Caprica 1.5 DVD Review

     December 31, 2010

“What went wrong with Caprica?” is a popular refrain among sci-fi circles this holiday season. Syfy cancelled the would-be successor to Battlestar Galactica’s legacy after just one season, engaging in a hasty retooling over the hiatus before dropping the whole thing in a very ugly mess. The second half of–well, of the entire series–has been released on DVD, with five as-yet unaired episodes constituting the set’s major draw. Watching it reminds one that, while the show ultimately couldn’t measure up to BSG, it still has a number of things to recommend it. Hit the jump for my full review.

Newcomers to the series definitely need to pick up the first half of the season in order to stay abreast of the details. Season 1.5 opens in media res, with Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcomson) presumed dead and her husband Daniel (Eric Stoltz) dealing with the loss of his company. The Soldiers of the One are far from silent as well, plotting a new virtual heaven, as well as more terrorist acts to drive fearful converts to them. Even as they do so, the virtual avatars of Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani) and Tamara Adama (Genevieve Buechner) come to grips with their own existence, which has ramifications for both their parents and the ongoing religious struggle rapidly coming to a head.

“What,” you may ask, “does any of that have to do with the Cylons?” The robot servants who eventually rebel against (and all but destroy) humanity ostensibly served as the series’ core, only to be gobbled up by these various other subplots. That, and the overall lack of action scenes probably led to the show’s demise. Season 1.5 represents less of a failure, however, than a show moving on a fundamentally different wavelength than fans were expecting. Yes, it waxes soapy from time to time, and some of the narrative twists border on the ridiculous. But the show’s producers also focused quite heavily on the philosophical implications running beneath the entire premise. Daniel Graystone bears a more than passing resemblance to Victor Frankenstein, so blinded by his own brilliance that he doesn’t notice the monster he’s unleashing upon the world. The society around him is drunk on power, staggering into decadence and ennui with no inkling of its oncoming doom. Amid it all, artificial intelligence quietly flutters to life, while its creators and enablers remain too fixated on their own self-promotion to notice.

caprica_tv_show_image_sci-fi_esai_morales_and_eric_stoltz_lFor those in the right mindset, it makes for quite a cocktail: intelligent and meditative, with just enough ominous implications to properly gird its loins. Certainly, the series spins its wheels now and again, and those expecting the whiz-bang theatrics of Battlestar are bound to be disappointed. But like all good follow-ups, Caprica helps us to better understand the universe in which it is set. The Twelve Colonies are just a touch off from our own world, and the subtle differences make it fun to explore (as well as letting us dwell on the unsettling similarities). We see very clearly where all this is going, providing very plausible seeds for Battlestar’s irresistible apocalypse.

It doesn’t make for a great show the way its predecessor was, but it retains a sense of uniqueness the elevates it above the half-baked retread it could have been. Hard-core fans will appreciate it for the ways it honors the first series without remaining beholden to it, while lovers of smart sci-fi will enjoy the juicy questions it raises about humanity’s capacity for self-destruction. Caprica isn’t for everyone, and its slow pace remains on full display for this DVD set. If you don’t mind things a little slower, however—and you’re willing to watch the first half of the series as a primer—it definitely rewards the effort.

The DVD set itself contains three discs, each holding three episodes apiece. The series provides a decent sense of closure, so serious fans shouldn’t concern themselves with too many unanswered questions. Extra features are minimal, relegated to the usual mix of audio commentaries, deleted scenes and a few podcasts. The real selling point remains the five unaired episodes… which Syfy will be burning off on January 4 for those unwilling to pony up the cash. It makes for a good-but-not-spectacular set: terms that could just as easily describe the show itself.

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