I thought a lot about whether I had anything to say about Caprica, the ill-fated Battlestar Gallactica prequel. I had written about Ron Moore earlier, about Gallactica and his earlier show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (as I said then, there's enough thematic overlap that I've chosen to believe that Moore is responsible for all the stuff I like in DS9, whatever the actual facts are. Anyway, I figured I'd write about Caprica, but when I got around to watching the final episodes, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to say about its politics, and decided to walk away...until Seth Masket posted an interesting item on the show, which got me thinking again until I realized what's interesting, to me at least, about it.
When I wrote about BSG/DS9 earlier, I focused on the religion and politics aspects, which I think is truly fascinating about the two shows. I also mentioned the question of terrorism in both shows, and questions about war and politics more generally. What I didn't really talk about is a major theme of Gallactica and a fairly important one in DS9: military/civilian relations.
What's odd, then, about Caprica is that outside of the police and some brief allusions to the military, there's very little in the way of the government in the series. The show is certainly, I think, set in the world of politics (terrorism is a major theme of this series too), and continues Moore's interest in religion and politics, but there are no politicians here. Of course, in an aborted series such as this one, you can only speculate about what would have been added in seasons two and more, and therefore it's always dicey to speculate about the meaning of something missing from what we did see, but, well, I'll do it anyway.
Moore's characters are, it seems to me, rather obsessed with governing a world in which formal politics -- which presumably exists -- is little more than fodder for Jay Leno; it isn't connected with the actual, real politics of people's lives. What the characters are doing here is intensely political, whether it's the monotheists terrorism, or Daniel's world-creation, or the struggles of the Adama clan within their mob, which like the mob in The Godfather is certainly presented as sort of alternate politics for those who are dismissed from the normal political world. All of which, in a way, is paralleled by the anarchic nihilism of V-World.
If this is a show, then, about a culture that is so corrupt to the core that it (almost?) deserves to be destroyed a few years down the road (which certainly has to be at least one interpretation of what's going on), then the challenge is to figure out what, exactly is corrupt about that sort of politics. Is it that the offscreen government has become what Jay Leno says our government has become, a corrupt, irrelevant punch line? Is it the disconnect between the intensely political nature of our characters -- and, really, the more I think about it the more I'm convinced that they are intensely political -- and the private, clannish, or even purely personal arenas in which they play out their political instincts?
I'm going to stop with those questions, and not try to write answers, because this is going to be long enough already. Meanwhile, some business to take care of. It's really hard to evaluate a show that's as truncated as this one turned out to be. I can say that unlike Gallactica (and more like DS9), the cast of this one, it seems to me, was decidedly mixed. I have very little use for Eric Stoltz, who I guess was more or less the star, and of the front-line players, I'm not sure I'd put anyone in the category of outstanding. The show had a lot of trouble juggling plot lines, exemplified by poor forgotten Tamara, who was sometimes a major character and then sometimes was entirely ignored. Some of that, of course, might have been cleared up had they had more time. The world-building stuff, I thought, worked a lot less well off the enclosed environment of Gallactica, with some of the "just like us, only a bit off" things working, but others, to me at least, seeming forced.
I also thought that the portrayal of religion was less interesting than in either Gallactica or DS9 -- with the obvious caveat that they obviously were going to expand it had the series continued. I guess in Caprica, the monotheists always seemed to me a lot more like terrorists with a religious excuse for self-aggrandizement than like believers who were led to places they would never have gone were it not for their belief. Nor did this show, unlike the other two, really explore different shades and intensities of religious experience.
All told, it's a hard show to recommend, I suppose, although I certainly enjoyed it enough that I'm glad I watched it, and I wish it had continued (although part of that, no doubt, is the trust that Moore -- and collaborators, including Jane Espenson -- have built up over time). If you're not inclined to enjoy science fiction settings, this is probably one to skip, but if you tailed off after the first few episodes, I'd probably recommend coming back and watching through the season, albeit without especially high expectations.