”Battlestar Galactica’s” epic motto, “this has all happened before and it will all happen again,” is precisely the fear facing many of its most loyal fans – at best dubbed “Frakheads” and at worst something wholly unprintable – since prequels to established sci-fi powerhouses have not exactly been hailed as riveting successes in the past.
One would only need to look to the original “Star Wars” trilogy for that, where even then-mediocre actors portraying bright-eyed young rebels looked like Sir Alec Guinness compared to what followed. Even a simpering Ewok with a speech impediment would have garnered more menace and compassion than the surprisingly talented Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker.
Can’t always do your best, can you?
Such is the curse.
“Caprica,” the pilot for an upcoming prequel series, however, escaped these creative obstacles and traps with a refreshing and ultimately surprising grace.
Taking place 58 years before the Fall – the near annihilation of humanity – the world in this astronomically-advanced story mirrors our own, with the exception of casual space-travel, robot-butlers and planets named after Zodiac signs.
The two main players are Joseph Adama (Esai Morales, Jericho), a Tauron lawyer with connections to the mob and Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz, The Butterfly Effect), a leading robotics scientist on Caprica. After an act of terrorism ironically brings them together, these two powerful men must decide what the future holds for them.
Graystone begins the mourning process by trying to develop Cylon technology – robot soldiers with enhanced artificial intelligence, which takes place exactly 18 years before the Cylons are said to evolve enough to rebel against their human oppressors.
The plot may be predictable; but it is a prequel, after all, so that challenge lies in the development of relatable, complex and ultimately human characters, which creator Ronald D. Moore was able to tackle with ease. Graystone’s deeply human response to the tragedy of losing a loved one is at once disturbing and comforting – a Victor Frankenstein with a heart.
Not only were the reactions of the various personas within the story reasonable, but the existent religious subgroups serve to make “Caprica” a riveting success in its ambitious aspiration – to be the world’s first mainstream space family drama.
Morales and Stoltz are brilliant in their interpretations of tortured moguls, too ambitious to afford to feel pain, but too human not to break under the pressure. Paula Malcomson (Nonplussed), who plays Graystone’s equally negligent, though admirable, doctor wife, Amanda, is a remarkable sight as well.
The weakest link is Alessandra Toreson (Going to the Mat) who plays Zoe Graystone, the deceased genius daughter, mostly because she is woefully awarded far too many emotional scenes for what seems to be an entirely limited span for expression. Her performance much more resembles an actual android than a young girl fighting for her humanity. Her breakdowns seemingly consist of interchangeable choking sounds and squinting without even a hint of the level of depth we see from the three powerhouse adults.
Come to think of it, maybe “Caprica” does bear some brunt of the sci-fi prequel curse – at least in terms of acting. Whether or not the young actress improves in this complex role will have to be seen in early 2010, when the series is scheduled to air.
However, not all the youngsters fail in their thespian exploits, as newcomer Sina Najafi creates such an innocent 11-year-old William Adama that it reminds us how easy it is to forget that even stalwart commanders were once children, eliciting more than a series of sympathetic winces from informed viewers about the path his life is destined to take.
Bear McCreary of “Galactica” fame returns to compose a haunting score, including a piece about the creation of the first Cylon, whose revelation is nothing if not equally satiable in explanation and tragic in expected aftermath.
Veteran “BSG” writers, Ryan Mottesheard and Jane Espenson, of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame also return, expertly answering even more questions left unclear from “Caprica’s” parent series, while effectively raising new ones.
Ultimately, “Caprica” leaves the Frakheads with a sense of nostalgia and understanding that a pilot episode is hardly reflective of the many twists and turns expected in its eventual development, while new viewers can easily feel at home with new, tentatively introduced concepts and jargons.
Though missing “BSG’s” classic explosions and space-fight sequences, “Caprica” retains its most central theme – heart – the living connection.
We do not yet know the precise manner in which the story leading up to the Fall of the 12 Colonies of Kobol will play out, but we do know that it was at least initially motivated by a most innocent and endearing quality – love.
Perhaps Number Six was right, after all.
While you make some great points, Olga, especially in the mentions of the roles of each of the actors in this pilot, I feel your criticism of Toreson is a bit overdone. Considering the fact that she is playing the first even Cylon, I think the coldness and lack of emotional capacity are a great foreshadowing to the problems the race has later in the show. I also think it is done intentionally and is far and away not like the acting of someone like Hayden Christensen, who is robotic on purpose. Because of that, she can’t be held at fault here.
However, aside from that, I think you’re spot on. This is going to be an excellent sitcom and one that will be a joy for BSG loyalists.
–Patrick Hickey Jr.