So that title might not be totally accurate given that the show has been canceled, but I can’t help but feel like it fits just a bit when the constant companion of news and rumors about Caprica have been news and rumors about another Battlestar Galactica spin-off (called Blood and Chrome). Apparently, SyFy feels that a cerebral, slow-burning series that is probably the most significant and relevant work of science fiction in television history (eclipsing its parent in this regard, if no other) must go. Meanwhile, bring in the show that SyFy reps are comparing (the tone at least) to The Hurt Locker.
Okay, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. I like the idea of anything BSG and one of the things that worked well was the military motif. Caprica tried to do something different and succeeded on some levels but failing on others. It was one of the more ambitious shows I’ve had the pleasure to watch even when it was a bit of a trial due to undercooked subplots and some hiccups in juggling a large cast of characters. It is also the second very good, very provocative science fiction show to be produced and then canceled due to poor ratings (using a system that is completely outdated). The other show was Dollhouse which has yet to achieve the cult status it deserves but at least that one made it to two seasons and a pretty satisfactory conclusion. We know Caprica won’t make two seasons and by the time the rest of the first season is shown, it’ll have been over a year since the show first aired. I think that’s grounds to say it’s been mishandled.
Anyway, I shower Caprica with some pretty glowing praise in my opening paragraph. I know it isn’t enough to simply say a show is good. I should back that shit up otherwise I just sound miffed cuz a show I liked got the axe. There’s enough of that on the internet without my help. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t even always like the show exactly. I found it difficult to get into, far more than BSG and also a helluva lot more challenging in terms of themes and subject matter. The struggle, which is an exaggeration obviously, was always rewarding. Especially considering the improvements made in the second half the season (which will not finish it’s run until January or something now).
So why do I think Caprica is so good, so important?
Let me start with the meaty science fiction stuff. Like BSG, and naturally so, Caprica is trying to deal with some major philosophical questions while also showcasing technologies which are emerging now, or will in the very near future. Part of the appeal of the show is that it’s more grounded in the kinds of technological realities we deal with today than most other science fiction shows. It also manages to tackle popularized near-future concepts like virtual reality, trans and post-humanism, and robotics.
This wouldn’t be part of the new BSG universe without socio-political commentary and it is in this element that Caprica probably has the most to say. Dealing with the problems of a fanatical monotheistic religion (in this case a very Abrahamic-seeming one, like a mix of Christianity and Islam) with a militant branch and its effect on an urbane, technologically sophisticated society is risking getting too close to some uncomfortable realities. But true to form, Caprica confronts this boldly and earnestly without pausing to wink and say “look how current we are”. Some of the statements being made here are so subtle or such a part of the background that they are overshadowed by the plot-integral stuff. For example, homosexuality (at least among Taurons) is accepted and without ceremony. It just is. Same with group marriages which seem uncommon but are definitely another accepted social structure. The people in Caprica are caught up in matters of business, politics, and religion in similar ways as we are but they have gotten over the sexual hangups which plague contemporary society in such a way as to suggest that just as the denizens of the show’s reality make no bones about this stuff, nor should we. It’s a bold, subtle statement that most people are going to miss. I can also see some being uncomfortable with how frank Caprica can be about sex. It’s really a mirror held up to our society with the steam-written words “what if” barely visible.
That half the characters in the show are wrapped up in religious terrorism and that some of these characters are pretty sympathetic adds dimensions to what we usually take for granted in the moral discourse of our culture. I would say that Caprica falls on the side of “religion is evil” but I’d rather it be that than characterizing all of the fundamentalist characters as backwards idiots with Tea-Party level awareness. Most of them are shrewd, ambitious, and scarily capable.
Without getting into a bulky discussion of specific characters and plot, it’s important to note that in the midst of all this technology, religion, and business politics it’s a very specific story that’s being told. Caprica is about the myriad factors involved in the genesis of the Cylons, including keys to their development of cyborg replicants (“skinjobs”) and monotheistic religion. Business espionage and backroom deals with gangsters play as important a part as the religious strife plaguing the entire society. All of these elements play a part and thus various characters and subplots exist and sometimes have little to do with each other. This was a narrative weakness in the early part of the show. Now, extraneous characters and plots are being resolved at an impressive speed and with an extremely deft touch. Characters who were once connected only by events and relationships decentralized from the primary thrust of the plot are now being brought into each others’ orbit.
In effect, Caprica has been canceled at what must be its peak. Even though this is the case, I urge people to watch this show.
I am adding the following after finishing the show and learning that it was Jane Espenson no longer acting as showrunner that probably contributed most fully to the upswing it took in the second half of the season.
One of the things I basically said but didn’t realize I was saying is that Caprica isn’t just a mirror held up to society but a mirror held up to America. It posits that business (particularly capitalist corruption of scientific research and development) mixed with organized crime in tribal fringe societies (think Sicilians) and religious strife produce a society on the edge of collapse not only from forces within but from forces without, forces for which the society is directly responsible.
Caprica is a show very much about the decline of Empire. Maybe THAT is why it has such a hard time finding an audience. Some days I don’t like looking in the mirror either.