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Heading Off-World: An Advance Review of Season 1.5 of Caprica

I was planning to write a lengthy review of the first two episodes of the back half of Caprica's first season, which returns to Syfy tonight after a considerable hiatus (one that was unexpectedly truncated), but AOL Television's Maureen Ryan did all of the heavy lifting yesterday and pretty much summed up everything I was going to say.

I've found Caprica so far to be maddeningly frustrating, a series of false starts, lackluster characters, and thwarted intrigue. (I wrote about my feelings about the first half of the season here.)

The two episodes provided to press for review ("Unvanquished" and "Retribution") haven't alleviated any fears I may have had about the series after its fantastic and thought-provoking pilot.

Two episodes back and I'm already restless, already losing interest in the plights of these characters, who remain unsympathetic and icy. (I will say, however, that the second episode was significantly better than "Unvanquished," and would point you to Ryan's pitch-perfect description of the goings-on on Gemenon. Shudder.)

Battlestar Galatica dealt with similar issues of religion, race, assimilation, and identity, but it was set against a backdrop of survival, where the stakes were enormous as the war between the humans and Cylons could lead to extinction. It's hard to recreate that dynamic here when the strife is limited to humanity at large and a small sect of monotheists who like to train teenagers to take on suicide missions in the name of their god.

But it would be one thing if there were something--or someone, rather--to grasp on to, but Caprica's characters are the embodiment of quicksilver: they're slippery and toxic. None of the central characters--whether that be Eric Stoltz's brooding genius Daniel Graystone, Paula Malcomson's brittle Amanda, Polly Walker's duplicitous Sister Clarice, Sasha Roiz's silent gangster Sam, Magda Apanowicz's sullen teen Lacy, and Esai Morales' dead-eyed lawyer--remain all that compelling and the production seems to treat them largely as sleepwalkers, making their way through a shifting landscape of images, flashbacks, dreams, and ominous portents. A psychic mishmash that dulls the senses rather than intrigue them.

Which is a problem with Caprica itself. There's less of a concrete narrative building towards a centralized arc than there is a series of disconnected incidents that hover over each other awkwardly. The one common thread linking these disparate elements together--that would be Alessandra Torresani's Zoe--is barely glimpsed at all in the first two installments, though her avatar does make one very memorable appearance. (Personally, I've not been a fan of Torresani since the beginning and while her absence is felt somewhat in terms of the overarching plot, there's considerably less hystrionics going on without her.)

As mentioned by Ryan, the first episode's travel to Gemenon, such a crucial destination for the first half of the season, descends into silliness as the STO-backed church becomes a larger influence on the series and we meet a slew of new characters. One in particular made me howl with laughter as the actress playing this key role was just so shockingly awful.

I'm not quite sure how to fix Caprica, other than suggest that the writers pick up the pace and bring the Cylon Centurions into the mix sooner rather than later, tighten the overarching plot, ramp up the tension, and add some subtle layering to the characters to bring the viewers at least a few sympathetic characters to latch on to. As it stands, Caprica isn't a place that I want to visit any longer.

Caprica returns tonight at 10 pm ET/PT on Syfy.

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