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After the monumental influence and success of the Sci Fi Channel's reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, any follow-up was going to be heavily scrutinized. Add to that the rebranding of the network as Syfy, a less genre-oriented destination where hard science fiction has struggled to find a foothold. Caprica, a prequel series to BSG that explored the genesis of the Cylons even before the first Cylon war, was such a different flavor for the network that fans may not have known what to think of it. Glacially paced, and with no space-faring at all, it was very intentionally a soap-operatic drama that happened to be set in a science fiction universe. That it failed isn't much of a surprise, but it is a damned shame.
I'm right on board with those people who said Caprica was almost unwatchable in the beginning. While it was tackling some astounding concepts, it was taking simply forever to get there. It was as if the writers were writing at the pace of a daily soap opera instead of a weekly saga. What that means, unfortunately, is that Caprica: Season 1.0 is a little off balance and unsatisfying by itself. By the latter half of the season, things seemed to get back on track.
William Adama, who would go on to lead the last remnants of the human civilization as commander of the Galactica was a mere boy at this point. The series spotlights both the story of his family, headed by his father Joseph (Esai Morales) and his uncle Sam (Sasha Roiz), and the Graystone family. The Adamas are poor and from Tauron, while the Caprican Graystones are one of the most influential and powerful families on their world. The show explores issues of inequality and prejudice (Capricans against Taurons). These biases among the Twelve Colonies of humanity were hinted at in the original BSG, but as that was a situation where all of humanity was huddled together in a fleet and running for their lives, it wasn't as prevalent as it is at this time of opulence and success on Caprica.
The Graystones, thanks in no small part to the programming brilliance of Daniel's daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), become the foundation for the Cylon race. Zoe dies early in the series, as part of a terrorist bombing, and that sets up the third and fourth major conflicts of the series. As I'm writing this, it seems that maybe there was simply too much to juggle and keep track of for the viewers who were finding Caprica.
The third struggle involves the STO, which is a terrorist organization Zoe is a part of with her friend Lacy. After Lacy chickens out and doesn't board a doomed train with Zoe, thus sparing her life, she begins boring deeper and deeper into the STO, led on Caprica by Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) of the Athena Academy. What better disguise could a terrorist leader look for?
The last element of the show proved to be the most rewarding, and the one with the most potential. Instead of an internet, Capricans have V-World, a virtual reality realm that seems as real as the outside world. Inside, we discover that young hackers have created whole virtual societies free of the rules and restrictions Daniel's corporation, Graystone Industries, had put on the public V-World. We're treated to sex clubs, fight clubs, and even a virtual video game called New Cap City. In this place, if you are killed once, you can never jack back in. The point of the game? Well, no one seems to know, but it's sure a hell of a lot more exciting than your mundane existence in the real world.
Where it gets interesting is in the revelation that Zoe created an avatar of herself in the virtual world. It is the single most advanced artificial intelligence ever created, even outstripping her father's best capabilities. And as it was fabricated from her own memories, journals, videos of her, and every other detail in existence about the real Zoe, this Zoe is identical to her up to the point of its creation. Her journey through the virtual world is at times, and especially in these earlier episodes, far more fascinating than the adventures of her real-life father, who spends a lot of time drinking, whining about his daughter's death, and tinkering with an early-model Cylon (in which he manages to house the virtual Zoe at one point). She can still access the V-World, but if she leaves there, she winds up in this hulking Cylon model, which creates some interesting visuals as the directors shift from showing us the petite form of Torresani and the massive robot body she's in.
Adama's daughter, Tamara, and his wife were also on board the train that exploded, which ultimately leads to him forcing Daniel to recreate Tamara in the virtual world using Zoe's algorithms. Daniel is able to create an avatar of her, but she rejects her father and instead undertakes a journey of her own, ultimately discovering that she is unable to die. For people jacking in from the outside, death in V-World just means they're logged out. In New Cap City it means they're done with the game. After discovering she can't die, Tamara takes to New Cap City, though she's still confused as to exactly what she is and what she's going to do.
There's a lot more going on, in typical soap opera fashion, but it was apparently too much for the new Syfy. Before the first season ended, it was yanked due to low ratings, and ultimately cancelled. Fans of BSG should absolutely pick up this series, but expect something more along the lines of a dense science fiction novel on the screen than a typical television show. And don't just settle for this first half of the season, as it is the weaker half, while the producers struggled to figure out how to make such a unique show work. I think they figured it out after their mid-season hiatus, but by then they'd lost too many of their viewers. If it's any consolation, Syfy also cancelled Stargate Universe, another dense science fiction epic, leaving only their lighter and more episodic fare on the air. Fans should now be asking, if these shows can't work on a network that at least sounds like "Sci Fi," where can they?
This thing is absolutely packed with extras, which is astounding if you consider it's only the first half of the season. But Syfy never disappoints on DVD sets, and they've outdone themselves again. There are behind-the-scenes looks at the development of the series and the world of Caprica itself. They captured a strange 1950s-meets-the-future vibe which was a completely unique and compelling visual.
"The Caprica Dynasty" shows how closely tied this is to its parent series, as many of the staff and crew from the original stayed on to work on Caprica. There are lots of episode commentaries, as well as the continuation of the podcasts from the sets, featuring various members of the crew participating in a tradition that was begun on the set of BSG. Throughout the discs, you can find "Video Blogs," which cover behind-the-scenes details specific to each episode. If something stood out to you while watching a particular scene, there's a good chance there's something on this set that will tell you more about it, between the blogs, podcats, and commentaries.
The pilot episode offered an unrated and extended edition that was available on DVD before the series began, and that's been made available again here as well, for those fans who didn't pick it up and wouldn't have seen it on television, as this format never aired. Add in the requisite deleted scenes and a sneak peek at the latter half of the season, and all we needed was a blooper reel to make this the perfect DVD set. As it stands, though, it's still pretty close.
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