Greetings, Tuned In universe. It is I, Jim’s lowly temporary replacement, schlepped over from Techland to fill the gaps while Poniewozik recharges his brain for Lost’s last lap.
I thought I should begin my short-term tenure by posting a quick note on the series I’ve been covering most religiously for Techland – the series that has sparked more than a few heated arguments with friends and readers over the last few weeks. I am speaking of Caprica – the show that Jim gave a hesitant endorsement back at the beginning of the month. At the time, he said he had initially worried about the series – a spinoff of Battlestar Galactica – being able to assert its independence. But he was impressed by the foundation the show had constructed, was intrigued as to where things were headed, and thought it was a prequel worth giving a chance.
Well, after Friday night’s mid-season cliffhanger – or should I say cliffjumper – we now have a better sense of where they are taking things. And I for one couldn’t be more impressed.
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.
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?
This is juicy, smart stuff. But it’s also the kind of stuff that plays out at a slow-burn. It’s more heady than harrowing.
What Friday night’s cliffhanger showed us is that all these moody, moving cogs do add up to a more exciting puzzle – one in which firepower, bankruptcies, terrorism and death hang in the balance. While the ratings teeter, and the future of the show hangs in the balance, I can now finally see for the first time how the makers of the series intend to overlay some high-octane thrills on top of this high-minded soap.
Caprica might not be for everybody, but I think we’re finally starting to see the show’s true colors. Now might be the perfect time to give the show a second glance.