Freeze Frame: Caprica’s Sliding Scale of Humanity

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Every Monday with “Freeze Frame,” we break down our very favorite sci-fi/fantasy/adventure moments – the scenes that we look forward to, that remind us why we so love this job. As you might guess, such discussions are riddled with spoilers. So consider yourself warned. (See previous Freeze Frame features here.)

Over the weekend, I posted my initial thoughts about Caprica’s most recent episode, which ventured into far more complex and compelling territory. But there was one specific shot in this week’s episode that lingered in my mind throughout the weekend. I even brought it up with someone during the Super Bowl game. (Check out our interview with the co-creator of Caprica).

The scene: Three girls stand side by side in the black virtual void that Daniel Graystone has created in hopes of bringing his daughter’s avatar back to life. The sequence starts with a shot of Lacy, a girl who is alive in the real world, standing alone in the nothingness, against a black background. Then out of the shadows runs her friend Zoe – the friend who has died, whose consciousness has been downloaded into a microchip and inserted into a robotic body.  That robotic body has accessed this virtual world, and now the replicated Zoe is reincarnated in the avatar of a teenage girl.

Together, Lacy’s avatar and Zoe’s avatar’s avatar (confused yet?) feel for a door in the wall, trying to get out of this colorless sea of black, and when they crack a door, the light illuminates a third girl crouched on the floor. She is the residual consciousness of another dead girl, who Daniel failed in fully bringing back to life. The body looks the same, but this avatar lacks the memories or mental capacity of the real girl. She is an empty shell of a copy, and has been sitting alone in this nothingness, waiting for someone to arrive.

The three girls look over each other, and I was fascinated by the gradations of humanity on display in this moment. There’s the artificial representation of a human, the artificial echo of a dead human, and the biological replica of a dead girl that lacks any of the mental hardware.

Is the scene a little messy, in terms of construction and personality? Sure. I get a little confused just talking about it.

But when we think of science-fiction, technology and the future, these are the complex moments I live for. The black and white lines of life and death, real and virtual, are starting to get all scrambled. And aren’t we already seeing signs of this, in the way we live today? All of us now have our real personalities and then our e-mail and Facebook personalities. As we sit here today, in 2010, our sense of “self” is fragmented into various pieces. And this scene in Caprica sliced through to that truth in ways that I haven’t seen since Blade Runner, A.I., or Solaris.

Three young girls standing in the same room, and yet three very different creatures. Who’s real and who’s not? A debate for the ages.