the train itself (which, with credit to the effects team, looked really rather smart), and had just forgiven her mother for an earlier fight – via a bloody clever looking piece of paper – prior to fleeing to another world (Gemini), when her friend Ben blows the train up in the name of the one God.
The religious undertones that ran right throughout Battlestar Galactica have not been diluted one jot here, and given the obvious decadence of the residents of Caprica, the writers are giving themselves plenty of room to explore them further. What’s more, with science fiction elements being more more implicit than they were with BSG, it’s solidly the characters and family dramas that are in their line of sight.
Back at the explosion, however, and Zoe’s friend who didn’t step on the train, Lacy, is left to join some of the pieces of what’s happened together. Her investigations lead to their school (via a visit to the Graystone house, and meeting their robot who looks like an evolved Dusty Bin), but that’s a plot strand that’s, no doubt, awaiting further exploration in the episodes ahead (it certainly tantalises enough for the time being). For now, her character feels more like a device for joining assorted dots, but expect her to be fleshed out more in due course.
At this point, though, Caprica focuses much of its time on Daniel Graystone’s discovery of the virtual v-club that Zoe had been visiting using the holoband, and the digital copy she’s made of herself. With the help of the reluctant-but-cracking-under-pressure Joseph, Daniel gets hold of the technology required to download the digital copy of Zoe (via Joseph’s underground contacts) to a familiar-looking robot shell. And while it all doesn’t go to plan at first, the final shot of a raw, rising robot Zoe leaves you in no doubt that we’re very much on the path to the rise of the Cylons, no matter how unwitting and uncomfortable Graystone may be about it. We get a great shoot out sequence on the way to it, too.
Naturally, there’s a lot more going on in the episode than all of that, and lots of little threads are scattered around to be picked up at a later point. You could argue that at times, Caprica did feel like it was trying to cram it a lot of important plot elements in a truncated amount of time, and a second viewing is likely to be helpful just to get a handle on everything that was going on. I never saw the pilot when it was released on DVD last year in a longer cut, but am sorely tempted to go and check it out now, just to see how tightly things had to be cut down to fit the alloted time slot. Let’s just say that with regards the TV transmission, it certainly didn’t pay to go and grab a drink half way through.
That said, though, Caprica managed to find its feet for me, and as a paid-up Battlestar fan, I loved the implicit references to the universe that Ronald D Moore and his team explored so vividly with their take on BSG. For starters, the language, both visual and audible, left you in no doubt of the link between the two shows. But it was more the complex tone, the characters in shades of grey and the already-developing undercurrents of narrative that were the real giveaways. Caprica doesn’t have that feel of epic drama that BSG evolved into, but that so far has given it a little bit of differentiation from its parent, and it’s going to need that if it’s going to beat the curse of the prequel.
Has is achieved its aim of appealing to a wider audience? I’m probably not the best person to answer that, but it seems to me like the show has made a decent fist of it. In fact, at times, particularly with the v-club scenes, it felt like they were trying a little too hard, and I found the first ten minutes or so really quite disorientating. It seemed very keen to put aside any sniff of a Cylon and get us into a nightclub quickly, before gradually introducing more sci-fi genre elements. But to be fair, it did turn all of this to its advantage. It took a while for the episode to hit its narrative stride, but by the end of the episode, it had my full and frank attention, and was happily weaving its narrative together with the confidence you’d hope for from BSG scribes.
Furthermore, in Alessandra Torresani, Caprica may have unearthed a star in the making. She excels here, as do Stoltz and Morales, although there’s not really much room for too many others to get the limelight yet. Again, expect that to change over the coming weeks.
And expect, on this evidence, an intriguing show too. For a season premiere, Caprica has thrown a lot of interesting threads into the air, and the pedigree of the production team suggests they will be knitted together compellingly well (in spite of rumoured production troubles). It wasn’t a perfect opener, at times a little uneven and fighting to get its tone and appeal right, but it was, ultimately, an interesting and successful one. We’ll be back for episode two, and that’s not just because of the promise of a Cylon on the loose…