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

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So once you knew you wanted to go serialized, how did you decide that Caprica would almost follow the likes of A.I. or Blade Runner, in dealing primarily with these issues of artificial intelligence, and this blurring line between computers and humanity?

Well we wanted to go broader, beyond Battlestar, and we thought wouldn’t it be great if we went backwards and if we did a prequel that didn’t in any way require knowledge of Battlestar. If it had no baggage. And you could still trade on those mythological strands, but now explore and tell stories in a completely different way. What was so unorthodox is that we pitched this to the studio in general terms and they said, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting,’ and then Remi Aubuchon, this successful television writer, approached them separately with this idea that was dealing with artificial intelligence and the creation of a sentient life. And they said, ‘ Wow, you should call Ron and David and put your heads together, you’re all smoking out the same crack pipe.’ And we met with him and it was this rare occasion where we had the foresight to put this all together.

It’s interesting, though, how you use the notion of artificial intelligence here. It’s not just for the sake of something flashy or high-tech, but there’s a lot of emotional turmoil that’s unleashed by this…

Well, we had thought of Caprica as replacing what oil is in our time with artificial intelligence – this resource that changes everything. And what we actually had a lot of discussions about was Frankenstein, about this need of one man to create life at any expense. And in that story, you have a brilliant man who goes mad with the implications of what he’s done. Now imagine that taken to  whole new level of moral questioning, when you’re talking about the man’s own daughter. That level of moral questioning almost runs the risk of a potential break with your own sanity, when you face what you’re really trying to do, to bring back a replica of your daughter.

There’s actually a moment in the pilot when Daniel goes into the virtual world and can’t find Zoe and we snap back to reality and he pulls the device off his head and messes up his hair, and we linger there for just a second on that shot as he stares off into space. And I think that right there, we’re looking for just an instant at the face of a mad man. He’s no longer Bill Gates, he’s Dr. Frankenstein. And there’s a very subtle undercurrent there that flows right into the long history of great sci-fi stories of Asimov and Philip K. Dick of what does it mean to he human.

But right there, that was also a big focus of BSG

Yeah, we didn’t shy away from that issue  with BSG, and we are indeed playing with some of the same themes and subject matter. But we can do it in a different way here. BSG used Blackhawk Down as more of a stylistic point of reference that any sci-fi film. It was more about the realities of war. But here, we’re tapping directly into the history of sci-fi, and instead we’ve set all this in something that looks closer to pre-‘30s Munich, where the culture is trending towards the military and where technology is running rampant and there’s this sense of hedonism about the place. I think there’s a strong analogue between Caprica and all that, where things went from being so fun and upwardly-mobile to a place that was so dangerous and scary. There’s this sense of foreboding, but it’s all grounded very firmly in the sci-fi realm.

I was interested how quickly in the pilot you stepped away from Zoe’s virtual world…

Well, we’ll be going back there. We just wanted to keep this balance in check, between the drama in the real world and the drama in the virtual world. It’s definitely a tricky thing to do too, because by episode 5 there’s this whole other layer about a game within the virtual world, and the whole idea is that you can create a different persona and it almost becomes a world within the world, and there’s even the question of what happens if you get killed in that world, could you die then in the real world? The challenge, though, with this kind of storytelling is that the stakes because far more ambiguous and more intellectual in that context. So the stakes become more: You don’t want to get shot in the video game because then you could never play the game again. You have to readjust the goals. In the pilot, yes, we were careful about things, but we found a way to set up the stakes so that it becomes a major part of the series.

The pilot left us in a place where we were really debating: Is this right to do or not, to try and cheat death? And I think the episode people are going to see this Friday only complicates matters even further, as one parent seems unwilling to mourn the loss of his real daughter because he’s still chasing after the artificial avatar of his daughter. Have you ever experienced anything like this – have you wanted to cheat death? I’m interested if you have personal experiences here that are guiding the show…

I know when we were talking about the pilot that I started to remember that when I was 11 years old, I had just recently gotten a golden retriever named Ranger and we were doing some home improvements and the dog got loose and the truck backed up, and mom made the conscious decision to get another golden retriever and say, ‘Let’s press on like nothing ever happened.’ And I don’t know, if that was a good decision or bad decision, that I never had the chance to mourn the loss of this puppy I had barely known.

It’s like the monkey’s paw and you can either try to cheat it or confront it. But it does seem like eventually the circle of life comes home to roost, and none of us gets out so easy. That’s really part of Graystone’s story. He’s trying to have it all.

Come back Sunday for a full review of Caprica’s second episode, and a full discussion.

More at Techland: Check out Apple’s all-time greatest hits and misses.

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