Monday, October 4, 2010

Caprica

Unlike the debut of Stargate Universe, which I was only slightly looking forward to, I am very much looking forward to the debut of the second half of the first season of Caprica on Tuesday night.  If you haven’t given it a chance, and you like Sci Fi television, try it.  It’s on the SyFy channel but last year the episodes were run later on hulu where I watched them.

I’m concerned, though, that it might not last.  I don’t think it had very good ratings.  Which is a shame, because it is a well made, well acted, well written show that raises lots of thought provoking questions.  The writers took a long time to set up the characters and the convoluted plot in the first half of the first season so it moved slowly, which seems to have turned off some people.  Hopefully things will pick up now that the characters and that will mean more people will watch.   And maybe moving it to Tuesday nights will also help.

It isn’t a perfect show by any means, but the things they do right they do wonderfully well.  They have created a great character in Zoe – who is really three different characters consolidated into one.  Great credit goes to actress Alessandra Torresani who creates Zoe.  Zoe started out as a real teenaged girl named Zoe Greystone.  She was a student in an upscale private school, a teenager who had fights with her parents and was in love with the wrong boy and wanted to change the world.  Zoe’s father, Daniel (played by Eric Stolz), became rich by inventing a device that allows people to access virtual realities.  By putting on a pair of special glasses with computer chips in them the person enters into a virtual world that seems completely real but is actually all in the person’s head.  However, other people who are also using these glasses and who are logged into the same program, are in the same virtual reality.  So people are reacting to each other and “seeing” each other in virtual locations.  Each person is represented in the virtual world by an “avatar”  that looks like them and to all extents and purposes is them, except of course that they can do all kinds of dangerous things and never get killed.  It’s like the Star Trek holodeck without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.  Or maybe it is like combining blogging with avatars.

Of course the porn industry loves the device.  But the technology has also been hacked by gamesters who create their own virtual games, of which Daniel Greystone claims to have no knowledge.  His daughter Zoe is as much of a creative computer genius as her dad and that’s where things got interesting.  Zoe figured out how to create an entirely virtual “character” who looked like her own avatar and who had all of her own memories and feelings but who wasn’t Zoe’s avatar.  Real Zoe’s avatar could interact with Virtual Zoe in the virtual world – they could see each other and talk to each other.  The Real Zoe had some kind of plan to take Virtual Zoe to one of the allied planets (did I mention this is sci fi?) for some mysterious purpose but in the midst of the plan the Real Zoe’s deadbeat boyfriend blew up a train, killing himself and the Real Zoe.  Daniel and Amanda, the Real Zoe’s mom, were devastated.  Amanda was even more devastated when she discovered that the Real Zoe was somehow involved in the bombing.

The Real Zoe’s best friend (who was supposed to be on the train too but she chickened out) knows about Virtual Zoe and continued to interact with her in the virtual world.  Then the Real Zoe’s dad found out about Virtual Zoe and downloaded her onto a chip that he then embedded in a giant robot he has been trying to create for the military (a Cylon).  The Robot had its own programming to try to make it think for itself, so now Virtual Zoe is out in the real world living in this huge, powerful robot and she has not only the Real Zoe in her but also the knowledge of the Robot.  And she is also herself.  She is evolving beyond Virtual Zoe into her own personality – Cylon Zoe? 

Confused?  No wonder.  But you have to admit it’s a fascinating premise. 

And the way the directors film this very confusing situation is creative.  Sometimes we the audience see what the other characters see – a robot.  But sometimes we see what’s inside the robot – Virtual Zoe (Alessandra Torresani).  So we are always constantly aware that there is an artificial intelligence in the Robot that is as good as human.  When the the first half of the first season ended, Cylon Zoe has busted out, stolen a car and is on the run.  It’s not clear where she will go, after all she looks like a giant, scary robot.

In the meantime, we’ve discovered that Daniel is not a very stable guy and is, to put it charitably, ethically challenged.  In the aftermath of Real Zoe’s death he met Joseph Adama, whose wife and daughter Tamara were also killed on the train.  When Daniel discovered the existence of the Virtual Zoe he tried to figure out how the Real Zoe made her.  So he let Adama talk him into trying to create a virtual stand alone version of Tamara.  Daniel thinks he failed -- but he didn’t.  There is an Avatar Tamara who exists but has no one to explain to her who she is and where she is.  Finally she meets Virtual Zoe (it’s too confusing to explain how) who gives her some guidance and Avatar Tamara starts to figure out her own way in a totally virtual world that is a game being played by people from all over.  She is interacting with them but they are the avatars of real people and she is only an avatar.  The rules of the game say that if a player’s avatar is killed then the player is “out”.  Their avatar disintegrates and they can’t ever come back and play again.  But Avatar Tamara doesn’t have a real Tamara to be shut out of the game.  She exists outside the rules of the game and so she can’t be killed.  She is now a legend in the game – she has become part of the game.  It remains to be seen what happens to her.  But Joseph Adama has discovered her existence and wants to get to her because he believes that is a way to get his dead daughter back.  In his obsession he has been neglecting his son William and Willie has been hanging out with his uncle, Sam Adama, who is a hit man for the local mob.  I think Sam Adama was intended to be a minor character but actor Sasha Roiz has acted the heck out of that part and hopefully he will get an even bigger role.

Anyway.  Even more confused?

On top of all this there is a strange religious cult who is trying to take over.  Turns out that Real Zoe was a member of this cult. James Marsters makes guest star appearances as a leader of that cult.  Polly Walker plays a headmistress of the Real Zoe’s school and she is secretly a member of the cult.  Lots of the cult members are trying to find Virtual Zoe to use her.  We don’t know for what, but it can’t be good.

Who knows what will happen?  Well, actually we do know.  The Cylons will destroy the human race except for those who escape on a spaceship led by old William Adama and they’ll have a good run as the cast of Battlestar Galactica.  But that’s a long time in the future.

It isn’t a perfect show.  There are things I would change.   If I were the writers I would kill off a couple of characters – Zoe’s mother, for one.  And Polly Walker’s character either has to go or it needs to become different.  The story slows down whenever it focuses on  her.  I would have more Sam Adama.  I love the Game that Avatar Tamara lives in but it isn’t yet clear where that storyline is going and I think they need to make that clear because, as great as the virtual world is, so far it hasn’t really moved the plot along very much.  But all in all this is a series that keeps getting better and better and everyone should watch it.