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.
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UPDATE: Well, shortly after the Caprica season finale a real-life "Soliders of the One" was busted in Michigan:
Hutaree, the Christian militia in southeast Michigan reportedly raided by the FBI Sunday, was preparing to battle the Antichrist because "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment," according to its Web site.
"Six Michigan residents, along with two residents of Ohio and a resident of Indiana, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence," according to the government's press release, which you can read in full below.
The indictment describes an alleged plot that seems inspired by weapons more associated with urban warfare in Iraq than with rural Michigan.
The Hutaree members allegedly "planned to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral."
The indictment continues: "According to the plan, the Hutaree would attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession with Improvised Explosive Devices with Explosively Formed Projectiles, which, according to the indictment, constitute weapons of mass destruction."
I don't know what to make of this story but strangely enough, the Hutaree seem to have a yen for 80s goth rockers Sisters Of Mercy, and use their music as the soundtrack for their promotional YouTube videos. It would seem that druggy, androgynous, underground rockers from England wouldn't pass muster with Christian holy warriors, but who ever said anything makes sense anymore?
It's tempting to write these guys off as some kind of cointelpro setup, but it all strikes me as being a bit too bizarre for that. And don't take this the wrong way, but none of those characters look like undercover ATF agents to me.
We'll see how widespread these kinds of groups become in the days ahead. I'm willing to bet that the ones that do won't be primarily religious, either. But as we saw in the 90s, these militia types tend to fold up their tents pretty quickly once the Feds start flexing their muscles. But if the economy keeps getting worse, all bets are off.