One of the best things about serialized television is the way we get sucked into the fictive world of a show. In the down time between episodes of Mad Men, I'm still immersed in the sad, impossibly fashionable world of 1965 Manhattan, and I'm not alone. If a serial is really working, you keep a foot in that universe pretty much all the time, and it can work like a vacation, or therapy, or an opportunity to see how things might have turned out if history had gone differently, or (and this is usually how it goes) all these things at once.
Since it began, Caprica has been deeply invested in the philosophical consequences of imagined worlds. This makes sense, since it's essentially a piece of fan fiction--and I mean that in the best possible way. Ronald Moore and David Eick assume (and rightfully so), that their viewers are coming to the show already armed with the kind of intense knowledge of the BSG-verse that marks fanfic readers and writers. Not only are there a million characters and ever-more-complicated relationships to keep track of, but the reader also has to constantly consider the relationship between this show and its predecessor/descendent. This assumption of total knowledge shows up in great little surprises that feel like DVD Easter Eggs (The theme from the 1980 Battlestar shows up on the radio at one point one season one! We witness the first use of the epithet "toaster"!), but also in more practical decisions like the shocking lack of backstory given during the previouslies of the season premiere--and those previouslies don't even show up until after the teaser.
This necessary immersion in the fictional universe makes the show's relationship to the virtual world that much more meta- and interesting. Basically, the pilot revolved around two seemingly opposed parties trying to use virtual reality for the same thing: an escape from the consequences of death. For the hard-line religious extremists, this means "religion without faith" since the afterlife can be a certainty rather than a dream, while uber-capitalist Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz) sees it as a cure for grief--"the ultimate drug for the ultimate pain." Unsurprisingly, these possibilities are framed within the show as deeply dangerous; not only do we see lots of upsetting violence unfold in the "v-world," but last season focused on one character's descent into that virtual space at the cost of his investment in his "real" life.
What's most interesting to me about all this, though, isn't so much the critique of fantasy happening through fantasy--this is nothing particularly new, after all--but the way that Caprica's take on the power and purpose of imagined worlds offers a really useful theory for thinking through the power and appeal of Fringe, and maybe of science fiction (or narrative itself) more generally.
For those of you who aren't watching Fringe (and if you're not, you should amend that situation, stat), this season has taken a definite turn for the awesome. They played with the idea of "Earth-B" a lot last season, but this season they're really taking the time to explore the idea of multiple worlds. And this is no "Mirror, Mirror" from Star Trek or "The Wish" from Buffy alternate universe, where we're relieved to get back to our own time. Fringe's Earth-B is an uncanny double for our world--better in some ways and worse in others, but most memorable for little changes like a sign advertising "Dogs" as Broadway's longest-running show, or alternate versions of comics like "Red Lantern."
Maybe that's not the right way to put it, though. The little changes are the coolest, but the biggest difference between Earth-B and this one revolves around two of the biggest traumas of American history: slavery's ongoing legacy, and the fall of the Twin Towers on Sept 11, 2001. On Earth-B, we have all these little cultural signs of a profoundly different understanding of race--Martin Luther King Jr. is on a $20 bill (and, even more impressively, no one has even heard of, much less commemorated Andrew Jackson, architect of the Indian Removal Act), Martin Luther King Jr/Eldrige Cleaver memorial park is a central landmark in Manhattan, and the Twin Towers loom strong over it all. In the context of Caprica's take on imagined worlds, I can't help but see Earth-B as a fantasy of a world not just free from these traumas, but where we get to see what freedom from certain traumas looks like without having to take the time to think through the process of working through them. I mean, don't get me wrong, life on Earth-B is no picnic, and there are all these intense environmental traumas that don't exist here, but I suppose what's most interesting to me is the way that trauma plays such a central role in establishing these imagined worlds in the first place.
Maybe what Caprica is saying is that trauma is at the center of narrative itself. That's certainly what the shape of Earth-B in Fringe would suggest. The seed of a narrative world is the hope that we can create some space that might undo grief? What do you think?