The key to a good pilot is setting up compelling characters, and certainly a clever hook is immersing viewers into not one but the terrible process of bereavement for rival families. The death of teen Laura Palmer as it affected an entire community was completely gripping in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, as was the murder mystery that drove Laura’s outraged parents and town officials into solving the brutal crime during the show’s first season.
The mystery in Caprica, the new Battlestar Galactica prequel (which works fine for those unfamiliar with the recent TV series), though, is more police procedural, since it involves a tech businessman, Daniel Graystone (Eric Stolz), who’s determined to find out the depth of his daughter's involvement in a local terrorist clan, as well as a grey-level lawyer, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), a man who ultimately uses the resources of the crime family he shuns to bring to justice the killer of his own daughter.
Initially sympathetic to each others traumas, the two fathers eventually drift apart to potential rival corners when Graystone seeks to render the digital vestige of his daughter into a newfangled Frankenstein monster – a ploy that nicely sets up the first that's schedule to air in 2009-2010.
Grief is given exceptional screen time, and it's used to firm up character relationships that make Caprica a seriously compelling drama. Graystone's marriage (and particularly his efforts to reassure his distraught wife) resonates in a simple scene where he offers her an olive branch – breakfast in bed, with a flower – to appease her anger, stemming from his increasing distance and neglect. It's a lovely scene that's indicative of the pilot’s solid pacing.
The respective investigations of the dead daughters recalls the similarly personal quest of the father in Martin Campbel's tight BBC shocker Edge of Darkness (1983), which had a simple copper discovering his daughter was also part of a terrorist group, and the drama of watching a man repress grief in order to finish his procedural investigation.
In Caprica, the use of virtual technology as a replacement for a lost life (Graystone’s daughter) should give the new series some interesting themes to explore, as well as the repercussions of a father emulating Victor Frankenstein, and exactly how he shelters the truth of his deeds from his wife while remaining faithful to his corporation's goals. For the filmmakers, however, the real challenge is not to muck up the show's potential, retread familiar ground, and radically conventionalize vital characters by the season’s end.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan