Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Caprica – A Singularity in the Making

How do you follow something as cerebral and exciting as Battlestar Galactica? Well it seems writer / producer Ronald D Moore & Remi Aubuchon and his colleagues decided to go retro with some future-chic providing a glimpse of how machines could become sentient with the existential spin-off TV series Caprica.

Anyone who has followed Vernor Vinge’s 1993 Singularity Theory or is concerned at what will happen with the upcoming Singularity [as long as Mankind does not destroy itself before the singularity occurs], will find Caprica totally captivating.

So with Episode 9 of Caprica ‘End of the Line’ signaling the mid-season one climax, what can we make of Battlestar Galactica’s bastard daughter?

The Guardian reports

While Caprica, like BSG, now has established a large and deep narrative, last night's a cliffhanger episode arguably lacked the punch of BSG's finest mid-season finales. That said, the show still appears to have enough momentum and unanswered questions to fuel a full season.

Caprica has wisely, I think, managed to keep the BSG homages and portents to a minimum so far, focusing instead on building a layered universe with a smart retro-future aesthetic that meshes BSG storytelling
and Mad Men style, with the CGI small-scale and non-intrusive. Viewers have to admire the care taken in the world-building, such as the intricate slang and rituals created for the "foreign" Tauron characters. It is familiar yet other-worldly.

There have been plenty of present-day analogies and weighty themes thrown into the mix. Already we've seen sexual politics, moral grey areas, and techno-espionage aplenty, but the depiction of Caprican society has been particularly on the nose. Theoretically it's got it all, embracing the unlimited potential of technology, but something is rotting inside. It's spinning out of control: a world where some would rather flee into virtual reality or join terrorist cults than participate in meaningless conspicuous consumption.

Eric Stoltz as Daniel Graystone has emerged as the real gem in the cast. BSG's producers clearly like conflicted scientists (see also Gaius Baltar), and Stoltz excels at playing a complex genius driven by such grief and hubris that he creates the downfall of his entire race. We saw one particularly gripping character moment in episode eight, when Daniel tried to
provoke his daughter into betraying her presence in the U-87 by playing on her childhood fears of fire.

Read More from The Guardian

While Time Magazine stated –

I've really liked this show, even as the ratings have struggled to recover from an initial drop-off. While Syfy continues to tout the show's performance with the ever-important younger demo, I've watched the weekly tally hover right around a million viewers. The numbers for Friday's cliffhanger show 1.1 million viewers, with a 0.5 rating for adults 18-49 (tied for a series high). Yes, the season premiered right up against the Haiti telethon, and the hyper-serialized nature of Caprica has meant that it's harder for newbies to access the series if they missed week 1 or 2. I, for one, think the show would do a whole lot better if it aired on a different night of the week.

But I digress. The show's producers have clearly been building up to last Friday's cliffhanger, and Syfy has now pulled it off the air until the fall, in hopes that a larger audience learns to love the show by then. You can find most of the episodes in their entirety
right here, and if you are one of those few who catches up with it during this indefinite “hiatus,” here's betting that you fall into one of two camps: The viscerally bored or the intellectually stimulated.

The gulf between these extremes illustrate's the show's ratings problem.

Caprica may be a Battlestar Galactica prequel, but it's a show that up to this point has almost been devoid of action. It's an insulated bubble of a thing, about two dead daughters, two fathers who aren't quite getting the whole mourning process, and the virtual avatars of these two girls who continue to roam through a futuristic virtual space. (I've written truckloads of detailed copy about the show over at Techland, and you can find all the
detailed analysis here, along with an interview with the show's co-creator here). There was a brilliant moment in an early episode where the series all but came to a standstill in a black box, with three avatars looking at each other. In one corner was the virtual representation of a living teenage girl. In another corner was the avatar of Zoe Graystone, who created a standalone virtual replica of herself prior to her death. And in a third corner was the avatar of another dead girl, constructed after her death in a botched experiment. She has no memories of her real-life alter-ego. She is a wandering CG construct, existing unto herself.

Confused yet?

Yes, all of this is quite trippy, but that's part of the show's allure. It keeps scrambling up our conventional notions of humanity, reality and morality. In these three avatars, we see a sliding scale of humanity, between the real girl in a fake world, the echo of a real girl in a fake world, and then the fake replica in a fake world. All three avatars can function, and feel emotion, but they represent very different things. So who's real, and who's not? As Zoe's avatar is downloaded into a robot in the real world, does she owe any allegiance to Zoe's father? After all, technically Zoe is dead. This is Zoe II, with a mission all her own.
For all the series' flaws, they have successfully given us a character who is neither human nor robot. But something in between. That's pretty remarkable.

Now I know that Jim hasn't been covering this show intimately, so it's a little hard for me to bring everyone up to speed. And I guess that's not really the point of this post, anyway. I merely wanted to give a shout-out to a show that I think has turned a rather significant corner. In last Friday's "mid-season finale," each and every storyline exploded (or imploded, depending on how you look at it). Daughters betrayed their fathers, characters attempted suicide, cyborgs that were locked down in computer labs have now broken out, and are engaged in high-speed car chases. Even a sweet-natured high school teacher, who did little more than sit around and talk for the majority of the first season, is involved in a car bombing.
I'm going to refrain from giving away all the twists and turns, and instead encourage you to simply catch up with Caprica while it's away on break. Give some heady, smart sci-fi a try. As someone who thinks that A.I. is the best sci-fi film of the
last decade, I have been thoroughly riveted by Caprica, and all the moral implications of its artificial life. If you could bring a dead loved one back in the form of a hologram, would you? Should you? What does it mean, to cheat death and escape mourning? And what would your loved one's replica owe you? Heck, what is love? Is it the exchange of emotion, or a one-way affair?

Read more from

While we wait for the second slug of Season One of Caprica, you can catch up with more information via the SyFy Channel in the US or Sky One in the UK. If you’ve missed Caprica, the extended pilot is available on DVD for US Here and UK Here while the second part of season one of Caprica is planned for Autumn [if you live in the UK], or Fall [if you live in the US] 2010.

Personally speaking, I’m rather excited to see what happens when human material gets integrated into the machine, because with Caprica, we are taking a glimpse into the future; as long as we don’t destroy all we survey.

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