Tuesday, 16 August 2011

"A depraved cesspool of sin"

Caprica - Season 1.5
2010 - 2011
Full production details on imdb
Well produced, world spanning sci-fi thriller. Rollicking plot but lacking in subtlety, character and characterisation.

As Unvanquished opens with its recap of season 1.0 it suprises me how emotionally invested in Caprica I had become. I had previously thought that despite exciting storylines, the characters and character of the show weren't drawing me in. But as I'm reminded of the climactic end to the first half a season a sense of excitement engulfs me and I remember that there are some likeable characters (well, Vergis), and some interesting ones. Maybe I had been too harsh on the series so far. Or maybe it was just a well edited recap.

So I entered Caprica 1.5 with an open mind, eager to see how Daniel Greystone, who shares perhaps more than just his name with Battlestar Galactica's 12th Cylon, would recover from his spectacular fall from grace, and how far along Battlestar Galactica's back story we would progress.

Spin-off series, particularly prequels, are always something to be apprehensive of. Back story is a large part of the richness and depth of a good television show. BSG's history and culture, built up through intriguing hints and flashbacks were integral to the show, and added to its feeling of  textured reality. Caprica is an attempt to expand and, perhaps more cynically, cash in on this, but did it really need spelling out in it's own show?

The nine 40 minute episodes of Caprica 1.5 are a fast moving, plot driven 6 hours. The extensive dramatis personæ of varying ages all have their part to play in the inevitable impending catastrophe which is the First Cylon War, and the story unfolds like a thriller. Science, technology, religion, culture are all factors in the motivations, with a suitably convoluted plot to last the half series. But while the characters and their respective factions have their motivations, they are hardly subtle. There are religious groups, which are defined solely by the number of gods in which they believe, to the extent that the Monotheist group are imaginitvley titled 'Monads' and I didn't even catch a name other than 'Polytheists' for the others. We see very little of the religious practices or mythology.

The second episode, Retribution, emulates the start of BSG with its trail of relentless and violent death. Characters become trapped in the terrorist organisation 'the Soldiers of the One' in a similar manner to the start of BSG which had the crew of the Galactica trapped and fleeing from the relentless Cylons. Despite the numerous random killings in this, and in Blowback, aside from one contrived 'twist' toward the end of the series, no significant characters die.

While BSG showed how desperate times led to desperate measures as terrorists emerged from freedom fighters in an occupied home, Caprica doesn't leave any room to empathise with the terrorists. For the most part the 'Soldiers of the One' are just Bad Guys. The few we get to know are forced into joining the organisation, or are blind followers such as Nestor and Olaf Willow - despite plentiful screen time, we gain no sympathy or understanding for their actions. Despite numerous chances, in its far reaching socio political potential, there are no real shades of grey, no convincingly handled allegories for real world.

We return to New Cap City in Things We Lock Away - a 'v-world' environment where the Matrix meets Inception stylised like Sin City. This "depraved cesspool of sin" is slick and well produced, if gratuitous and, while it is derivative, it is unlike much else on television. Also making a return is Clarice's understated polygamy. Which, while the relationships are not quite believable beyond the bickering, is a nice touch.

False Labor introduces an interesting subplot, and we see more of the Taurons and their lifestyle - an honour based family culture with a history of persecution reminiscent of so many others in 'cult' television (think Klingons, Bajorans, Jaffa...).

Blowback and Dirteaters continue the descent into darkness as children are executed for the convenience of the STO and we relive the fate of Samuel and Joseph's parents. Ironically, and poetically, this darkness leads to perhaps the show's only piece of humour in the form of comic relief from the virtual Amanda Greystone. This brief dance of dark and humour highlights the complete absence of funny from the rest of the series. Caprica is plot driven, and makes for exciting watching. But plot driven at the expense of characterisation and humour. The cast is extensive, but the relationships are for the most part stilted and it is definitely not the Whedonesque ensemble show it could have been.

Caprica 1.5 is wonderfully produced and pretty to look at from the various wordly terrains, through air craft to v-world, but what it has in visual dimensionality, it lacks in subtlety. It is the backstory to BSG and doesn't quite come into it's own. While it has all the right ingredients, it is too deliberate and lacks its own backstory - even the subplot of False Labor becomes essential to the overall arc. While it is exciting and fun for BSG fans to watch the story unfold to its inevitable conclusion, one season was most definitely enough.

Shockingly yet another Battlestar Galactica spin off Blood and Chrome is currently in production. Let's hope that a tad more soul is added to this, or alternatively, that studios stop patronising audiences and back some original projects.

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