Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday Movie Post

I thought a lot about whether I had anything to say about Caprica, the ill-fated Battlestar Gallactica prequel. I had written about Ron Moore earlier, about Gallactica and his earlier show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (as I said then, there's enough thematic overlap that I've chosen to believe that Moore is responsible for all the stuff I like in DS9, whatever the actual facts are. Anyway, I figured I'd write about Caprica, but when I got around to watching the final episodes, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to say about its politics, and decided to walk away...until Seth Masket posted an interesting item on the show, which got me thinking again until I realized what's interesting, to me at least, about it.

When I wrote about BSG/DS9 earlier, I focused on the religion and politics aspects, which I think is truly fascinating about the two shows. I also mentioned the question of terrorism in both shows, and questions about war and politics more generally. What I didn't really talk about is a major theme of Gallactica and a fairly important one in DS9: military/civilian relations.

What's odd, then, about Caprica is that outside of the police and some brief allusions to the military, there's very little in the way of the government in the series. The show is certainly, I think, set in the world of politics (terrorism is a major theme of this series too), and continues Moore's interest in religion and politics, but there are no politicians here. Of course, in an aborted series such as this one, you can only speculate about what would have been added in seasons two and more, and therefore it's always dicey to speculate about the meaning of something missing from what we did see, but, well, I'll do it anyway.

Moore's characters are, it seems to me, rather obsessed with governing a world in which formal politics -- which presumably exists -- is little more than fodder for Jay Leno; it isn't connected with the actual, real politics of people's lives. What the characters are doing here is intensely political, whether it's the monotheists terrorism, or Daniel's world-creation, or the struggles of the Adama clan within their mob, which like the mob in The Godfather is certainly presented as sort of alternate politics for those who are dismissed from the normal political world. All of which, in a way, is paralleled by the anarchic nihilism of V-World.

If this is a show, then, about a culture that is so corrupt to the core that it (almost?) deserves to be destroyed a few years down the road (which certainly has to be at least one interpretation of what's going on), then the challenge is to figure out what, exactly is corrupt about that sort of politics. Is it that the offscreen government has become what Jay Leno says our government has become, a corrupt, irrelevant punch line? Is it the disconnect between the intensely political nature of our characters -- and, really, the more I think about it the more I'm convinced that they are intensely political -- and the private, clannish, or even purely personal arenas in which they play out their political instincts?

I'm going to stop with those questions, and not try to write answers, because this is going to be long enough already. Meanwhile, some business to take care of. It's really hard to evaluate a show that's as truncated as this one turned out to be. I can say that unlike Gallactica (and more like DS9), the cast of this one, it seems to me, was decidedly mixed. I have very little use for Eric Stoltz, who I guess was more or less the star, and of the front-line players, I'm not sure I'd put anyone in the category of outstanding. The show had a lot of trouble juggling plot lines, exemplified by poor forgotten Tamara, who was sometimes a major character and then sometimes was entirely ignored. Some of that, of course, might have been cleared up had they had more time. The world-building stuff, I thought, worked a lot less well off the enclosed environment of Gallactica, with some of the "just like us, only a bit off" things working, but others, to me at least, seeming forced.

I also thought that the portrayal of religion was less interesting than in either Gallactica or DS9 -- with the obvious caveat that they obviously were going to expand it had the series continued. I guess in Caprica, the monotheists always seemed to me a lot more like terrorists with a religious excuse for self-aggrandizement than like believers who were led to places they would never have gone were it not for their belief. Nor did this show, unlike the other two, really explore different shades and intensities of religious experience.

All told, it's a hard show to recommend, I suppose, although I certainly enjoyed it enough that I'm glad I watched it, and I wish it had continued (although part of that, no doubt, is the trust that Moore -- and collaborators, including Jane Espenson -- have built up over time). If you're not inclined to enjoy science fiction settings, this is probably one to skip, but if you tailed off after the first few episodes, I'd probably recommend coming back and watching through the season, albeit without especially high expectations.


  1. This is eerie. My wife and I just finished watching the series tonight. I wondered if I had anything to say about it, and basically assumed no one out there cared about a cancelled series. And then I find your fascinating post, as well as Seth Masket's that you link to ... it's an interesting sync.

    I pretty much agree with your last paragraph. To be honest, I don't think I would have bothered with the last episodes if my wife hadn't prodded me, but now I'm glad I watched them ... the show was finding itself. It wasn't quite like Dollhouse, which I thought went from mediocre to terrific, just in time to disappear. Caprica, for me, was always better than mediocre, but never terrific.

  2. I might come back to the series at some point. Watched the pilot and while I thought it was fine, I thought the monotheist/polytheist conflict was mostly identical to what BSG did, and I generally avoid prequels as they tend to be generally devoid of suspense as to where the story will lead. (Also, I grew progressively less impressed with the way BSG handled religion throughout its run.) But I will store this away to check out at some point in the future.

  3. I agree with the first poster Paul ... and eerie because he mentioned Dollhouse which was done by Josh Whedon and I kept thinking Firefly/Serenity which is one of those series if you can get the complete collection you might be ho-hum after 2-3 episodes, but if you get through 5 you WILL watch the whole thing.

    Though Firefly/Serenity is interesting in
    A ) There ARE no aliens
    B ) The government is the enemy, deserves to be the enemy, and is progressivism ran rampant ( "We don't want to think for you? We want to show you how to think CORRECTLY" )

  4. Okay, I hadn't realized Moore was responsible for DS9, as well. I had a hard time with that show. Yes, it dealt with religion and politics far better than any of the other Trek series, but I found the cast almost totally unlikeable. I pretty much only enjoyed it when it focused on some imported cast members, like O'Brien or Worf. I'll take Daniel Graystone over Benjamin Sisko any day.

    Okay, the Jem Hadar were cool.

  5. Seth,

    In DS9's defense, quite a few peripheral cast members are excellent, but yeah, there really are some weak performances at the center of it. (I don't find Nana Visitor unlikeable, but I do think her acting skills are on the very limited side).


    Looking forward to hear what you wind up saying about Caprica.

    Yeah, it's nowhere near the success that Dollhouse was. One thing about Dollhouse; unlike Firefly, I sort of think that Dollhouse worked a lot better as a rushed two-season show than it would have if it had gone a full five-to-seven years. I agree that Caprica got off to a better start than Dollhouse, though.

  6. I suppose I need to go back to Dollhouse. I watched the first one, and gave up. I've been really enjoying the reruns of Firefly on....whatever channel that is that's been doing them. Watched and liked them the first go-around, but they are pretty re-watchable.

    I never gave Caprica more than the tiniest chance, and gave up on it pretty quick. Loved BSG, though.

  7. Jon, yes, acting talent is part of it, but only part. I don't think anyone on The Next Generation (with the possible exception of Patrick Stewart) was a particularly gifted actor, but the whole crew had a chemistry that just worked. Same with Voyager and, for that matter, the original series. There was no chemistry on DS9. There was no joy in watching the crew function as a crew.

  8. It’s tough writing what’s supposed to be a gee-whiz, wham-bang science fiction show, and have it focus on the politics that is little more than fodder for Jay Leno monologues. Let’s remember why we all tuned in.

    Star Trek, and The Next Generation, were at their core about the Federation coming to a place, making changes and leaving the place for the better. DS9 was always about what happened when you stayed. Its theme was about the hard work of rebuilding something, and making it stick. Fine, there were rarely episodes about the processes of the Bajoran Provisional Government. Then again, would we want any?

    Drama is about conflict, and one of the odder requirements that Gene Roddenberry placed on the characters of the The Next Generation was that the Federation Officers shouldn’t have any conflict with each other. This makes for great 24th Century living, but lousy TV. Some episodes of The Next Generation came off flat as a result. But putting a technologically advanced society, that’s got it stuff together, with a highly religious society recovering from a 60 year occupation? That’s TV magic, baby. The stories practically write themselves…and we haven’t even gotten to the gee-whiz wham-bang part of it yet.

    The problem with Caprica, in my mind, was that they were possessed of a single great idea: how the Cylons were created. What we wanted to know, as BSG fans tuning in to watch this prequel, was how did the Cylons get from being humankinds creations to our destroyers? The question was really answered in the pilot episode…and rest felt like stalling.

    But worry not. Syfy knows when they’ve got a marketable property on their hands. Away goes Caprica, and in comes Blood and Chrome. All Cylon Wars, all the time.

    No idea if Mr. Moore will be involved with it though. He probably won't, since he signed a Development Deal at Sony Pictures, and Galactica belongs to Comcast/Universal.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?