The sci-fi tease

Were it not for the quiet release of Caprica‘s 90-minute pilot episode direct to DVD back in early April, I imagine there would be a far greater uproar of religious outrage.

Were it not for the quiet release of Caprica‘s 90-minute pilot episode direct to DVD back in early April, I imagine there would be a far greater uproar of religious outrage. Not only does Caprica offer a shallow but harsh criticism of the monotheistic system of religion prevalent in our society, it would seem the pilot goes as far as to equate such beliefs with terrorism.

Caprica is the SciFi Network’s new television series prequel to their absurdly successful Battlestar Galactica, taking place approximately 50 years before “The Fall,” or to non-BSG fans, the severe beating humanity is served by it’s cybernetic children in the opening of the BSG miniseries.

While Battlestar was about the struggle of the military-industrial complex within government and the careful yet delicate manner of defining terrorism, Caprica is more about prejudices, bigotry and institutionalized racism.

After a suicide bombing on a crowded train in Caprica City, the capital of the pilots’ titular setting, two families are devastated by terrible loss and brought together in their pain and suffering. Daniel and Amanda Graystone (Eric Stolz and Paula Malcomson) lose their daughter Zoe (Alessandra Toreson), while Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) loses his daughter and wife (Genevieve Buechner and Anna Galvin, respectively), the sister and mother of the one-day Commander William Adama, played as a child by Sina Najafi.

The Adams family, turned Adama by the end of the pilot, is connected heavily to Tauron gangsters operating in Caprica City, thanks in part to Joseph’s brother, Sam Adama, played by Israeli-born actor Sasha Roiz.

An interesting struggle is created within the Adama family itself, as Sam frequently embraces his heritage, working with the Tauron mob, a sort of bizarre amalgamation of mob stereotypes from film and television, which results in a somewhat muddled collection of characters.

With influences from the Russian gangsters, the Italian mob and South American crime syndicates, it’s hard to tell what the glue of commonality is within this crew.

As for the Graystones, they are a super-rich family of uptight honkies, with a robot servant shaped like an upside-down maraca. This money is all thanks to Daniel, the patriarch of the family who was a technological pioneer, masterminding the “holoband”—essentially a virtual reality where users can go to explore an entirely digital world.

The pilot starts in the holoband, tracking through a nightclub with impossibly beautiful, naked people screwing each other’s virtual brains out, people with handguns slaughtering others without a second thought and the coup-de-grace, virgin sacrifice.

But Graystone discovers on a trip to one such virtual house of debauchery and sin that his daughter has effectively managed to build an artificial personality based on her own memories, medical records and so on.

It is then that Graystone decides he must bring his daughter back even if it means transplanting his daughter’s persona into a cold, metallic killing machine. Having befriended Joe Adams at a press conference by the government inspecting a train bombing, Graystone offers Adams a chance to try it out himself, to see his own daughter, a virtual avatar built from public records that Daniel has collected.

Joe, disturbed by the encounter he has in this virtual world with his non-daughter, leaves, scolding Daniel and explaining the phenomena as an unnatural atrocity.

Thus begins the primary conflict of the series: The powerful Graystone family and the Adamas become entangled in an ethical and moral argument about what it means to be human and pose questions about the consequences of playing God.

It is only at the end of the episode that Joe mentions the Adama name, when he goes to inform his son that he is interested in taking his family to their Tauron roots.

offers up an enticing beginning to a new series that manages to take what works about BSG and incorporate it into a more terrestrially based drama. Will Caprica fare as well (or better) as its parent show? I doubt it.

For now, all we can really do is wait. Caprica doesn’t come to television until 2010, and the DVD is only available for purchase online or at some video stores. For now, all we can really do is wait.