Monday, March 29, 2010

Caprica, or The End is Foretold

I've been wracking my brains trying to figure out why Caprica resonates with me in a way that Battlestar Galactica still has not. It's not that I don't think BSG was well-written, well-acted and well-produced - I certainly do. I always admired the show, but it always had the faint taste of medicine for me. 

That could be because of the mix of militarism and space opera that BSG offered up, and leavened with then-topical, paranoid leftist politics. Every time I happened to tune in people were either arguing in Spartan-looking barracks (or some other depressing military installation) or arguing in some boardroom. 

One episode dealt with a presidential election, which struck me as a bit superfluous during a life-or-death struggle with a race of killer robots. Being naturally averse to both politics and militarism there simply isn't the toehold for me in the BSG universe that the critics seemed to find. 

But it could also be that I - like a lot of other viewers - see space opera as a playground for archetypes. Or gods, if you prefer. The two great streams of space opera- Star's Trek and Wars, bear little resemblance to modern-day reality and their characters are pure archetype. Which is exactly why they resonated so powerfully outside the core of Fandom. 

Ronald B. Moore chafed famously against the restrictions Gene Roddenberry put on the Trek Universe. Roddenberry insisted that the heroes of TNG be above the petty foibles of humanity, which is to say that Roddenberry wanted his characters to be gods. Moore began to loosen these restrictions on Deep Space Nine and certainly exploded them on BSG. 

This excited the critics and the hardcore fans, but not necessarily the mainstream audience. Neither show was anything near what you'd call a commercial hit. Even in the context of the SciFi/SyFy network, BSG was a noble underperformer in the ratings. Which goes to show that Roddenberry understood what would get millions of Americans to tune into sci-fi, even if Star Trek got its ass kicked in the 60s by any number of shows no one remembers anymore. 

Compared to the aforementioned shows, Caprica isn't really science fiction. I'm tempted to file it as magical realism, seasoned with the alt-reality trappings of old school genre fiction. Hill Street Blues took place nowhere, which followed in the tradition of Ed McBain's Isola, which itself followed in the tradition of Batman's Gotham City or Superman's Metropolis. 

Most of Caprica's technology is not exactly futuristic (certainly not on paper), a lot of it is archaic. But the point is that it takes place in a relatively familiar world. But even so the ratings seem to indicate that Caprica is even more esoteric than BSG. 

The Iraq War and its aftershocks and the political ascension of religious fundamentalism gave BSG a very timely kick for some viewers. BSG was embraced by the political left as a metaphor for current events, though I think its was more appropriate to Bush's first term than his second. 

Caprica is very timely, but these times are very confused, aren't they? Its world is as chaotic and unsettled as our own. The STO has a lot of touches of fundamentalist secret societies like Opus Dei and the Family, but their goal seems to be more Gnostic than Dominionist. Sister Clarice is DS9s Kai Winn redux, in that both characters are powerful Sarah Palin resonators. 

But Clarice wants to escape into the digital matrix, not rule the external world. That the Cylons eventually do is an accident of history. Caprica is a prisoner of history, in that its end is foretold. That may be what's keeping it from finding an audience. Or maybe it's simply too esoteric for a populace that thinks American Idol and Jersey Shore are the summit of human achievement. It's taking a shockingly long hiatus, and won't return until the fall. 

Hopefully RBM has enough juice to squeeze another season out of it. But seeing great shows like Sarah Connor Chronicles and The Dresden Files die- both of which I'd rank well above Caprica in potential mainstream appeal - doesn't fill my heart with sunshine and optimism. These days optimism is a rare luxury. 

I've enjoyed my visits to Caprica so far, this recent episode especially. There's a few easter eggs for the Synchromystics along the way, so keep your eyes peeled.