If you watched the first episodes of Caprica and decided it wasn’t for you because it didn’t live up to Battlestar Galactica, try this: watch another episode and try to forget that it has anything to do with BSG.
When the show debuted, I liked its potential but wasn’t entirely on board: it had a lot going on and was a little sluggish and uneven. But with last Friday’s episode, “There Is Another Sky,” I’m now committed.
It’s always dicey for a work to deal with virtual environments and games, especially with teenagers involved; the potential for cheese and preachiness is almost limitless. But I’m taken both by the aesthetics of New Cap City and the sophisticated way that Caprica is handling having characters living on, literally, an entirely different plane of existence. I could quickly see Tamara Adama–a perplexed teenager rediscovering herself as immortal videogame character–becoming my favorite character on the show.
In a way, Caprica’s concerns are something like those of Dollhouse: what happens when you’re able to take Cartesian dualism one step farther and literally separate the mind from the physical body? And it’s richly complicating this cyberpunk question by setting it in an affluent, hypercivilized society whose affluence is starting to be troubled by spiritual restlessness, manifest in cults and terrorism.
I still believe that Caprica feels like a prequel that didn’t need to be a prequel. I’m not naive; I realize that BSG gave it a built-in audience, and that it probably would not have been made if not for that. But if Caprica could simply have created its own universe–a futuristic society dealing with the implications of virtual reality and artificial intelligence–it could have been as fascinating a show as it is, without the burden of comparison.
To me, actually, the elements that are the most prequel-y are the least effective, or the most distracting. All the business of “Look! It’s a Cylon!” or “Look! It’s Adama!” take me out of what is otherwise a very different series in tone and style. In fact, I could almost entirely do without the entire subplot involving the Adamas and the Tauran mob.
But I also think that, if it survives, Caprica is going to create an identity entirely separate from BSG. Whether it will be as good, I don’t know and don’t care, but this virtual reality series is looking like the real thing.