While last week’s start to Caprica, SyFy has launched its second show in its Battlestar Galactica franchise, looking to the roots of the conflict that forced out the Galactica and a small group of refugees across the stars. For me, Battlestar Galactica was an incredible effort, a show that helped redefine science fiction storytelling for the television, and did so in grand style. Following it up would be an incredibly difficult task for the show runners, given the complexity of Battlestar’s stories, but also in the fact that the audience would be entering a show in which they knew the ending, and would undoubtedly disappoint some viewers with unveiling some of the more shrouded elements of the show’s past.
I think Caprica will be a good success for the SyFy channel, and with the pilot, they have demonstrated what is most likely the most important thing with a sequel: creating a new story and mythology, rather than trying to recreate the prior show’s success by running it through a photocopier. Caprica shares some vital links to it’s predecessor show, through some of the vocabulary, locations, characters (The Adams or Adama family in particular) and through one of the main elements of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons.
What impressed me the most was not so much the continuity of the two shows, but the continuity of storytelling. In the early seasons of Battlestar, critics praised the show for its examination of real life issues in a science fiction background, such as the use of torture in the midst of wartime, military and civilian relations, and the use of terrorist bombings against two sides of any issue. This was a strong element, coupled with other, loftier issues, such as gender identity in science fiction (and in television in general), religion and the responsibilities of leaders. Caprica seems poised to take the helm with this style of storytelling, and where Battlestar was a product of current events out of 2001 through 2003, SyFy’s new show is the product of the past decade.
Where Battlestar Galactica was primarily focused on the survivors of the colonial holocaust and their search for a new home, Caprica is not necessarily limited by those same constraints, instead able to focus on an entirely different set of issues, all the while putting forth a story that will help examine the underlying society and events that preceded the human/cylon war. From the pilot alone, it looks like there will be an entirely new set of stories to tell, themes that Battlestar never touched on, which gives Caprica (thus far) an entirely different tone and feel; themes such as religion and society, immigration and racism and the conflict between a learned, modern society and the tug of older, established belief system. All of these are stories that are highly relevant in today’s society, given the hostility of extremist jihadist movements in the Middle East towards the West, but also our own societal growth spurt with the digital revolution.
One scene that stuck out for me took place shortly after a train bombing killed a number of people, and brought together two families, the Adams and the Greystones, both of whom lost family members in the blast. The bomb was triggered by one of Zoe Greystone’s friends, who shouts out: “The one true God shall drive out the many!”. Extremism has always existed within organized religion, and it is a particularly notable topic considering the age that we live in today. This particular storyline, expanded upon in the pilot, is one that I hope will remain in the show, as the creators work more towards unveiling the vast differences in the different planets of the colonies. Already, viewers can see that there are many sides to the issue, from the legal standpoint to the cultural impact that such violence brings to the table.
At some point on the franchise’s canon, the colonies will be united under one government, and at this stage, there’s clearly quite a bit more in the way of problems between the planets – this was an issue that was only touched on for a couple episodes in Galactica, but it seems to be brought up to the forefront, not only with the religion aspect of the show, but also with the perceptions of others in the form of racism. In this set of worlds, we see a society that is not too dissimilar from our own. While we’re on only one planet, issues with race and religion are prevalent within the United States, as well as across the world, and Caprica shows us that even in space, we will be just as dysfunctional as we are on the ground.
This is the primary strength of science fiction: to examine the world that we live in by taking our everyday problems and taking them out of context, putting them into new stories so that people will read or watch and think about problems in new ways. This has been a trait in the genre for a long time, and Caprica is a shining example of a continuing example of this, much as Battlestar Galactica was when it was first launched. While I still have some doubts that the show will live up to Battlestar, it’s clear that it’s already well on its way towards doing so, because of the changes that the show’s production team have made. Where Battlestar Galactica showed us what would happen to humanity in its darkest hours; Caprica will show us what happens when we are at our best, and between the two shows, it will show us the distance that we can fall, and just how much we can lose.