I have to say that I loved Caprica, enjoyed the story it told and appreciated its attempts to tackle complex and challenging subject matter. While it pained me to see the way in which SyFy was handling the series when the axe finally fell it didn't really come as a surprise.
It would be easy to point to SyFy and use them as an easy scapegoat, because who doesn't like to hate on corporations and faceless CEOs. Yes, the way in which the network handled the marketing and scheduling of the show was less than stellar. But at the end of the day the show simply wasn't pulling in the desired viewing figures so from a pure business perspective I can understand the decision.
But having re-watched the entire season recently I have to say though that the bigger culprit in dooming Caprica was the show the elf and it's writers. A number of creative decisions were made that hobbled the show out of the gate and while the mid-series break gave the show runners a chance to change a number of things for the better, by then it was too late to recover.
*Note: Things get spoiled after this point, so read on at your own risk.*
Caprica's premise was to tell the story of the Cylons and their origins on the Twelve Colonies, how they were developed and integrated into society, and ultimately show what the catalyst was for their rebellion.
The event that sets all this in motion is the bombing of a train by monotheistic terrorists the STO, in which Zoe Graystone and Tamara Adama are among the victims. Both are the daughters of the two main characters for the series: Head of the technology company Graystone Industries Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adama (father of Bill), a civil liberties lawyer who works for mafia-like organisation the Hal'atha.
The other characters rounding out the regular cast are Joseph's mob brother Sam, Daniel's wife Amanda, Zoe's friend Lacey Rand and school principal/STO leader Sister Clarice Willow. Zoe Graystone herself is a regular, albeit as an exact digital copy of herself created before she died. The digital doppelgänger has all of Zoe's memories and looks exactly like her, living in a virtual reality world called V-World. That is until she winds up in her father's prototype Cylon.
Set in a world where advanced technology and film noir fedoras sit side by side, gay and polygamous relationships are the norm, and most worship a pantheon of gods one would wonder how this all fits together?
Well it often doesn't unfortunately. The first half of the season is something of a narrative mess with the main story thread often getting lost among a bunch of barely relevant plot lines.
Chief among them is a storyline involving Amanda having visions of her dead brother wherever she goes, turning to Clarice (pally with Amanda for no clear reason at the time) and drug dens to try and explain it all. This culminates with Amanda deciding to take a dive off a bridge, because apparently in her past she tried to kill herself. Of course this useful nugget of info is not hinted at in previous episodes on any way, making the reveal minutes before the jump feel quite jarring.
Battlestar Galactica, Caprica's parent show, occasionally became complex in narrative but it always kept its core story to the fore: Fleeing the Cylons and ensuring the survival of the human race. Whatever other stories the writers wished to tell was always in the service of the main storyline, a useful rule that Caprica lost sight of early on.
Who Do I Care About Here?
These story problems could possibly be overlooked if the cast of characters was a compelling bunch.
At its heart BSG was a show all about its characters: Yes these people were flawed, often making questionable devisions that could best be described as morally grey. However each character had at least one character trait which redeemed them in some way be it a wisecracking, devil may care attitude or a staunch belief in justice. In contrast to this the denizens of Caprica seem to be on a mission to alienate the audience, being a thoroughly unlikable and disgusting set of individuals.
Take for example Daniel. He downloads the digital Zoe into his Cylon robot prototype, seemingly with the intention of somehow bringing the daughter he loves back to life.
This hits a snag when it seems that Zoe is lost in the transfer process and he instead turns attention towards turning the Cylon into a military tool. However when he begins to suspect that Zoe may still be in the prototype Daniel gets nasty. Old childhood likes and fears are used against her, ranging from being surrounded by a ring of fire up to Zoe being ordered to shoot her beloved pet dog. None of it works and as soon as the military starts wondering when it will be getting some robot soldiers. At his wits end Daniel orders the chip with Zoe on it to be purged so as to meet deadlinturn sot the most loving of fathers I've seen.
"Think it's time for a BBQ!"
It doesn't end with Daniel of course. Amanda is given little to do other than moping and regretting being a terrible parent. Joseph, who originally asked his brother to steal the Zoe chip for Daniel, is constantly torn over his duties to the Hal'atha and grieving for his dead wife and daughter. Lacey is meant to be trying to help robot Zoe but only ever seems to be whining how difficult it is and solely reactionary to events. Clarice is meant to be a villain in it all but is about as menacing as a dotty old grandmother. And poor Sam doesn't even get enough screen time to fully shine (nor indeed for me to admire him while shirtless ).
Caprica was originally conceived as a show in the style of a soap opera, with character that were not meant to be easily liked, let alone loved. Yet the writers possibly went too far in that direction, leaving us with protagonists that at best range from indecisive and wishy-washy to downright hateful at their worst. For a show meant to be all about characters it is something of an issue if there isn't a single one to root for.
Turn the Ship Around
As the midseason finale drew nearer viewers were not sticking around and fans were complaining of major problems with almost every aspect of the show. The execs were listening and quickly moved to change as much of the story and flow of the second half of the season to compensate.
The references to Battlestar get upped considerably with the terms 'boxed' and 'hub' bandied about. Episodes began visiting other colonial planets like Gemenon and Tauron, giving us a greater understanding of what was going on in the world at large. We even got a 'head Zoe' that appeared to both the original and digital Zoe.
Pacing was improved drastically with significant advancements of the central plot occurring every episode. Unworkable story threads were wound off, while others got reworked or (in the case of our fed friends) revived for the better:
- Daniel hameant go into partnership with Joseph and the Hal'atha to regain his company from a business rival, who is now producing the Cylons en masse.
- Sam wants to help his people backpack on Tauron with a civil war - by sending them guns and Cylons, against the Hal'atha leadership's wishes.
- Amanda survives her jump and begins working for a federal agent to spy on her friend Clarice, whom she is told murdered her daughter Zoe.
- Meanwhile Clarice is using Amanda to gain access to a copy of the program that created digital Zoe, in order to create a digital heaven to use as a recruiting tool.
- Lacey gets shipped off to an STO training camp on Gemenon and attempts to change it (and the STO's use of Cylons) from the inside.
- And Zoe teams up with digital Tamara Adama to clean up the excesses of the digital world and impose a new order on V-World.
Everyone's story ends up getting a shot in the arm, each thread contributing in some clear and meaningful way to the evolution of the central arc, with the Cylons featuring much more prominently also. Characters make decisions of significance and evolve to the point where some admirable qualities shine through, giving a reason for the viewer to cheer for them. Whether it is Daniel attempting to outmaneuver the Hal'atha, Lacey rifle-butting a goon or Clarice cooking up a terrorist plot we want to see them succeed, to see what happens next.
...And Then It Ended
Unfortunately viewers had already made up their minds about Caprica, thus dooming the show to a run of only one season.
What would have happened going forward had the show survived can be frustrating to think about. The final episode ended with an enticing sizzle reel that teased what may have been: Cylons fully integrated and working in many facets of society, Lacey as head of the monotheists, Clarice preaching to the Cylons to rise up "and crush the ones who first gave them life", Joseph and new wife Evelyn with the real Bill Adama (little Willie having been offed) and digital Zoe being downloaded into her skin job body, emerging from a birthing pool and into the welcoming arms of Daniel and Amanda.
Took a while, but they will be missed
How we would get there is torturously fun to think about, but unfortunately we shall never know definitively. The next Battlestar prequel up to bat is Blood and Chrome, and hopefully it has better luck with picking up and retaining viewers early on than it's forebear. In the meantime I would strongly recommend taking the time to watch Caprica, a show that started promisingly but unfortunately lost it's way, before coming back strong and ending on a high note. Frakking awesome!
Musings on Caprica's Failure
Blog entry posted by XenviK, Jun 3, 2011.