Daily Archives: April 28, 2010

Caprica evokes philosophical musings about technology and religion

Before I watched Caprica, I’d heard primarily negative comparisons to its predecessor, Battlestar Galactica.  But as I started viewing my DVR’d recordings of the first season, I found myself gradually getting hooked, and despite mostly a “setting up” feel to this round of episodes, I’m intrigued about the progression of the intricate, thought-provoking storyline.

A Cylon prototype

In case you’re not familiar with the show, it takes place on the planet Caprica about sixty years before the events of Battlestar.  The Cylons, who are a rebellious artificial life-form that destroyed Caprica at the beginning of the Battlestar series, are on the cusp of invention, and Caprica details the events that led to their rise.  Daniel Greystone (played with a subtle degree of moral vacancy by Eric Stoltz) owns a company that’s on the verge of creating a microchip that gives robots the processing capacity to complete complex tasks, such as using heavy artillery to shoot down enemies during warfare.  Meanwhile, his precocious daughter, Zoe, has been “playing” in a virtual reality world with her friends, and she’s created a digital “avatar” that mirrors her own personality.  During the first episode (so I’m not spoiling anything), Zoe’s friend sets off a terroristic explosion while they’re on board a train.  The friend turns out to have been part of a cult, Soldiers of the One, whose goal is to convince people of the power of the “one” true god.  You see, Capricans are polytheists, such that when something goes wrong, they’re apt to use the plural in their blasphemous phrases (“Gods dang it!).  Meanwhile, we know from the Battlestar series that the enemy Cylons are monotheistic.  Obviously, the Soldiers of the One will turn out to be important in the coming episodes because they must be the source of the Cylons’ religious beliefs

Zoe Greystone enters a virtual world with the aid of her "holoband"

As Greystone and his wife grieve Zoe’s loss, he discovers the Zoe avatar, which allows him to enter a virtual world and interact with a version of his daughter who acts exactly like the real one.  After a sequence of convoluted events, the Zoe avatar finds its way into the prototype robot (the one that’s a potential killing machine, if only Greystone can create a working microchip for artificial intelligence).  This sets the stage for the origins of an artificial race that thinks for itself and eventually rebels against the human race.

As the plot progresses, Caprica raises philosophical questions that seem especially pertinent as technology rapidly advances in our own society.  When an artificial being can reason and feel emotions, should this life-form have rights?  If so, should their rights be any different from those of humans?  What if the AI exists only in a virtual world, yet still feels exactly like a human being?

These issues become even more complex as the show injects religious and spiritual elements into the mix:  If God or Gods exist, to what extent do they exert influence on the overall course of life?  Perhaps, the Soldiers of the One might argue that God gave humans the ability to create artificial life so that the Cylons could rise up and strike down the paganistic humans.  Then again, that doesn’t seem a very benevolent punishment for failing to be enlightened about which religion teaches the “right” way.

Caprica echoes modern world history in its use of a religious backdrop for the war that ultimately destroys the planet.  Part of the show’s genius is that the humans practice a polytheistic religion while the enemies follow a religion that’s similar to Christianity.  This forces viewers to climb a bit out of their comfort zones as they sympathize with characters who sometimes cling to disparate worldviews.

For fans of action-packed space battles and robot fighting, like my buddy Ash, Caprica definitely pales in comparison to Battlestar.  But I’ve read that the creators are going after a different audience in this series, with a big emphasis on picking up more female viewers (I guess that could mean that Ash is a macho guy and I’m a little girlie).  While the show occasionally dwells on the melodramatic, especially scenes with the Greystone and Adama families mourning in the wake of their daughters’ tragic deaths, Caprica seemed to find its cerebral identity as the first season progressed.  I’m anxiously awaiting its return.

Note: Even if you didn’t watch Battlestar, Caprica’s written so that prior knowledge isn’t necessary to understand the storyline (as long as you start with the first episode).

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Filed under Religion, Technology, Television