Battlestar Galactica #112: Caprica Pilot

"You can see your daughter again. Isn't that worth whatever price you have to pay?"

SO SAY WE ALL: 58 years before the fall, the Cylons get their start.

REVIEW: The way the Battlestar Galactica reboot ended obviated the possibility of a sequel, but what about a prequel? They're dodgy propositions. Look at how Star Wars' had nothing new to say, for example, or people's complaints about Smallville and Gotham being more than slightly ridiculous in the context of the story they were prefacing. Could Caprica avoid those pitfalls? On the one hand, yes. We knew the broad strokes - the Cylons must be built and eventually rebel, initiating a blood war Bill Adama fights in until they suddenly disappear - but the series will show us a lot of the stuff we know from BSG was brewing some 60 years before, plenty of intrigue to be had and the Colonies before the Fall are largely unexplored territory. And on the other hand? By having little Bill Adama in the story, the show has to dance around the fact that adult Bill never thinks pointedly similar situations are like the stuff that happened around him and his dad when he was a kid. Sure, you can send him to the game room so he isn't clued in, but some of these things would have been culturally relevant. It's a dangerous high wire act. I mean, as a pre-teen, he met the guy who created the Cylons, went to see a Pyramid game with him, went to his HOUSE. And that's just the pilot. Believable that he would never refer to this later? That's up to you, and it may also be up to what they manage to show later.

I remember being quite intrigued by the show when I originally saw it. It's of a piece with BSG even if the camera work isn't as edgy (we're in a more stable time) and the music less percussive (it's still Bear McCreary though, and he slips in some BSG themes, like when Joseph Adams reclaims his Tauron name Adama and we hear that old Celtic refrain, or when the first Cylon finally works and the drums come in). It's a bit of a slow burn, respecting awkward silences in conversation, focusing on sugar dissolving in a cup of coffee, and editing moments together artistically (the murder of a state official mixed with Graystone having sex and Adama weeping over his role in the drama is a strong moment). "Caprica" is a big place, so what could the series be about? It avoids being The Wire or, more relevantly, Treme, by really focusing on two men, their families, and their connection to future events.

Daniel Graystone is the creator of the Cylons and, from what we're told and see, he is the perfect mad scientist in that he can rationalize anything. Over the course of the Pilot, he steals technology, uses people and throws them away, and arrogantly plays God. And he'd be a villain if Eric Stoltz didn't give such a likeable performance. He seems like a loving father and husband, if permissive towards both women, but in that permissiveness we might detect a lack of caring for anything that isn't his work. Then his daughter dies in a terrorist attack, he finds a sentient avatar of her in a simulation, and suddenly his daughter BECOMES his work. She finally has his attention, in a way, but the way he talks to Adama (and initially, that relationship between grieving fathers may be what endears him to us), he might be thinking of using his daughter's programming wizardry to let people interact with the dead and give them closure. Instead, he obsesses over bringing Zoe back in a robot body and uploads her into a monstrous Cylon body. So is it about connecting with her (just as she was on her way out the door when she died, an early irony), or about his failing weapons research? He's an ambiguous figure. We like him, but fear he may prove to be a precursor for Baltar.

If there's a lead character, however, it has to be Zoe Graystone. We're introduced to a troubled rich kid with massive programming ability, using the VR technology created by her father to fool around in decadent, well I guess we'd compare them to chat rooms, and playing with a double of herself built from all the data available on the web. Zoe has been recruited by the Soldiers of the One, a radical group holed up on Gemenon where she means to run away with her boyfriend Ben and her best friend Lacy. Ben goes off book and blows himself up on the train to the space port, killing Zoe but leaving the indecisive Lacy at the station, and VR-Zoe as now the de facto Zoe. Part of their story is their teacher, mentor and radicalizer, the striking Sister Clarice, played by Polly Walker (Rome, State of Play), who IS a clearer villain and perhaps draws attention away from Graystone. While Clarice is obviously interested in whatever Zoe was doing and how it connects to the Sons' plans, she is perhaps now more connected to Lacy's story. Zoe herself seems to be lost when her Cylon body crumples and all the computer screens crash. Is her data truly corrupted and lost? No, because the Cylon wakes up later. Zoe has plans of her own now that she's in the "real world". This is the storyline that will build towards the future we know (see All This Has Happened Before).

The other family of interest are the Adamas*. We already know Bill Adama (hovering around 12 years old here) and through him, his father Joseph, a lawyer. What we didn't know because it probably wasn't clear to young "Willie" is that he worked for the Tauron mob. Tauron is painted as a rough, poor, crime-ridden planet, and a lot of people on Caprica seem to be overtly racist towards them. They are immigrants and though he's trying to make a better life for himself and his family, the Ha'la'tha (the Tauron mafia) paid for law school, and now he's stuck defending mobsters and bribing judges. Esai Morales (now Deathstroke on Titans) cuts a brooding but deeply emotional (at least, in private) figure, much like the future Admiral Adama will be. He follows traditions, but considers himself an atheist (Bill's religious ambivalence may stem from this). Unlike Graystone who loses his way after his daughter dies, Adama (at first Adams, "whitewashing" his name to better integrate) FINDS his way. It's a difficult path, however. Having to raise a son alone after his wife and daughter die in the same attack, while navigating the dangerous waters of the Ha'la'tha who believe he owes them something. He's tested. Grayston offers him hope in the form of his daughter's reconstructed avatar, but he finds it's an abomination, like a soul being tortured. But too late, as he's already helped Graystone acquire a rival's tech and had to compromise himself morally, having delivered an ultimatum to a Minister who he knows will then get murdered. To  make things even more difficult, the assassin is Joseph's own brother Sam, a career mobster. His great moment comes when he renounces that life, takes back his heritage and name, and promises his son that they must live their best lives, to honor their loved ones. In contrast, while he was at his lowest, Graystone felt reenergized and was having sex with his wife.

Speaking of Amanda Graystone, she's still on the periphery at this point. She did not have a good relationship with Zoe (so bad I could have sworn their were step-parent and child, especially given the genetics involved), felt some guilt over her death, etc. Then she gets a visit from Agent Duram, who is investigating the terrorist attack and has connected enough dots to know Zoe was involved with the Soldiers of the One, and though she walks away from the meeting, one gets the idea that she'll be more interested in getting answers than her Cylon-obsessed husband. Duram is putting the screws on everyone and is sure to be a supporting player to watch; is take on monotheism is that it it presents a dangerous certainty in one's moral superiority, whether actions are truly moral or not. And hey, more Serge! The Graystones' majordomo should have his own series! (Ok, maybe not, but he's fun in a Jarvis kind of way.)

CAPRICANADA:
Caprica City is Vancouver, of course, and some locations will be familiar to BSG fans. The V-Club is the Orpheum Theatre where the Opera House was filmed, for example. Joseph Adama lives in the Waterfall Building (same as Starbuck and others), while the Graystone Mansion is on Isleview Road, same area as Baltar's house, but both will be recreated in studio after the pilot. The Graystones' tennis court, however, is Ocean Point Tennis Court. Athena Academy's exteriors are the School of Theology at the University of British Columbia; its interiors a former nunnery. The press conference scene was shot at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts (also UBC). The court room scene at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Hornby Street (the exterior too). The Atlas Arena is really Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks (and that's their locker room as the Buccaneers'). The Defense Minister's office was filmed in the Law School of Simon Frazier University in Surrey. Amanda works at University Hill Secondary School. David Lam Park is where Joseph talks to Guatrau. The lev station is played by Granville Skytrain Station; Joseph sees the train explode from Hamilton Street (between Drake and Davie). Wilson Elementary, Willie Adama's school, is really Roundhouse Community Centre.

Canadian actors? The cast has some of course. Lacy Rand is played by Magda Apanowicz, who would later go on to have a big role in Vancouver-based Continuum. Another Continuum actor, Brian Markinson here plays Agent Duram; he's got a lot of genre credits to his name - X-Files, Millennium, Dark Angel, Salvation... - and appeared pretty regularly on Da Vinci's Inquest/City Hall. Sasha Roiz (Sam Adama) was born in Montreal, will be a regular on Grimm, and have a recurring role in Warehouse 13. Graystone's second-in-command Cyrus is played by Hiro Kanagawa (Salvation, Heroes, iZombie, Legends of Tomorrow, Smallville... this guy's in everything). In the pilot, we also get William B. Davis as Minister Chambers, a Toronto native better known as the Cigarette-Smoking Man on The X-Files (and yes, a part of Continuum as well).

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: The virtual world of the holo-bands is a clear parallel to the projections the Cylons can tap into. The Soldiers of the One worship a monotheistic God, as does VR Zoe who seems to be the basis for Cylon intelligence/independence. In Battlestar, the One God is a Caprican Cylon idea the humanish Cylons then adopt, so it's very much the same faith (especially in its radical zealotry); we eventually see the Cylons use the infinity symbol of the Soldiers at a funeral. Willie Adama is our own Bill Adama, as a child; we often hear of his father, the lawyer in the core series. And of course, Daniel Grayston creates working Cylons in this very episode. It says "by your command". This won't end well.

In terms of connections to our own culture, there's a lot of post-9/11 anxiety in the terrorist attack, and of course, all their Gods (Mars, Hecate) are from the Ancient Greeks, but the pop culture inspirations are The Matrix and The Terminator.

VERSIONS: Though the SyFy Channel originally aired the pilot as a two-hour special, it was split in two on their web streaming service. I watched and reviewed the uncensored, extended cut available on the DVD, which contains nudity and more brutal violence (in the VR sequences mostly), otherwise it's all small dialog trims. The DVD version was actually first, so the TV version had more digital effects, in particular to make the city look more futuristic (it requires an alternate take for the arena scene, with the game still in progress). The DVD includes additional deleted scenes used in neither version, including Sister Clarice grilling Zoe about her misbehaving and putting their mission at risk (which would have suggested she was a Soldier of the One earlier), a similar conversations about second thoughts between Zoe and Lacy, Joseph asking Willie what he thinks of Daniel's question about having his sister back, then arguing with his mother about the values she's teaching his son, Sam telling Joseph Zoe was one of the terrorists and committing to taking revenge on Graystone himself (Joseph stops him, for now), and Lacy taking Clarice to V-Club confirming Zoe is gone from there before Clarice meets and embraces Ben on the dance floor, as if his soul were in the machine somehow.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High -
A promising and ambitious start, but its slow burn was never going to be as exciting as the parent show.

 

*Future revelations will recontextualize some of this, but for the purposes of these reviews, I will treat the material as shown, and discuss any twists to come at the appropriate time.


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