Skip to main content

Caprica: Before the Fall

Last night, I finally got around to watching the pilot to the Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica (which will begin airing in 2010). The pilot opens 58 years before the events of BSG, with the tragic intersection of the lives of Joseph Adama (Admiral Bill Adama’s father) and scientist Daniel Graystone, who both lose daughters in a bombing by a monotheist teenager associated with a radical terrorist group (the vast majority of religion is polytheistic). When the grief-stricken Graystone realizes a combination of technologies could bring back a semblance of his daughter Zoe, Joseph struggles with the ramifications of the chance to bring back his own daughter. And so in these personal stories and choices we begin to follow the events that lead to the fall of Caprica and humanity’s way of life. We see how theses struggles, choices (good and bad) and events funnel BSG’s humanity down the road on which we know they end up.

And, you know what? It’s a pretty good story. It feels somehow more literary that BSG—more dense, perhaps? It moves slower (without the action and space battles of BSG), yet tension is still very much there. Perhaps some of that comes from knowing what will happen. We know how the story ends, and yet we are still gripped by its telling.

(Warning: While I touch on only minor spoilers concerning Caprica, there are major spoilers related to the BSG series.)

And we are often reminded that we are watching a part of a larger story. We meet the young Bill Adama. We see the coming into being of the Cylon (in more ways than one). And there’s the familiar religions and the tension between the planet-centered ethnicities. Some of that familiarity with the larger story also comes in the form of things like familiar lighting (that washed-out white-blue) and architecture of Caprica that we saw in BSG.

There are also the familiar themes—particularly (and perhaps even more directly than BSG) what makes us human. What makes who we are? Is it more than what is in the brain? More than personality? Is there a soul—and if so, can it be copied or downloaded somehow? And even if we could do that, should we?

In all that exploration, the grounding character in the story becomes Joseph Adama, even as he struggles with these issues in his own situation. Interestingly, for Joseph there are no gods and no life after death. Yet we know from BSG that there is an Other, something “more” that is working things out so that humanity and Cylon alike survive and prosper—even, if you will, a personal Being of sorts. It will be interesting to see if and how all that will all play out in this series.

I also found very intriguing the repeated articulation of a longing for a right and wrong in a world gone wrong. We see that most vividly in the depraved virtual reality world but also in the mafia-like world of Joseph Adama and the ethically-challenged world of Daniel Graystone. There is a sense in the series that there is “a line not to be crossed” (to use Joseph’s brother’s terminology)—even Graystone realizes it (though he chooses to reject it).

And that all plays into how we humans approach and relate to religion. I like Gabriel McKee’s thoughts on this. He suggests that the conflict between monotheism and polytheism (a theme of BSG) will be even more prevalent in this series—and he notes how both are critiqued in the pilot (though monotheism seems to bear the brunt):
In a conversation with the headmistress of Zoe’s school, the man investigating the bombing looks at the dangerous philosophy he sees lurking within monotheism:

It doesn’t concern you, Sister, 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 of acts can be sanctioned without appeal?

That’s a bleak portrait of monotheism, to be sure, but that’s the speaker’s bias. The monolog begs the question, however, of what kind of alternative polytheism is—can’t Caprica’s polytheists, too, find divine sanction for horrendous actions by appealing to a variety of minor gods? Indeed, a group of Hecate worshippers practices virtual human sacrifice in the VR world, so monotheism isn’t the only culprit in this culture. In any event, the role of religion in society is going to be a major factor in Caprica’s
I also appreciate Ken Brown’s concern that the deeper aspects of faith are not being plumbed in the pilot:
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.
Will Caprica go deeper in its exploration of faith? Time will tell. Let’s hope so, because what drew me in part to BSG was its thoughtful and personal exploration not only of how we approach and misuse religion but even more so its exploration of the sacrificial and transformational role of an authentic faith.

All in all, I found Caprica a story with good characters and good storytelling. And it felt wonderful to be back in the BSG universe—one that we now know plays out very close to our own.

Note: Be forewarned, there are scenes of nudity, sexual situations and violence in the pilot.

(Image: DVD cover) capricactgy