Caprica has come. The prequel to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica kicked off Friday night with a two-hour pilot/movie. As a rule, pilots are not really my thing as they beat viewers over the head with who the characters are, their allegiances, their conflicts, what lies ahead, etc. In fact, I have skipped many a pilot the first time around and jumped in an episode or two later once the writers and the actors have relaxed into the show (a recent exception to this rule was the fabulous Modern Family pilot, which seemed sure of itself right out of the gate). But my BSG love is still strong, my curiosity piqued, and I was there Friday night “before the fall” to see the birth of the Cylons.
The pilot introduced the Graystone and Adama familes. Daniel Graystone and his wife Amanda are wealthy scientists of the Gaius Baltar variety (there lakefront house recalls Baltar’s pad from the BSG miniseries). These masters of the universe have everything one could want except the respect of their angry, brilliant teenage daughter, Zoe. She is not some rebel without a cause. Zoe, along with her best friend, Lacy, and her boyfriend, Ben, spend their nights in a virtual nightclub full of sex and human sacrifice. But they are not there to party but rather to bring a yet unspecified change to their virtual and real worlds. Zoe has even managed to create an avatar, a perfect copy of herself, destined to mother the toasters and, in turn, the skin jobs (more on that in a bit). Rapidly, real-world Zoe perishes, courtesy of a terrorist attack orchestrated by Ben, and along with the many victims are the Old Man’s mother and sister. Left to pick up the pieces is lawyer, Joseph Adams (not yet Adama; he’s still denying his Tauron roots). Joseph and Daniel unite in their grief, and when Daniel discovers Zoe’s avatar he decides to play god and implant her essence into a synthetic body. Joseph, initially horrified by the plan, is ultimately swayed by the prospect of reuniting with his own lost loved ones. To that end, he enlists his underworld connected brother, Sam, to steal a vital piece of technology from a rival firm, and Daniel sets out to bring Zoe back to life. Daniel is left devastated when his efforts seem to fail and he apparently loses the virtual Zoe forever. He re-groups and creates the first Centurion, but in a final twist, Zoe is trapped inside the metal body and contacting Lacy for help.
Overall, I’m excited to see where this series goes. In addition to debates about what is real and the possiblity of copying a soul, Caprica argues for a terrorist act and asks whether right and wrong are absolutes. Weighty issues of this sort mingle with more intimate glimpses of grief and familial love, notably a tender love scene between the suddenly childless Daniel and Amanda and a bedtime story where Joseph reclaims his family name for young Willie (the second scene was beautifully underscored by Bear McCreary’s Adama/Apollo theme from BSG). After the controversial BSG finale, a friend of mine noted that for all the action sequences and political maneuverings, Ronald Moore’s space opera was ultimately a series of love stories. Some ended happily (Baltar and Caprica, Athena and Helo, Tigh and Ellen), others not so much (Adama and Roslin, Apollo and Starbuck). If I were to identify a singular, universal theme in the prequel, it’s how fathers and their children relate to one another. Daniel, who failed Zoe while she lived, becomes obsessed with resurrecting her. But the avatar wants to do more than fill a void in Daniel’s heart and absolve him of his guilt. To that end, she hopes his experiment fails, and it is not yet clear whether she somehow sabotaged his intentions. Regardless, Zoe is now trapped in a design of her father’s creation like so many who are ensnared by their parents’ desires or expectations. BSG often had the Cylons stating that they were the children of humanity. How fitting that this is literally realized in the prequel and how intriguing to think that what will ultimately destroy the colonies and most of its denizens is a father trying to reach his daughter with disastrous results. On the flip side, the scene between Joseph and Willie is that of a father acknowledging his mistakes. Unlike Daniel, he knows he can’t recapture what once, or maybe never, was. But he’ll try to do better. Caprica promises more of the religious discussions that colored so much of BSG‘s later seasons (to the dismay of some fans; honestly, I liked where the series went as it progressed). This might turn off admirers of pre-New Caprica only, but a new legion of fans can be recruited, anyone who ever battled a parent and tried to find purpose in the face of a loss. And the overabundance of attractive, angsty teens, somewhat lacking aboard Galactica, won’t hurt either.