2010-04-07

An Interesting Aside: Caprica

In a previous post, we discussed my take on one of my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, outlining the notion that the story is told in two conflicting genres of narrative discourse, each of which at least implies a corresponding genre of religious discourse. Subsequently we also discussed possible implications of that conflict of genres of discourse. Today, I wish to return to that discussion, this time with the spotlight on Battlestar's new prequel series, Caprica.

Naturally, spoilers follow. If you don't want Caprica spoiled, do not read on.


The show takes place decades before "The Fall" portrayed at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica, and indeed even before the First Cylon War alluded to in the chronologically later series. In fact, the plot broadly centers on the creation of the first Cylon as part of a military contract awarded to Caprican uber-technology firm Graystone Industries. As the series has only just reached the middle of the first season (since when have shows had "mid-season finales"?), I'll refrain from any comment on the broader plot. Besides, what interests me are a few particular details.

Firstly, perhaps of greatest import for the student of religion and Battlestar, is the apparent connection of the later Cylons' monotheism to a terrorist group called Soldiers of The One which espouses a monotheistic faith of some kind, in contradiction to the prevailing polytheism of the Twelve Colonies. I won't take the time to recapitulate the details of how the virtual avatar of Zoe Graystone (daughter of the Cylon's inventor and member of this monotheist cult) becomes embodied in the Cylon prototype after the real life Zoe is killed in a train bombing, but suffice it to say the first Cylon seems to have a monotheist outlook by way of connection with the Soldiers of The One.

Secondly, and at a very close second, is the idea of "apotheosis" which has been alluded to by Sister Clarice, who appears to be a member of the Soldiers of The One with a good deal of clout. She has briefly suggested the notion of the dead being reconstituted based on the wealth of data which survives them as avatars in the virtual reality environment V-World. Though Zoe's avatar was compiled before the real life Zoe's death, the same concept applies, as the avatar possesses all the memories of the living Zoe, and even seems to have somehow shared in the experience of her death. Additionally, the avatar of Tamara Adama, compiled after the real life Tamara's death, is another case which has already come to pass. Clarice seems to think that a process like this can be employed to carry people over into V-World as a form of afterlife, and she seeks to obtain Zoe's avatar program to pursue this goal. Implications for later Cylon resurrection technology should be obvious.

Thirdly, and for now finally, are the apparent hallucinations of Amanda Graystone, the Cylon inventor's wife. Amanda's brother, we have learned, died in a car crash which Amanda herself survived, but which left her deeply traumatized. After a long descent into insanity, she spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, and evidently continues taking prescription drugs years after her release. Lately, she has begun to see her dead brother and chase after him, as she did years ago after the crash. So far there is relatively little to indicate these are anything but hallucinations. However, the fact that these wild ghost chases are portrayed in a manner suggestive of the possibility that Amanda isn't just hallucinating may be significant to our considerations. It is, of course, possible that such a portrayal is simply good cinematic technique, making the viewer feel some degree of the blurred reality which the character experiences during these episodes.

As you may suspect, though, I am not so ready to give Caprica the total benefit of the doubt. Given the connection to Battlestar Galactica and that series' conflict of genres, I am suspicious of a similar clash in this show. So far Caprica has established and more or less solidly maintained the science fictional genre of narrative discourse, the same in which Battlestar seems squarely to fall at first blush. Recall my contention that science fiction tends to bring with it an atheist or agnostic genre of religious discourse: science fiction narratives usually leave deities and miracles out of the picture entirely, or find ways to subsume them to the empirical worldview of the narrative genre (my favorite examples being stories in which beings worshipped as gods turn out to be powerful aliens or the like).

Battlestar Galactica got confusing and frustrating because this science fiction narrative became blended with what I called the mythic genre of narrative discourse and its associated genre of religious discourse which easily permits gods, spirits, angels, miraculous happenings, and so on. This theory of admixture was the only way I found to understand the incongruities and apparently unanswered questions left after the finale of Battlestar. While Caprica has yet to show definite signs of the mythic genre of discourse, I suspect we may see it arise in time. It wasn't until well into the series that Battlestar crossed into territory where only recourse to myth could explain the bizarre goings-on, and indeed my own disappointment arose largely because I had hoped and expected the show to resolve its outstanding weirdeousities before wrapping up.

Given more time, I anticipate that Caprica will begin to show similar signs. In particular, I'll be keeping an eye on the development of Amanda Graystone's hallucinatory experiences, and watching for any implication that they are anything other than symptoms of her craziness. Additionally, we should watch Sister Clarice's campaign for apotheosis closely for any signs that she's receiving some kind of divine favor in pursuit of that end.

In a word, it seems clear that Caprica is already playing into Battlestar Galactica's "all this has happened before, and all this will happen again" narrative, which is to say its mythic narrative. I'm interested to see what will be implied in regard to the polytheism vs. monotheism issue in this series. To show my hand a little, I suspect that Caprica may favor monotheism in its mythic narrative much as Battlestar seems to have favored it.

We'll keep tabs on Caprica over the coming days, and follow threads of interest to our discussion of the religious messages encoded by a popular narrative discourse.

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