At first blush, the idea of a “Battlestar Galactica” prequel provoked skepticism of the “Why not leave well enough alone?” variety. Yet through its first four hours (including a two-hour premiere), “Caprica” exhibits more than enough promise to justify the mission, tracing the birth of the Cylons a half-century before the events of the earlier series while again weaving in powerful and resonant themes — including religious intolerance and what truly makes us human. Although uneven in places, a quality cast and cliff-hanging episodic twists establish “Caprica” as an heir that shouldn’t disappoint “BG” geeks.
Being mindful of spoilers, suffice it to say that “Caprica” pivots on the relationship between two families united by tragedy: Wealthy scientist/sports-owner/industrialist Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz); and attorney Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), the father of “Galactica’s” Admiral William Adama, who here is still a young boy.
Both the Graystones (the wife is played by “Deadwood’s” Paula Malcomson) and Adamas lose relatives in a train bombing — an act of terrorism by those who embrace the notion of a single omnipotent God, unlike the polytheism practiced across the “Galactica” colonies. Graystone’s daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) has been involved in the cult, which intriguingly dovetails with the Cylons’ always-perplexing embrace of the divine despite their clanky metal frames.
The relationship between Graystone and the elder Adama provides the program’s heart; the drawbacks include spending too much time with the angst-ridden teenage characters, who frankly aren’t nearly as interesting or well played. Nor does the unorthodox production and costume design — which more than anything resembles a 1950s film noir — really set a proper mood, merely reminding us that we’re in a slightly alternative space.
Still, Stoltz, Morales and Malcomson are all first-rate, and the incorporation of a subplot involving a portal into virtual reality via something called a Holoband feels particularly timely, what with all the references to avatars moving about in this imaginary space. There are also tantalizing if still mysterious threads involving one of Zoe’s teachers (“Rome’s” Polly Walker) and Adama’s mob-connected brother (Sasha Roiz), whose homosexuality is notably treated as a complete afterthought.
The original “Galactica” was particularly adept at incorporating such flourishes and exploring concepts that compelled the audience to confront and contemplate their own reality — particularly pertaining to terrorism’s use as a tactic — and series creators Ronald Moore and Remi Aubuchon again tackle those kinds of big ideas to push sci-fi boundaries in intellectually provocative ways.
For all that, the new show will doubtless be most enticing to fans of the old one, for whom every beat will carry echoes of the war to come. Whether that will limit the program’s commercial appeal to a subset of “Galactica’s” modest fleet of loyalists remains to be seen, but if this prequel can maintain the quality of its initial salvo, that will likely motivate at least those viewers to beseech whatever gods they pray to that “Caprica” be blessed with a prolonged stay in this place called Earth.