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Caprica (#110 of 9)

Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series

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Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series
Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series

I like a lot of things these days. I like the Best for Babes Foundation. I like Rachel Ford’s status. I like the photo my husband posted of our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter scratching her ass in front of some student artwork—and I am duly pleased when four other people indicate that they like it too.

It’s so easy to like things nowadays that I can forget how hard being a fan of a TV series used to be. Pre-Internet me had to bid high on dubbed “complete series” VHS tapes off of eBay, subscribe by mail to fan-produced, photocopied, and stapled zines, and pore over ancient issues of Starlog otherwise gathering dust in my parents’ attic just to feed my obsession with the shows that consumed me.

I loved the world of TV fandom so much that back in 1996 I registered a domain name—tvgen.com—in the hopes of starting some kind of web-based clearing house for TV fans to meet other fans. I think I harbored secret hopes of financing a trip to Portmeiron, Wales, where Number Six from The Prisoner would magically come to life and whisk me off for a life of nonconformity and awesome scarves. Instead, I caved under my first offer and sold my future dreams for the ability to pay off my credit cards.

Ironically, as TV shows become more accessible, thanks to cable repeats, Netflix, streaming video, and TiVO, my ability to go nuts over a TV series seems to have decreased. It’s so easy to watch every episode that it’s even easier to give up when a show loses its footing. I’ll just go searching for something more exciting, or have a tawdry one-night stand with a couple of Real Housewives.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 8, “Ghosts in the Machine”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Ghosts in the Machine”

Syfy

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Ghosts in the Machine”

Yesterday’s mid-season finale could prove to be a make or break moment for the remaining fans that have hung in there for Caprica. The penultimate episode, “Ghosts in the Machine,” embodies much of what is wrong with this series. Everytime one gets caught up in a given plotline, the episode cuts away to another less interesting one. I would have bet early on in this show’s run that Esai Morales would have held my interest more than Eric Stoltz. But that’s not how it’s worked out.

The “A” story continues to follow Joseph’s Orpheic search for his daughter Tamara’s avatar in the virtual (under)world of New Cap City. The mysterious Emmanuelle, introduced at the climax of “The Imperfections of Memory,” continues to guide him, revealing that she was paid to help him. Emmanuelle’s most important contribution involves a virtual “drug” called Amp, a hack that heightens one’s senses while in the game in order to enhance performance. An Amp junkie tells Joseph he can find Tamara-A (known in New Cap as the “dead girl”) in a burlesque club called Mysteries. The club is presided over by a crossdresser known as Cerberus (Dmitry Chepovetsky), who asks Joseph a riddle that hearkens back to a speech his son made on Battlestar Galactica, “As the Gods overthrew the Titans, so has Man overthrown the Gods. But when Man visits his sins upon his children, how shall he be repaid?” Joseph is unable to solve it (in hindsight, of course, the clear answer would be “the Cylons”), so he doesn’t get an answer regarding Tamara-A’s whereabouts, but he does find some distinctive graffiti on the walls outside the club indicating she was there.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 7, “The Imperfections of Memory”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “The Imperfections of Memory”

Syfy

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “The Imperfections of Memory”

“The Imperfections of Memory” is a brief quiet moment before the next two episodes, what I expect shall be a far noisier wrap-up to the first half of Caprica’s season. It will return this fall to complete its first series, and the good news according to The Hollywood Reporter is that the show looks likely to be renewed. The even better news for the disenfranchised Battlestar Galactica fans who like a little “space” with their soap opera is that Syfy is hoping to get executive producer Ronald Moore to develop yet another BSG spinoff.

With Caprica’s fate currently looking somewhat safe, I guess I don’t have to fret that this last episode breaks the momentum which has been building. I can just enjoy some of the unusual ways this entry ventures outside some of the familiar territory it has comfortably settled in.

As the Graystone’s grief over Zoe’s death recedes just a bit (if not from their consciousness then from the show’s and its Caprican population), Amanda starts having visions of her dead brother, Darius. These hallucinations spur some desperate, wonderful dreamlike images that run counter to the crisp, concrete world established on the series so far, even in V-world. After Clarice runs into Amanda at the MagLev memorial, she learns of Amanda’s visions. This prompts Clarice to theorize that since Amanda can see the dead—and is mother to the messianic Zoe—God speaks through her the same way He speaks through her daughter. Clarice gives a rare bottle of Scorpion Ambrosia to Amanda in order to ingratiate herself, hoping to glean something from the oracular Graystone matriarch.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6, “There Is Another Sky” and “Know Thy Enemy”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6, “There Is Another Sky” and “Know Thy Enemy”

Syfy

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6, “There Is Another Sky” and “Know Thy Enemy”

No, I didn’t give up after my misgivings with “Gravedancing.” Family and work obligations simply got in the way of writing up the subsequent episodes. But these last two—which in having Caprica move away from the overt Battlestar Galactica references inch the series closer to the spirit of its predecessor—were a vast improvement. Now is a great time to catch up with the series, which seems on the verge of turning a corner in terms of standing on its own. Syfy ran a marathon on Friday of the first season thus far, leading up to the newest episode, “The Imperfections of Memory,” which I’ll review here sometime between now and Monday. In the meantime, let’s play catch-up with my quick takes on the last two episodes.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 4, “Gravedancing”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “Gravedancing”

Syfy

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “Gravedancing”

“Gravedancing” squanders the dramatic potential set up by the last episode’s conclusion where Joseph Adama asks his brother Sam to avenge his wife and daughter’s death by killing Amanda Graystone. In defusing (and diffusing) the threat over the course of an hour, with side trips into the customs and practices of the Capricans, the Taurons, the Global Defense Department (GDD), and the Soldiers of the One (STO), this week’s entry of Caprica becomes little more than a lukewarm table-setter for future episodes of the series.

The problem is viewer patience is wearing thin. Newbies (like my wife) are wondering what the big deal is, unwilling to give Caprica a pass strictly based on its progenitor’s reputation. Even veteran fans of Battlestar Galactica are wondering if Caprica will ever strike a chord of resonance the way the former seemed to do so deftly. For a moment, last episode’s stunning conclusion (Joseph Adama whispering “Balance it out,” implying Sam murder his nemesis’ wife) seemed to complicate the emotional melodrama beyond its soapy roots. But “Gravedancing” and its awful dialogue, rooted in some filmic and racial stereotypes, is a setback for the fledgling series. The Taurons behave like cliched Mafia stand-ins, with even Joseph’s mother-in-law, Ruth (Karen Austin), uttering such trite Godfather-lite bromides as, “You get the best things from enemies, because they’re scared of you.” Even the wonderfully complex Sam is reduced to a two-dimensional thug in this one, talking about “getting even” and so forth.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 3, “Reins of a Waterfall”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Reins of a Waterfall”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Reins of a Waterfall”

Now, that’s more like it. Battlestar Galactica and Caprica’s creative force Ronald D. Moore takes the directing reins with this episode, and one can feel the dynamic really begining to jell. Whatever misgivings I had last week over Paula Malcomson’s believability when Amanda publicly denounced her daughter as a terrorist evaporated in the powerful scene where Daniel confronts his wife about the incident. Moore directs Malcomson to a performance which explores the range of emotions Amanda is feeling, from betrayal to heartbreak to shock to defensiveness to shame to certitude that she did the right thing. Daniel, who just got beat up by Joseph’s brother Sam in retaliation for his niece’s death in the same suicide bombing, is not so sure Amanda fully comprehends the impact of her public denouncement.

Beyond the personal emnity it has created between the two fathers around whom the show revolves, the increasingly media-conscious backdrop of Caprica flares up with reports taking potshots at the powerful Graystones. Patton Oswalt (Big Fan) appears as the host of Backtalk with Baxter Sarno, a wry combination of Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck who reinforces the thesis I laid out in an earlier post. But Sarno’s tasteless jokes concerning Graystone’s tangential involvement with the Soldiers of the One are the least of Daniel’s worries. As the media interstitials placed throughout Caprica demonstrate, the backlash against Amanda’s admission is affecting Graystone Industries stock, attendance at his pyramid team’s home games, and his Cylon defense contracts are most certainly next. After some prodding from a PR consultant hired by his assistant, Cyrus (Hiro Kanagawa)—nice exchange between Daniel and Cyrus: “Scandals are sunburns, Cyrus. They fade.” / “Not if they give you cancer.”— Daniel decides at episode’s end to take the fight back to the media through populist funnyman Sarno.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 1, “Rebirth”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “Rebirth”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “Rebirth”

Last week’s Caprica pilot has been available to watch in one form or another for over a year, so its TV premiere felt a bit anticlimactic. The episode which most of us have really been anticipating is “Rebirth,” the first one-hour series entry and one in which the writers and producers had sufficient enough lead-up time to allow for any tweaking of the series premise. Fortunately, the pilot introduced us to a fully realized world that didn’t require much retooling. And though the series still hasn’t quite found the unique quality that could make for compelling television, this hour is still a vast improvement on an already solid pilot, despite the major misstep that causes it to fall apart at the end.

“Rebirth” breaks down into a typical A-B storyline, the primary story focusing on Zoe-A (avatar) and her predicament as she finds herself trapped in the Cylon U-87 prototype’s body. As the episode begins, we are privy to the U-87/Zoe-A’s dreams, a jumble between the downloaded memories of the actual Zoe, the virtual Zoe-A, and the U-87’s battle tests. We soon learn Zoe-A’s Cylon is the only one showing signs of creative thinking in field tests. Daniel Graystone acknowledges this robot is the same one he was working on in the lab in the previous episode. But on a conscious level at least, he fails to acknowledge what the cause for this behavior could be.

He has the U-87 moved to his home lab for further testing, where we meet two of his techs, one named Philo (Alex Arsenault) who is gentle with the machine, and another (whose name escapes me) who treats it roughly and reductively as a “tool.” His colleague finally gets his comeuppance for being so dismissive. Zoe-A reacts violently, slicing his fingertip off, sending Philo scrambling for the severed digit and allowing Arsenault to give one of the show’s funnier line readings, “Found it!” Needless to say, Philo makes an impression and looks like a character that will be recurring.

Caprica Recap Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

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Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

Syfy

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

While some felt that Battlestar Galactica’s finale repudiated much that came before it, both thematically and in its execution, others (like myself) felt the story had come to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Either way, disgruntled or devoted fans of the show—and even those who’ve never seen it—will find its new soapy spinoff, Caprica, of interest. Like its predecessor, which was couched in Bush-era “War on Terror” parallels, the show alludes to present day tensions stemming from Obama’s promise of change, something I discussed at length in a piece I wrote back in April after watching an early DVD release of the pilot.

“Caprica: 58 Years Before the Fall” reads the opening title card to the two-hour debut. The Fall refers to humanity’s near extinction at the hands of their robotic Cylon creations in BSG’s premiere. This prequel explores the fateful forces which led to their creation and rise to prominence. It begins with two young girls perishing in a terrorist attack orchestrated by a monotheistic cult known as the Soldiers of the One (the seed for the Cylon belief in one God; contrarian in the polytheistic society of Caprica). The girls’ respective fathers—Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-like billionaire genius looking for the missing link in his robotics research, and Joseph Adams (Esai Morales), a Michael Corleone-type attorney reluctant to join the family (as in Family) business—are our portals into this show’s world.

Graystone and Adams also serve as doubles tied together by their very different reactions to the possibility that their daughters can be resurrected. Graystone sees it as a matter of science and intellect. If he can bring his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) back to life by imprinting her personality into a machine prototype he’s created, then why not? Ironically, it is his overwhelming emotional regret that blinds this intellectual to the unpredictable repercussions that shall ultimately play out. The earthier and more instinctual Adams comes to grasp the moral implications of trying to revive his own dead daughter. Paradoxically, it is his pragmatism that allows him to step back and view the situation dispassionately.

Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era

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Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era
Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era

With the recent demise of the much beloved Battlestar Galactica, this avid TV watcher found himself mourning the loss of its wonderful characters in a way he seldom has before. Perhaps it was because the series reached what is generally rare for television: a satisfying conclusion. I actually found myself wanting to follow the new adventures these characters had set out on in the final minutes of the show. It is fitting that the science fiction series, an allegory for Bush’s “War on Terror” era, would wrap up as America enters a new, hopeful, but more opaque era of economic uncertainty. The new prequel spinoff, Caprica, is a chapter in the Galactica saga that captures the feeling, characteristic of the Obama era, of American life at a crossroads.