Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Caprica

Battlestar Galactica (2003-2010)
Caprica (2010-    )
Type: Spin Off

   Caprica, the prequel spin off of the reinvented Battlestar Galactica is a sight better than Battlestar 1980, the craptacular spin off of the original Battlestar Galactica. Although initially I had my worries.

   Battlestar Galactica, original and the reboot, both tell the story of humans living far off in the galaxy who invent robots called Cylons that then become sentient, resent being a slave race to humans and rebel. A war is fought, the Cylons flee humanity and start a long term cold war with humanity. Then, one day, they unexpectedly mount a massive attack and decimate mankind. The humans mainly occupy 12 planets, twelve different colonies. With their society destroyed, the few remaining humans take to the stars in what spaceships are available and protected by the only surviving battlestar caliber spaceship, Galactica, head out into the stars, searching for the legendary 13th tribe of mankind which long long ago left to populate a planet named Earth. The Cylons follow, intent on finishing the battle. The original Galactica was solid sci-fi cheese. The revamp took a more serious approach, using the colonists' situation as a backdrop to deal with real world social issues such as terrorism and political corruption. Also, where in the original Galactica the Cylons were all giant metal robots, the new Galactica included a new model of Cylon that had "evolved" to the point of assuming human appearance and physiology. The Cylons could be the guy sitting next to you!

   Caprica placed it's story well back in time at the time the Cylons were first invented. The Galactica's major domo Commander Adama at the time of Caprica is still only a young child. On Battlestar Galactica we had learned his father, Joseph Adama, was an honorable lawyer. On Caprica we learn things were more complicated. Turns out the Adama clan was from the Tauron colony, a group looked down on by many other colonies. At the beginning Joe has changed the family name to Adams to better blend in on the planet Caprica. Very quickly he regains his pride and changes their name back. And while honorable, that isn't always easy. The Adamas have what amount to mob ties, with Joseph's gay brother being a member.

   In addition to the Adamas, the other major family on the show was the Graystones. While the Adamas were a part of the struggling underclass, the Graystones were the well to do. Daniel Graystone was a computer genius and business mogul. He invented a virtual reality system where people could go on the Caprican equivalent of the internet and have lifelike experiences in cyberspace. As the series starts he is also trying to work the bugs out of his new Cylon robots for a military contract. But... they just won't work right!

   What ties these two families together are their kids. One of the twists of the Galactica universe is that in that universe, polytheism is the norm. Everyone worships multiple gods, with each colony having their own gods. The idea of monotheism, of their only being one god? Well... that's crazy and disturbing and wrong. On Battlestar Galactica the Cylons were the ones who believed there was only one true god. So most viewers were confronted with a situation where the bad guys were the ones with the religion they could more closely relate to. With no Cylons at it's start, we see that monotheism started with a secret, feared, cult of humans. Daniel Graystone's daughter, Zoe, was one of them. At the start Zoe was working on a project for this cult where she was creating a... digital copy of herself, a twin that only existed as a computer construct. A ghost in the machine. Zoe is set to run away from home to join up with the cult on another planet. While on a train with one of her cult friends, and without her knowing it is going to happen, her friend goes terrorist and sets off a bomb, killing them both. It also kills Adama's daughter, Tamara.

   From here things go sci-fi soapy but with a lot of social issues in play. My fear was that with the story so involving teens things might go a bit too 90210 in space. But that wasn't the case. Zoe was dead. Despite being a good kid, as the truth about her emerged, it looked to her loved ones like she was a terrorist. Meanwhile, Virtual Zoe was still around with most people unaware of her. Eventually she managed to download herself into one of her dad's Cylons. That combination, a Cylon with a virtual soul, seemed the key to making them work. But VR Zoe kept her existence secret from her "dad". Would he see her as a daughter to be cared for or as a piece of programming to be used and exploited? Her dad had discovered VR Zoe but thought her program had been lost. Meanwhile, a grieving Adama ended up making contact with Daniel Graystone and begged him to revive his own dead daughter in a cyber incarnation. Graystone does but... it seems to go wrong. Building VR Tamara based on all available knowledge of her, he creates a VR Tamara who is freaked out to be alive but in a cyber limbo and without an actual pulse. Turns out she just needed time to adjust. While Adama thinks her program is no more, VR Tamara actually escapes onto the web with the help of Zoe. She ends up taking up residence in an elaborate VR mob game where, when real players die, they can never come back into the game. But she can't die. True to her real world family heritage, she soon takes her place as a major virtual mob kingpin.

   Things get more complicated from there with real world dads trying to find their virtual daughters, real world terrorists blowing things up, depressed characters taking their lives... very messy, very engrossing. For me some of the issues they raise with the virtual reality world are the most interesting. For instance, in the real world (meaning OUR world) people play violent video games and the defense is, hey, look, it's just a game. Don't get bent about Grand Theft Auto. The kids know it's just a game. It won't mess up their thinking. Fair enough. I buy it. But what about if things get to the point where you can link yourself into a virtual world where everything looks 100% real, where you believe you are there. Caprica presents a world where unauthorized off the main grid virtual night clubs exist where people engage in shocking acts of depravity, where they commit faux human sacrifices for kicks. Russian Roulette for kicks! Is such realistic anything goes "gaming" still just harmless fun?

   There is also another odd timeline problem that existed on Galactica that carries over to Caprica that I'm not sure will ever be addressed. Some spoilers ahead if you are a virgin to the new Battlestar Galactica. Here goes. It is established on Galactica and Caprica that the Cylons came into being when Bill Adama was just a kid. Only when the Galactica finally finds the 13th Colony, who left for Earth hundreds of years earlier, they discover that the 13th Colony was comprised of Cylons, Cylons of the human-looking variety. The "evolution" of Graystone's Cylons into human forms is directly tied to a number of 13th Colony Cylons transporting themselves back into the 12 Colonies' end of the universe and helping them to evolve. So, apparently, Cylon robots evolved into human robots centuries earlier. It does fit in with the constant Cylon refrain on Battlestar that, "This has all happened before and it will all happen again." But it does confuse issues. One of the major points on Caprica seems to be how the Cylons went from toasters to a race of robots with some sort of soul and the ability to evolve. But... the 13th Colony Cylons seem to undercut the drama of that. Seriously, why do I care about this part of the story? The real meat of things would seem to be hundreds of years earlier, in how the ORIGINAL Cylons evolved, became a colony themselves and then took off. And while I believe robots from two different eras could both make a move from home appliances to an intelligent race (maybe the ancient Colonies hit a golden age of technology and then fell back into a dark age where their knowledge was lost) I do find it odd that both times they'd end up named Cylons.

   But this is in a way nitpicking. Taken on it's own terms, Caprica presents a compelling, familiar but utterly unique sci-fi world. Very fun, very enjoyable. Me personally, I can't wait for computer paper! I don't mean printer paper, I mean a computer that takes the form of a thin, foldable piece of paper, where the content of the page can move and change like on a computer screen. The weird thing is, awhile back I'd have look at that as a cool but impossible fictional device. But given the amount of Star Trek stuff that is now real (I'm waiting for an iPad styled after the Star Trek: Next Gen work pads!) and how fast tech is moving... it doesn't seem all that impossible.

Other Battlestar Galactica (2003) Crossover Links
Battlestar Galactica and Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Firefly

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