Caprica Is New Again: Creator Talks Battlestar, A.I., Cheating Death

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Update: What did you think of the new episode of Caprica? Read our analysis, and weigh in on the debate, right here.

Given the love and passion out there among fans of Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been surprised by the muted response I’ve encountered when it’s come to BSG prequel Caprica. Maybe that’s because the original pilot – which re-aired in a slightly altered form last Friday night – has been around for nine months, via the web and DVD, meaning there wasn’t much reason for an early Caprica fan to tune in again. Until this week, that is. Or maybe it’s because the plot is a significant departure from BSG – yes, a prequel, but a prequel that exudes an entirely different tone and temperament.

Either way: While last weekend marked the debut of Caprica for the uninitiated, this weekend is the real test for the serious BSG fans who have decided to give the prequel a try. We’ll have a full review of this week’s episode, complete with a Caprica discussion thread, posted by Sunday, but for now let me say this: Following the pilot, Caprica taps into a level of emotional intimacy that may just catch some skeptics by surprise. (More at Techland: The 10 best fictional spaceships ever designed)

Last Friday’s pilot was sort of sweeping in the way it lined up and marched through all the various subjects and storylines.

Clearly the creators felt a need to keep reaching back, to pay homage to the BSG universe. But in the transition, from pilot to series, co-creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick have done an impressive job of getting beyond the plot points and zeroing in on the emotional torment that will be unleashed by these central issues of science, religion, the racism that can simmer in an intergalactic societal melting pot, and the evolving reality of human interactions in a universe populated with sentient machines. In other words: They’ve proven willing to let loose on all those BSG links, willing instead to follow this story wherever the characters take them. It’s a gutsy move, to have a BSG prequel that strays at times from the BSG story arc, but I’ve now seen two additional Caprica episodes and I’m already excited about the third. Think of it as BSG for the non-BSG crowd. Some won’t be okay with such a thing, but I am. (More at Techland: The 10 best sci-fi characters of the decade)

We sat down with Eick himself to talk about the challenges of Caprica/BSG continuity, where the story might be headed next, and what near-death experiences shaped his views on using machines to achieve immortality.

In the lead-up to last Friday night’s premiere, I was surprised about all the various places where I started seeing Caprica ads – mainstream sites where Syfy is likely reaching a whole lot of people who have never even heard of Battlestar Galactica. You’re definitely targeting a whole new audience here…

There was always a sense that Battlestar had an inherent barrier to entry – even if it was just the title. It always kind of cut both ways, opening the floodgates on one end as to what we could do with the show creatively in the distant future, but then it always kept at bay a whole lot of people who might have enjoyed the show but who just won’t watch a space opera or a show called “Battlestar.” It was our intent with Caprica to broaden that base – to get out of that ghetto of space opera.

I’m now three episodes into the show, and I’m surprised by how closely these episodes snap together. Clearly this was an intention, to go deep into these characters and to interweave the episodes – how did you decide that this is the direction you wanted to go after BSG?

It was really an unusual beginning to the process. Both Ron and I had done self-contained series before,  Ron had done the Star Trek shows, and I had done the Hercules universe and it was in about the second season of BSG where we started to decide whether or not there was another story to be derived or hatched from this world that we were deeply immersed in. We knew we didn’t want to have some sort of continuation of the story, where you’d have some paraplegic commander, some speed freak, in command this time. We debated doing another thing entirely, a Buck Rogers show that would take place in contemporary society and have an artificial person coping with reality.

Then we started looking at the big picture of something we had been discussing, about how many of the BSG episodes were self-contained versus ongoing threads. By the end of the series, I think by the beginning of the fourth season, the episodes were all essentially serialized. And they were great. And so we started talking about moving forward with something that was unapologetically a serial sci-fi soap opera, that from the beginning would be designed to be that sort of animal – free from all the responsibilities or obligations to carry through the artifice of having a beginning, middle or an end.

What is it about being more serialized that frees you up?

Well, we both shared this common desire for a serialized series for this reason: When you’re telling a Law & Order story or a Matlock story, you have to service the entire plot in 43 minutes and change. So if your goal is to have a beginning, middle and an end, that’s going to take up most of your 43 minutes right there, getting all those elements out of the way. And that leaves you precious little time to actually delve into the lives. There’s no time to explore the passions that drive these characters or the things that haunt these characters. You can only get so deep as writers and storytellers, and it’s far more fun and satisfying to get more involved and to go deep and complicated. That’s when you get those chewy, nuggety, twisty-turny stories, not stories that end with “not guilty your honor,’ but can take on the events of the day…like all great sc-fi, to ask the bigger questions like: When is torture torture? … (continued on next page)

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