Saturday, January 23, 2010

TV Review: Caprica

As much as I disliked Avatar for its inability to come up with any new ideas, Caprica, on the other hand, is LOADED with them. A prequel to Battlestar Galactica (BSG), it wades right into the middle of all the religio-philosophical arguments we saw in the earlier series, though the basic gimmick is the same one Avatar was after: pulling a person's consciousness into another body.

In this case, though, the underlying plot model is Frankenstein, not Pocahontas.

And also, unlike Avatar, this one is chock full of ideas and characters whose motivations one can only guess at as everything began to unfold, because they are complex instead of simple-minded.

Religiously, unlike Avatar's simplistic innocent native and magic tree v. mean ol' corporate militaristic greed template, we have a fully functioning modern world that kinda reflects ours, but where the religion of the day is polytheistic, and the underground "monotheists," who may or may not be the good guys, are also terrorists who blow up trains.

The main character is a scientist who is trying to create a robot soldier but can't seem to cross the line where the robot can think for itself. So, it's slow and clumsy and helpless in combat trials. And, worse, a corporation from a competing world seems to have created a piece of hardware that claims to have solved this problem.

Meanwhile, our scientist's daughter has secretly become a monotheist, but in the opening scenes, is blown to bits by her fanatical monotheistic best friend when they get on that fated train. (She wasn't a part of this conspiracy.)

However, she's not completely gone. It turns out that all the kids have been going online and having virtual sex and violence together using our scientist's invented device which fits around the head and sends you to a Star Trek holodeck-type place. Only, what they have created is a huge bar with areas to indulge your every fancy: a sex pit, a fighting room ("where you're allowed to hit anyone you want"), a human sacrifice room, etc. -- all of it set to a big disco beat.

Scientist's daughter has created a copy of herself and watches it interact with said bar (watching from above, but in the same rooms), and is annoyed that the new avatar of herself loathes all this violence and butchery. ("I see what human beings are.")

Plot starts to thicken, beautifully, after daughter is blown up and the scientist discovers the holo world, goes there and meets the avatar of his dead daughter. First he rejects her as a fake copy until the avatar says, "But it doesn't feel like it to me." (A perfect line of dialogue, neither claiming to the his real daughter nor claiming not to be. Whether or not she's really his daughter is irrelevant if she feels as if she were his daughter.)

The avatar's fully functioning "persona" is explained as having been created by the daughter. The scientist never knew this about her. She was just a rebellious youth who yelled at mom and dad a lot for being too rich and too complacent about the real world.

The real worlds, actually. Multiple worlds. I'm not up on all the B:G mythology, but I think there are 12 worlds and that they all correspond to our own ancient Greek mythology. There is a Taurus equivalent that's described as all dirt. They have a mafia/criminal mentality, wear dark suits and owe each other "favors." The main Tauron we're concerned with is a lawyer who owes his schooling to a "mob boss." (And who will become the father of the Adama, the commander in BSG).

Back to the scientist.

His big war robot project is failing. He comes home to find his daughter's best friend using the holo-thing, demands to know what's up and discovers the underground world and runs into his daughter. She's done it! She's created a virtual person by harnessing all their brain data (supposedly).

He has mafia guy steal the hardware owned by the competing planet -- it seems like all the planets hate each other -- and he puts his daughter into it, and loads it into the war robot.

Epic fail. He's lost his daughter forever.

EPISODE ENDING SPOILER.




Or did he?

"Caprica," the pilot, was a big, unwieldy concoction of plotlines, backstory -- most of which I'm vague about -- and sci fi terms. So, I think a lot of people are going to just say, "Ick. Too much. Can't follow it." Jim would. This is not his bag.

But I think this is good, meaty stuff. It has the potential of rivaling BSG as the most thoughtful and intelligent SF series ever made. The fact that it arrives with all this history and future makes it all the more compelling, even if it will take some time to unpack it all. (The pulp elements -- a brutal knifing, for instance, perpetrated by a muscly tattooed guy with his shirt off in true Dan Brown form -- are kept to a minimum and used to remind us that these are brutal worlds.)

It has great details. The first thing you see when it comes on is "56 Years Before the Fall." All the money is in "cubits."

I think I love this show. I hope it stays this smart and this engaging.

The thing is that even though I didn't know most of the series mythology, I didn't need to know it. The writers intelligently focused on the Frankenstein plotline, propelling us to the end, until we end up with this:

Daddy makes a big monster. Monster is not particularly fond of daddy. Monster is also a monotheist and a pacifist. Monster is in a big, bad robot body with a swirly red light. And monster is a girl.

Not bad at all.

Here's another, more specific, and knowing, review.
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