Caprica, uploading and gods

Caprica’s first half-season is almost over, but I started watching late due to travel and the Olympics. Here’s my commentary on the show to this point. I already commented last week on the lack of protagonists we can identify with. Now onto bigger issues.

Caprica is, I think, the first TV series to have uploading — the transfer of a human mind into computerized form — as its central theme. While AI is common in movies and TV, uploading is quite uncommon in Hollywood, even though it’s an important theme in written SF. This is what interests me in Caprica. It’s connection to Battlestar Galactica is fairly loose, and we won’t find the things we liked in that show showing up much in this one.

God, again

In fact, I mostly fear encroachment of material from BSG, in particular the “God” who was revealed to be the cause of all the events of that series. What we don’t yet know is whether the monotheistic “Soldiers of the One” are just yet another religion to have invented a “one true god” or if they really have received signs or influence for that god.

When I was critical of the deus ex machina ending of BSG, many people wanted to point out that religion had been present from the start in the show. But the presence of religion is not the same as the presence of a real god, and if not for BSG, I doubt any viewer would suspect the “One” was real. However, knowing that their is a one true god, we must fear the worst. Since that god set up all the events of BSG long ago, including various timings of the Cylon wars, it’s hard to believe that the god is not also setting up the timing of the creation of the Cylons, and thus directly or indirectly arranged Zoe’s death and transfer. I hope not but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. The best we can hope for is that no direct influence of the god is shown to us.

Alas, for a show about uploading, the writers do need some more education about computers. Much of the stuff we see is standard Hollywood. Nonetheless the virtual worlds and the two uploaded beings (Zoe-A and Tamara-A) are by far the most interesting thing in the show, and fan ratings which put the episode “There is another Sky” at the top indicate most viewers agree. We’re note getting very much of them, though.

Worldbuilding

The colonial world is interesting, with many elements not typically shown in TV, such as well accepted homosexuality, group marriage, open drug use and kinky holo-clubs. There’s a lot of focus on the Tauron culture, but right now this impresses me as mostly a mish-mash, not the slow revelation of a deeply constructed background. I get the real impression that they just make of something they like when they want to display Tauron culture. As far as what’s interesting in Caprican or other culture, we mostly see that only in Sister Clarice and her open family.

I was hoping for better worldbuilding and it is still not too late. The pilot did things decently enough but there has not been much expansion. The scenes of the city are now just establishing shots, not glimpses into an alien world. The strange things — like the world’s richest man and his wife not having bodyguards after open attacks on their person — might be a different culture or might just be writing errors.

William Adama

For BSG fans, there is strong interest in William Adama, the only character shared between the shows. But this one seems nothing like the hero of the original show. And he seems inconsistent. We learn that the defining event of his life was the terrorist murder of his sister and mother by a monotheist cult. (Well, defining event in a life that goes on to have more big events, I suppose.) Yet he shows no more than average mistrust of monotheism when it is revealed that the Cylons are monotheists and believe in a “one true god.” He doesn’t like Baltar, but he’s pretty tolerant when Baltar starts a cult of a one true god on the ship, and even gives him weapons at some point. He just doesn’t act like somebody who would have a knee-jerk initial jolt at monotheists preaching one true god.

There was also no sign of Tamara Adama in BSG. The original script plans called for her avatar to also contribute to the minds of the early Cylons, and this may not happen. If it does happen, it is odd that we never see any sign of Cylons remembering being his sister. We also have to presume that neither he, nor anybody else knows that his father played a pivotal role in the creation of the Cylons. That would make his father quite infamous, nobody would remember his law career.

New Cap City

Started out as the most interesting place on Caprica. Getting a bit slower. Not certain who Emanuelle is — is she Tamara, or working for Tamara? If so, why is she hooking Joseph on the Amp? When she was winged, it was odd that she had her arm flicker out — I would assume that in a world trying to appear real, non-fatal wounds would look like wounds, and even killed people would leave bodies as far as the other players were concerned.

If Zoe enters New Cap City, she should not be like Tamara, unable to be killed. She is now running in a robot body and interfacing with a holoband like humans do.

Will Tamara’s popularity with viewers turn her from a minor character into something more important?

Origin of the Cylons

The big question remains, where do the minds of the Cylon armies come from? Are they all copies of Zoe? Has Zoe given Philemon the clue as to how to create other copies, perhaps more mindless ones? Does Tamara provide a mind to a Cylon? Do the Soldiers of the One get access to the upload generator that Daniel used on Tamara and make their own uploads, and do they become the Cylon minds? We know that something of Zoe or the STO ends up in Cylon minds.

caprica

I'm somewhat on the same wavelength as you brad - I found the GoG being real rather than metaphorical a real mistake by Moore. It is not surprising then that we get references to Gods in Caprica , but like BSG its not done very convincingly.

The teenage cast turn to a monotheistic god, instead of being rebellious and listening to rock music or whatever and questioning the idea of deities in general. Instead they come across as born again christians (how rebellious are they?

The holo/virtual thing is just an excuse for showing teenage decadent behaviour which is kind of frowned upon. I can almost buy into that but it s not deep enough psychologicaly for me.

The upload thing too is on the simplistic side. Zoe is stored on 300 meg drive? all that she is? never. There is no way you could make an avatar of zoe from just bits of data gathered from many sources over several years- there's just not enough info and raw data of things that are recorded about us in no way constitutes consciousness etc

The show has been dead slow pace wise so far and some of the exposition is awkward and clumsily written. There is no need for some of it (we have brains we know what certain things mean without having the obvious explained)

The best fictional account of virtual reality is by the SF author Greg Egan in his works 'Terenasia' and 'Diaspora' which i recommend very highly if you are interested in VR. It makes the Matrix and caprica look pretty silly (though i did enjoy the first matrix film even though it was nothing much like Gibsons book at all)

Grayson has been pretty dim up to now and the case of the central processor forthe cylons has not been expounded upon in any depth. When there was a massive improvement in the U87 performance didn't they notice or try to look for the reason why in a scientific way?

Zoe being a geek genius is not very believable either. The more intersting aspects are the Matrix like VR caprica and the inclusion of an enemy to Grayson. Stoltz and the actress who plays his mrs are very strong actors which is a plus. The young Adama needs much more development for at the moment he is merely an appendage who has to be there.

The reason for the cylons to want human form now has a basis as does the sudden leap from machine to conscious being. Although the how and why hasn't really been explained satisfactorily. The one true god cylon thing also now has a basis. I just hope they fill the gaps and expound this more satisfactorily than they have so far. Don't think they will though - i'm just waiting for this thing to fail badly.

The cylons being a bunch of pissed off uploaded teenagers? don't think so.

Huge questions answered early

Maybe you guys just aren't talking about it, or maybe you missed it. But there were two revelations in the pilot that I thought were mind-blowing...

First is that Zoe being uploaded to the first Cylon answers the question in BSG "Why are the Cylons monotheistic?" Until this episode, we had no idea. Now it is clear to me, at least, that Zoe is the reason - she's the first Cylon - the prototype - and she was monotheistic.

Second, the fact that Zoe was a living breathing person who was uploaded to a Cylon rather than a true, boot from scratch AI, explains the question "Why did the Cylons want human bodies?" Zoe was uploaded and didn't want to be. She's stuck there. Given the choice, she'd want her old body back. Or she'd probably even choose the holo world so she could at least have the illusion of a human body. Perhaps those who can't really fathom being in a body that doesn't match their psyche can't really understand the dysphoria that would produce, but it seems to me, it has to be huge...

In fact, it was the answer to these two questions so early on that has made me less inclined to watch subsequent episodes. I can clearly see why the Cylons become who they were when the 5 caught up with them. I can see why they abandoned the war in return for human bodies. The only other question I really need answered at this point is "Why did they turn against humans" and perhaps, how is it that they are not conscious of their Zoe heritage. But at the end of the day, this series has to be about why the Cylons became who they were in BSG... it's the same questions that Episode I, II, and III answer for the Star Wars saga, and it's the same question that the current Star Trek movie DID NOT answer for the Star Trek universe. (Still bitter about that)

BSG was about the search for Earth... What would they find there? Would it be the future or the past? Caprica is about the search for the origins of Cylons. And they answered a good chunk of that in the first episode.

These questions

Well, we did talk about these a year ago when the pilot came out. However, they really could not have kept those questions as mysteries for a long period. The show has to be about something else other than backstory mysteries for BSG.

If the show is to become great in my view, it should be about what it is to be a thinking being, which BSG also was somewhat about, and the slavery of the Cylons. I find the religious part to be a distraction, even a negative, as it is just background. Who cares about a fictional religion (with a fictional god who is possibly real in the context of the story?) Instead I care about the question of what does it mean to be an upload, or to be an AI, and how will people react to that?

Or something else equally provocative. If the story is just a soap opera about an evil religion, a mob lawyer and a corrupt billionaire, it’s not going to be that interesting.

I don't think the show is for you

I agree with a lot of your comments, but you've made a mistake on the religion side of it. Religion played a huge part of BSG, and it will play a huge part of Caprica as well... and I think the notion that it is a "distraction" means that the show won't be for you. We've talked about this in the BSG posts... we spent lots of time talking about star patterns, and what they mean, and comparatively little time on the significance of the religious aspects to the characters. And when we do, it largely devolves into a debate about whether or not those aspects should have been put into the show, with your position being that they should not have been.

Religion and God are huge topics to the American audience, and I'm not just talking about the religious right or the extremely devout. Religion and God play big parts in our society... they can't be dismissed. All too often we equate declining attendance at church/mosque/synagogue as a metaphor for the secularization of America... Quite the contrary, religion is discussed all the time in families across the US, even in those families that don't attend services regularly. My family is a case in point... My wife is a devout Catholic. My older daughter is as well. My younger daughter is in the process of rejecting that faith. And me, I'm an old Congregationalist, who doesn't attend church regularly, but who DOES continue to have a faith in God, and a belief in the divinity of Jesus. And I'm an engineer who understands science, and who understands that there is more to life than just the great equations of the universe.

The fundamental questions remain - is there a God, or gods, and if so, what do they want, how do they relate to us, and what are the implications of that? Why is there evil in the world? Why would an omnipotent God allow it? Is there a Grand Plan and if so, what is it? Questions of faith compel us to examine all that, and I suspect that Caprica will be no different than BSG in that respect - perhaps more so - as it is ultimately a show that will map out the fall of mankind in the Colonies, what leads up to that, and how religion and God factor into it.

I agree about one thing

The religion was a bolt-on in BSG, and always felt like it. An early bolt-on, but not part of the original plan. Moore threw in a few lines making the Cylons religious and the network people told him they wanted more of that, so he gave them more, without a specific plan of what it would all mean. As far as I know they were still undecided in the writers’ room about what Head Six really was for several years. Then, closer to the end, they decided to make her real. Which is why it was so jarring — and disliked by many viewers.

However, I will give you that there is no bolt-on here. It’s established that there is a real, intervening god in this universe. It is less established how much intervention was going on at this point in the story, but we’ll see.

However, the monotheists are mostly bad guys here. While we’ve been told it is because they are repressed, the story has failed to show us that repression in other than an academic way, barring us from feeling sympathy for them, even though our culture is monotheistic. I think most people would say they feel much more sympathy for the Tauron mobsters than the STO bombers. The one sympathetic STO (Zoe) is dead.

However, for now, while religion is present (which I have no trouble with) the direct hand of GoG is absent. Which is how it should be, but not if it just means the direct hand of GoG is going to sweep in later on in the story and rewrite it.

The previews for season 1b also reveal that it will be Clarice who leads the Cylon rebellion, and I have to agree, that’s not a turn I think will be good for the series.

What Does Caprica Say About BSG?

I have to admit I find Caprica very disjointed. So far, it's not really about what it was ostensibly supposed to be about--the rise of thinking machines. It doesn't seem to have much of a center at all--no explanation or context for the STO, robot girl getting online dates, the irritating fate of the stupid C-bucs.
Then more of Ron Moore's patented shock moments in the mid-season finale, which, though many in number, felt oddly flat.

I loved BSG it's first two or so seasons, then became more and more disillusioned as it wound down. And Caprica certainly feels more like Season 4 of BSG than its first two seasons. So my question is this--is it actually the first two seasons of BSG that are the anomaly? They seemed so crisp and focused and fraught with deeper meaning at the time. But was that always something of an illusion? Could it be that the apparent focus of the show's breathtakingly simple setup--the burden of command in a flight for survival--made it seem more coherent than it really was? Was it always a mess like Caprica, a fact simply revealed when Ron steered it into murkier waters, or was it actually that good in the beginning and simply foundered on a lack of foresight and planning?

Hard to answer

First of all, Moore has much less to do with this show, or so I was given to understand, and it’s more under the helm of Jane Espenson. Opinions are varied about Espenson, though I don’t think anybody thinks she is the star that Moore is.

Moore seems brilliant at seat-of-the-pants flying in SF. He has good intuitions about how to put stuff down without knowing just what he will end up doing with it. He’s not just a tactician though, he can build longer arcs, and wow us with shocking surprises that were laid out for a long period.

However, I think he relies too much on this skill, and is too willing to leave the big picture unresolved, and this let him paint himself into a corner at the end of BSG. What’s impressive and unimpressive is that there were ways out of the corner, and that he didn’t see them or didn’t want them, and didn’t understand (or agree with) what the more SF-sophisticated viewers of the show needed.

Now in the case of Caprica, we do know roughly how it ends, with a Cylon rebellion and war. In theory they are supposed to “evolve” before they rebel, but it seems they were already born evolved, which is disappointing because you and I are tuning in to see how they evolved.

I’m giving Caprica a chance because I want to see a show about the rise of machine intelligence and the issue of slavery and rights for them. One of my favourite TNG episodes is “The Measure of a Man” where data goes on trial to see if he is property or person. I’m hoping to see more stuff like that in Caprica, but I may not get it.

caprica

The really interesting aspects of the show just aren't being realised. It is becoming irritating in its lack of approach to the main themes. The main themes are just taken for granted (AI, and VR and why the STO have grievances) They get around AI by having a human mind SOMEHOW uploaded in massive detail (not really expounded in a SF sense at all. The way this is done stretches incredulity too far. The STO are one dimensional bad guys/girls. Please more psychological motivations are needed to underpin this important idea. The VR stuff is not really being used in any important sense other than a freudian metaphor for sub conscious desires and jungian dreams. I think the religious aspects are in place and manipulations by (God) This has been shown by the visions of Amanda of her dead son and the 'saving ' of of the STO leaders on caprica in the finale by seeing Amanda jump off the bridge. There appear to be manipulations about the cylon prototype so the military can get stricter control. Graystone while played well by Stoltz is not given enough political strength and he certainly isn't very intellectual. Somewhat slow on the uptake. Religion has to be a big factor in this (especially after the revelations of BSG) its just not doing the rel issues very well or very coherently. Its not really dealing with any of the big issues or important questions at all. What is consciousness? morality? what about subjective and objective morality? The seemingly progressive culture of the caprica is going to be deemed as immoral and decadent. And we all know what happens to them in the end ultimately. I'll keep watching a while longer but i am running out of patience with this already.

oh caprica...

I recently re-watched part of the BSG miniseries and a few episodes of the first season. I hadn't seen them since they first aired back in 2003, and I must say that I enjoyed them much more than the early episodes of Caprica and the last season or so of BSG.

I think one of the major problems with BSG and its offspring, Caprica, is reflected in one of Brad's comments in his post above about worldbuilding -- the writers seem to make up something on the fly whenever the script calls for more background. One reason why I liked watching (and re-watching) the early episodes of BSG is that back then I didn't expect the show's creators to start making it up on the fly.

Perhaps foolishly, I thought that they'd developed a comprehensive multi-season story arc and were working from a master plan. (They even said they had a plan... and I believed them!)

That, and the fact that their re-imaging of a show that had been an huge favorite of mine as a kid was aesthetically fascinating, politically astute (especially less than two years after 9/11), and brave (e.g., Starbuck as a woman), made me an instant fan of BSG.

And I saw the show through to its end, even after it became clear that Ron Moore was suffering from a serious case of George Lucasitis (i.e., thinks he's a genius but he's not, but is popular enough to avoid ever having to listen to anyone else ever again -- this is where mitochlorins come from).

And here's the rub -- I think producers and writers who like to make things up on the fly will always hinder a sci fi show's ability to present "realistic" science fiction. It does not prevent it outright, as a smart writer and a good science adviser can always come through. But this is just not common in TV productions.

Contrast Caprica with Stargate Universe, another spin-off of a long-running science fiction show that had its highs and lows. I've found the first 12 or so episodes of SGU to be very well done -- there seems to be a clear vision of the overall story arc. The writers have a plan for each character and stick to it. They've also thought through some simple but important plot devices (e.g., communication with Earth, which they introduce in the first episode, as opposed to suddenly realizing midway through Season 2 that they need some way to talk to Earth and start inventing mirowormholes, ala Voyager).

After feeling like I got hosed by an ego-driven, over-rated ex-Star Trek writer (Moore) with BSG and with both the show's and the writer's offspring (Caprica, Espenson), I find I really enjoy SGU because I can trust that they won't start making up inconsistent, sweeps week-like plots and characters just to respond to the latest focus group or stroke the producer's ego.

And as a result, I am seeing good signs for realistic sci-fi in SGU. Little things like air, water, and food don't just magically appear... (I don't want to give too much away with other examples, yet.) And where they do confront "faith" in the episode of that title, it's actually interesting and thought-provoking, instead of a complete Hollywoodish I-threw-this-in-the-script-while-doing-lines-of-coke-at-an-awards-show-afterparty bailout that, in the end, makes absolutely no sense.

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