The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Caprica’s God/s

with 10 comments

I kind of feel unqualified to write about Caprica. I haven’t been a scifi geek since Next Generation and I’ve only seen 2 episodes of BSG, late at night, after a few drinks…and I didn’t get it (although I realize it’s something I’ll need to return to one day).  But I got pulled into Caprica because it just looked so good and it has Trixie from Deadwood (who I love) in it!  So while I realize that a two hour intro into the invention of the Cylon was probably very exciting for all the BSGers out there, and likely to be filled with significant references only they would get, there are a bunch of other themes that made me love last night’s premiere of Caprica.  And they’re almost all themes we’ve discussed on this blog in other contexts before: the relationship between bodies and identity or personhood; concepts of the Divine, particularly in this mono- vs. polytheistic battle, the relationship between memory and identity, the conflation of sex and violence in pop culture imagery; and life, death and everything in between.

It’s probably this mono- vs. polytheistic theme that interests me the most.  Caprica is a largely polytheist culture (interestingly enough, it seems to follow all ancient Western gods – from Athena to Jesus, perhaps to Zeus – the point being, this polytheism did have a decidedly Western bent to it).  And there’s a small sect of folks who have discovered the one true God, the God who arbitrates right and wrong definitively, who can help you in times of crisis and who is higher than all other gods.  The broader culture fears this sect – why would you trust anyone who has a concept of the Divine that could make them make absolutist claims or justify any action?  And certainly, this God’s followers are diverse – a suicide bomber, a computer genius (whose name, Zoe, un-coincidentally, means life), and a highly educated prep-school principle.  In other words, this God has followers symbolizing life, death and wisdom.

But what I also found interesting about this God was that s/he is found not only in some transcendent place and, in that place, seems to still be invisible, but that s/he also is willing to compete for attention within that alternative (technologically accessible) space.  Lacy admits that her and Zoe tried out numerous other rooms first – particularly noting the use of the group-sex room; poor Daniel! – but that they brew bored.  We might say, ennui set in!  And they turned to the true path, the one true God.  This is a monotheistic deity who doesn’t mind winning its followers over; proving itself better than the other options for pleasure on display.

But of course, we can’t just paint this God as a happy, humble helpful God – because it’s also a God that creates suicide bombers (that’s a scifi thing, right? Occasional extreme heavy-handedness to anchor more complex ideas?).  There was no indication that Zoe’s bombing friend had any better or worse interpretation of the one true God than she did.  And, in fact, we’re left with the possibility that this one true God is still some sort of wish projection for both of them.

Moments that got me hooked: right after the Soldiers of the One were explained for the first time, the subsequent cut to a street scene focused first for a moment on a Coliseum-inspired building…I love a show that can play with art and architecture like that to make a subtle point.  This Coliseum had its spaces for god-statues left empty, just like the one that stands today.  But its original polytheistic setting would have had it filled with those gods, and so I read this as a small indication that the polytheistic culture is not so strong as it appears (later buttressed by the revelation of other One-true-godders, like Sister Clarice).  Also, the moment when Zoe-2 stood covered in blood and Lacy’s promise that it’s all going to be ok makes the blood disappear – I’m not even sure what that means yet, but it was a captivating image nonetheless.  Is Lacy bestowing this Zoe with the right to take the original Zoe’s place?  It’s certainly a sort of ‘baptized in blood’ moment – the cleaning perhaps symbolizing her being situated in her new identity.  And of course, the amazing architectural details to the homes, particularly the Graystones’ – those guys have more super-cool bookshelves than I’ve ever seen in one two hour span!

Oh, my – there’s so much more to say, that I hope we’ll get to cover in later weeks: the mix of religious imagery in neck tattoos, the terrifying scene where Tammy couldn’t feel her heart beating (and pretty much everything having to do with bodies, identity and selfhood – this topic is rich for future discussion!), and Joseph’s decision to keep his family alive by denying the Tammy substitute and instead telling stories of their history. And did you notice his family name, Adam, as the Biblical first person? As Joseph spoke God’s words from Genesis over his family name, “and it’s good,” I wondered what was going on with this new creation…and I’m certainly excited to see!

Ok BSGers – I need your help!  What have I missed that I just don’t know because I don’t know BSG?  What’s the significance of these proto-cylons?  Help me out in the comments, please – I’m very very curious!

ox,
Natalie

Written by themothchase

January 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Caprica

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10 Responses

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  1. Actually, you just convinced me that this is a show I can recommend to non-BSG watchers. The balance of being a stand-alone series, and a prequel, is struck remarkably well in the pilot, and all of the themes you discuss here – the complicated poly/monotheistic themes, the technologically-connected blurring of identities and bodies (something recalling Dollhouse, of course), the symbolism of Adama’s name, the relationship between the religious symbols and Greek religion, the complex and tense ethnic and cultural relations among the various planets – are all themes that evoke BSG, but with interesting twists and different takes.

    Once of the things that made BSG remarkable, imho, is that the show spent 4 seasons dealing with well-worn scifi issues like embodiment and identity, the ethics of artificial life, and the nature of desire and love in such contexts without ever really *talking* about these themes directly through its characters. It was a very successful example of the “show, don’t tell” rule in film/television. In a sense, I think Caprica will address these themes more head-on, because, as you know, we’re watching the emergence of the Cylons, who will later become fully sentient and mount a massive rebellion against humanity. We may get to that rebellion in Caprica, though I’m not sure (that sense of threat to come was nicely prefigured, for example, when the paintballs hit the window right in front of Graystone’s face).

    The only other thing you should know is that William Adama, Joseph’s son, is the captain of the Galactica in the future. We’ll now know just how intimately he witnessed firsthand the events of the first Cylon-human war.

    Those are the major points in the backstory (or rather, the forestory, I guess?). But as I said, the show has obviously been succesful at communicating its main themes already without a detailed knowledge of that story.

    Now (for BSG watchers), if we only get to meet the Tigh or Thrace families at some point…

    travis

    January 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    • Oh, and: the suicide bombing might be heavy-handed, yes. But it evokes one of BSG’s most brilliant storylines, which I won’t spoil, so its significance looks a little different against that backdrop. But obviously it still conveys here a society with significant fractures underneath its surface.

      travis

      January 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  2. Hi, my name is Mark O. Estes and I wrote the recap on TV Overmind for the Caprica pilot. I am glad you linked your blog to my recap, because I love to read other people’s ideas and thoughts when it comes to pop culture. I envy you guys, because you get time to think about what you just saw and can come up with clear and concise thoughts on the blog that make you think and want to go back for a second viewing. I saw the Caprica pilot last summer for the first time and looked at through a BSG fan stand point, I suppose. I reviewed it again for the recap, but still looked at the pilot for face value and story. I kinda blame this on the fact that I watch a lot of “face-value” TV, which doesn’t have too much sustenance for the brain. Just storylines and twists, which is not a bad thing, but sometimes its even better to have some deep TV in your system.

    I am not steeply deft in biblical imagery or the Bible, nor have I read every piece of classic and contemporary literature out there, but when I do tend to dissect a show or episode (ala Dollhouse or LOST), I like to bring some unique view or aspect to the table rather than be predictable and identify the episode to an old work or ideal. It tends to get me in trouble sometimes, but I do stick out when it is all said and done.

    All in all, you guys just won yourself a regular viewer. See ya soon and please always check back to the site! Some of the shows you blog about, I recap! LOL!

    moestes

    January 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm

  3. I really liked this show, and I think that it’s a worthy successor to Battlestar Galactica – mainly because it continues the same sort of storytelling over making a direct copy of the show. Battlestar was very good at taking relevant cultural issues and talking about them – torture, extremism, etc. This show looks to do much the same thing, but in a much wider scope, and telling different relevant stories.

    I really hope that the immigration and religion aspects will be fleshed out as the show goes on – there is quite a lot of potential there, looking at the different sides of the issues, but also because they’re important issues today. Someone mentioned Dollhouse, and I think the same holds true for that show as well.

    I like that it’s not a direct copy, and that it’ll bring in its own audience and develop a storyline on its own, without being burdened down by the knowledge of what happened in Battlestar Galactica. One can hope, anyway.

    Andrew

    January 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm

  4. Greetings. I’m a big Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) geek, & got & watched the Caprica pilot on DVD last year — first watched it with my regular Weds. night companion in viewing then. She’s also familiar with BG.

    One of the best nights of TV I’ve ever enjoyed. Because we watched on DVD, we could pause to discuss whenever we wanted — & we did, frequently. I completely believe that Caprica is a series that can be viewed & enjoyed by people who’ve never seen BG — but I feel that my experience of Caprica was deeply enriched by having seen BG. Numerous “oh, that must be where _that_ came from” or “it’ll be interesting to see how that develops into _that” types of moments.

    Either way — standalone or with backgrounding in BG — it’s really fine SF. And I’m not just talking SF on film or TV, but in terms of the wider field of SF writing — not just special effects & space opera, but asking & speculating on the big questions.

    Glad you’re blogging about it. I’ll be following you.

    Mel

    February 1, 2010 at 8:12 pm

  5. One thing I’ve noticed about the character construction on Caprica is that they seem to be modeled on classical greco-roman gods, at least in many respects they seem to recapitulate them. I’m still trying to find enough evidence in the story to support my thesis.

    For example, I think Greystone is essentially a Zeus figure. He is very powerful “wields” the thunderbolt/electricity (sort of…electronics/computer systems magnate). That sets up his wife as the Hera figure…remember Hera was goddess of the hearth, and very jealous. Greystone manor, being big rich digs is effectively Olympus if that role is not held by Captrica city itself, then it is just Zeus’s palace.

    Adama: I’ve been curious about him, but interestingly in the last episode he was called “Prometheus”.

    Zoe/cylon: Here we have a fusion of the Semetic and Greek mythos. She is Eve, the mother of all living (cylons, that is), but she is also like Athena, the goddess of wisdom sprung from Zeus (Greystone’s) brow.

    Clarisse: I think in name she’s a nod to Ray Bradbury’s Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451…the one who got Montag thinking different. That said her name means clear-eyed/sighted. And it looks as if the color of her eyes is grey. Pallas Athena is also the grey-eyed one. She doesn’t seem to fit the Athena model much beyond that though since she lacks the connection to Zeus. She may be either a Demeter figure or possibly a Diana/huntress figure. But i’m not convinced for sure…given the promiscuity of her “family” I can also see where he might be staged to be an Aphrodite. Of course there are lots of other important mythic females she could be…both god or mortal…the jury’s out for me on her…I’ll need to wait for more character development…or to catch some telling clue I’ve missed. I am also willing to entertain a dip into hindu mythology, in which case, given her connection to the train bombing, she mighty well be a mother figure…but a very dark one…a Kali Ma.

    Vergis: Now he’s a package..I may be mistaken but his name sounds awfully close to verjuice…the juice of sour/bitter fruit like a crabapple. It can be used as a condiment…I suppose for a cold side dish of revenge. He is rich, one of the mighty (el/bull/mighty-one) like Greystone and in most respects his equal. Given the emphasis on his wealth and his origins in an underclass world, I’m thinking he might be modeled on Pluto/Hades…the hyper-rich god of the underworld and Zeus’ brother…in this case his economic peer.

    Cylon: well look at the one red eye…its a cyclops.

    So you can see why I think the old gods are being dragooned as archetypal models to derive the core characters from…could be off base, but I think on to some part of the character creation process in Caprica.

    rwhegwood

    March 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    • Thank you for such a fascinating comment! I wondered about the Prometheus (the fire-thieving god) naming of Joseph as well, especially as another major character (the other avatar patriarch) employed fire endlessly to achieve his purpose. There is some form of a connection between forged between Joseph and Daniel there at the level of myth. Thanks again! (Natalie)

      themothchase

      March 20, 2010 at 12:18 pm

  6. Thanks. The Joseph/Daniel connection might end up echoing that of the biblical Joseph and Pharaoh. It may be reading too much into it…but with writers trying to be clever you never know…Daniel means God is my Judge. The God part of the name is “El” we see it in Hebrew names for God like Elohim and El-Shadai. It is an old semetic word which basically means “mighty one” and was used idiomatically for a bull (the golden calf of the children of Israel was likely in some respects an idolatrous rebus on the term El. We see it as a component of words like Bael (meaning husband/master/Lord) which is why it was chosen as the name/title of a number of Phoenician and babylonian gods. With respect to Caprica, Joseph Adama is a Tauran…a bull sign. He is also a lawyer…and I think according to BSG is eventually a judge. Go figure.

    rwhegwood

    March 21, 2010 at 12:28 am

  7. Thanks for your excellent posts on Caprica. I had never watched a single show on Sy Fy until Caprica, and now I am hooked.

    I hope they bring the show back.

    Rod of Alexandria

    June 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm


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