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'Caprica' recap: Bits of Software

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We have to talk about the Zoe-Robot, because the way that Caprica is dealing with her(/it) is some combination of brave, stupid, lame, and brilliant. (I’ve watched last night’s episode twice, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.) In scenes featuring the Zobot, the camera constantly switches between showing her lumbering Cylon body and her Avatar-Zoe body, with Alessandra Torresani still wearing that purple club-kid dress.

On a purely logistical level, I realize that this is just to keep Torresani in the show, and also to cut down on special effects costs. Shifting to a more thematic consideration, I suppose the back-and-forth cuts are meant to jumble our connection to the Zobot, since it’s easier to empathize with a human than a tall stack of Frankenstein machinery. On a narrative level, the switch may represent a free-flowing perspective shift from Zoe (who still unconsciously sees herself in human form) and the rest of the world. As far as pure enjoyment goes, the effect is annoying, except that last night it yielded a few visuals that were striking in their utter madcap bizarro-world fascination. Just off the top of my head:

1. When the Zobot was struggling in the back of the truck, and the Nice Guy Engineer (as opposed to the Evil Douche Engineer) was trying to calm her down, we saw little Zoe struggling to free herself, but we heard the sounds of Cylon gears shifting and robot parts whirring.

2. It took me a couple of rewinds to figure out exactly what happened to the Evil Douche engineer. I hope you all have DVR, because in slow motion you could really cherish how the Cylon head suddenly fell straight down on his finger; it looked like a casual nod. Afterwards, we saw Zoe rub her chin, and through her oscillating-red-curtain vision we saw blood on her cold metal hands.

3. When Lacy hugged the Zobot, we cut from a tender Zoe-POV shot of two teenagers comforting each other to a completely freaky close-up of Lacy grasping the metal spine of several billion cubits’ worth of military-industrial engineering. The final shot of the scene, with Lacy hugging the six-foot-plus Zobot etched against a sunny windowsill, looked like the cover of an old Isaac Asimov book.

A TV show’s second episode is important. The new car smell has dissipated. A pilot can get by on scene-setting and throwing a couple dozen storylines into the air, but the second episode has to prove that the show actually has an idea about how to move those storylines forward. (In fact, Mark Harris once argued in EW’s pages that the second episode is even more important than the first.) In some ways, it’s almost harder if a show has a great pilot; Kings had maybe the best series premiere since Lost, but it took the show weeks to rediscover the right politics/fantasy/theology/family balance, and by then NBC had initiated the Jay Leno Protocol. By comparison, look at shows like FlashForward, Dollhouse, or True Blood, which all had truly awful first episodes but steadily worked out the kinks.

I don’t think the second episode of Caprica was perfect, but I do think that it followed through on the promise of its auspicious premiere. The show feels comfortably sprawling, like the early chapters of a Russian epic. The subplots might be spinning in very different orbits, but the show feels anchored in murderously precise details. Like the picture on the Graystone piano of Amanda and Daniel in younger days (complete with a big red Pulp Fiction beard on Daniel), cradling their newborn baby and smiling. Or the way Lacy’s voice cracks a little when she says, “I knew a few kids from group marriages. It’s cool!” Or the twin reflections of Avatar-Zoe in Ben Stark’s sunglasses.

Everybody’s Working For the Weekend

Thanks Gods it’s Friday, because this week’s been brutal. The meta-cognitive processer hasn’t been functioning properly on any model except for the original U-87, which means Graystone Industries’ military contract is up in the air. Lacy’s finishing off another long friendless week at Athena Academy, whose school motto – “Cast Aside The Temporal” – is really way too zen for prep school. Joe Adama is finishing off another long week of presumably burying himself in work to forget about the dead half of his family; he’s still driving to his daughter’s school, Promethea High (which isn’t even prestigious enough to have a motto.)

Thanks Gods it’s Friday, because that means it’s the weekend in Caprica City. Time to go watch the Caprica Buccaneers play the Olympia Stallions. Time for the little Taurons to go to Tauron school (or cut Tauron school, because we all know that Tauron school is pretty boring.) Time for teenagers to go to teacher’s houses for lunch and experience alternative lifestyles. Time for drug addicts to fall off the wagon. Time for workaholics to retreat into their home office. Time to break the law and go to jail for a hot minute. Time to watch home movies until you can’t even cry anymore.

Everybody Wants a Little Romance

The Graystones aren’t what you call Weekend People. Like a lot of power couples, leisure is a chore. Social events are just another part of the job. They both put on a brave face in their lavish box seat at the Buccaneers game, but after the band was done playing the Caprican anthem (or whatever), Amanda packed up and left. “Thought you could stay, hang out, make fun of the cheerleaders,” Daniel half-joked.

Amanda’s chosen to deal with her grief by masochistically lashing herself with sadness: she has to bask in Zoe’s presence. She had Serge break out some old videos and watched a much younger Zoe dancing around in sprinklers. Agent Durham’s face popped in the middle of the screen. He had some questions to ask her about Ben Stark. Never heard of him, says Amanda. He was your daughter’s boyfriend. “My daughter didn’t have a boyfriend,” protested Amanda. “She wasn’t old enough. She died before…” That last sentence could only end with a slammed door.

Daniel Graystone’s grief has taken the exact opposite form: complete denial. After a Saturday spent locked in the lab, pretending to work but actually playing some rudimentary classroom Pyramid (Serge: “The crowd goes frakking wild, sir. They’re tearing up the seats. It’s bedlam.”), he shuffled into his bedroom with a numb look on his face. “I don’t want to think about her,” he told his wife. There’s an easy, lived-in chemistry between Eric Stoltz and Paula Malcomson. It felt shockingly intimage, watching them lay together on their bed, trying to carve some tiny amount of solace out of a bleak world.

They were hosting a memorial service for the family and survivors of the Lev bombing. Daniel hadn’t wanted to go, but he relented, albeit indirectly: “I promised Serge some time alone with the U87. It’s not a pretty thing. They need to be alone.” You get the feeling that Daniel was the parent who always covered things up with a joke. It probably made him a good husband and a good father, except when his daughter and wife were in the same room together.

Everybody’s Goin’ Off the Deep End

Joseph sat down with his son and his mother-in-law for a dinner. Willie wasn’t digging the food, and neither was Joseph: “We’ll get some burgers later.” Grandma promised, “All right, I won’t make another Tauron meal.” I’m hoping that at some point in the near future we’ll hear something valuable about Tauronese culture, because so far, my takeaway on Tauron is: Civil War, bad food, no flowers. It’s like if Cormac McCarthy wrote about a potato famine in Siberia. Let’s not go there for our honeymoon.

Willie Adama spent Saturday cutting class with his favorite uncle. I’m totally digging the genteel spin that Sasha Roiz is putting on Sam Adama; he’s like a combination of an irascible Cagney-era gangster and a more modern sociopath like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. You get the vibe that he genuinely enjoys showing his brother’s kid around Little Tauron and reminiscing about the old days: “I’d be hopelessly trying to flirt with some guy; meanwhile, your dad would get a date with his sister.”

He also pretty clearly enjoys showing off: grabbing fruit without paying for it, breaking a shopkeep’s window, talking some bull with the cops who arrest him. “You running a criminal school, Sam?” “Yeah, you wanna join? Better pay, top benefits.” (Sam’s line of the night: “Someone tries to make you feel guilty, you figure out what they feel guilty about. You talk about that. Also [lights a cigarette] don’t smoke.”)

When Willie got back from his fun day with Uncle Godfather and the Caprica City cops, Joe didn’t look happy, but as far as he knew, Willie just skipped Tauron school. “It’s about us, finding out who you are. It’s about being Tauron, being part of a family.” Meh. I’ll take Sam’s Tauron School any day.

Everybody Needs a Second Chance

I assumed from last week that Sister Clarice was some kind of local mastermind, a terrorist cell leader. (Basically, I thought she was going to be Atia, Polly Walker’s character from Rome.) Now I’m not so sure. For one thing, she’s literally surrounded by a loving family who seems to have no idea about her particular religious inklings. For another thing, she seems more troubled than all the Adamas and Graystones combined.

Sister Clarice invited Lacy to Saturday lunch at her place. Lacy appears to live on the same block as Nelson Muntz, so Sister Clarice’s invitation promised a nice change of pace from the usual Saturday Lunch with Neglectful Mom. Twist #1: Sister Clarice is part of a group marriage: “These are my wives: Mabeth, Helena, Desiree Willow; we use her surname. And these are my husbands: Nestor, Tanner, Olaf, and Roshan.” Twist #2: The youngest hubby, Nestor, is played by Scott Porter, aka Nick Jason Streets from Friday Night Lights. (There’s a curious amount of FNL veterans on the show: last night’s director, Jonas Pate, helmed a few episode back in 2007. Last night’s writer, Mark Verheiden, didn’t do anything for FNL, but he did write the most recent episode of Heroes, so he’s 1 for 2 for this week.)

The Family Willow seem like a happy bunch of hippies. I think two of the wives were pregnant, and half the dudes have facial hair. After lunch, Nestor and Clarice sat down with Lacy to (maybe) seduce her. When Nestor heard that Lacy’s best friend was the dead Zoe, he tried to comfort her. “There are bits of software you use everyday that were written decades ago. You write a great program and it can outlive you. It’s like a work of art… maybe her work will live on.”

Lacy got all hot and bothered, as would any girl in direct line of Scott Porter’s smile. (On FNL, the actor’s Tom Cruise grin was used to great effect because it seemed to be the last line of defense against incredible sadness; here, it seems more like a mask hiding potentially evil thoughts.)

A couple of spouses asked Clarice point-blank if she was using Nestor to seduce Lacy. “You can’t blame us for wondering, given your track record.” We didn’t get any elaboration on that track record; Clarice scampered out. What do you think, viewers? Was Nestor really clueless about how Clarice was using him, or was he in on it? And why exactly was Clarice giving Lacy the full-court Group Family press, anyways? Maybe I’m wrong, but it seemed like Lacy was pretty much on Sister Clarice’s side completely…didn’t she finish up the premiere practically crying into her arms?

Anyhow, Sister Clarice fled to what looked like a hookah bar, but whatever she was smoking looked a bit stronger than Rose-flavored tobacco. (Which, no fooling, literally tastes like you’re burying your face in a bed of roses.) “I need privacy, a smoker, and two grams of Purple,” she told the bartender. Important note for all my group-marriage wives: For Valentine’s Day, I’d like a t-shirt with that quote on the front, please.

Come On, Baby, Let’s Go

I was inclined to call this episode slow and quiet, if not straight-up aimless, until the last sequence. Did any of you ever watch Deadwood? Now, that show was slow, and quiet (and if you think it’s confusing when Daniel Graystone talks about “functional isomorphism” then try to get a Deadwood fan to explain to you what Yankton is.)

But Deadwood also had a relentless tension, because you got the feeling that violence was shockingly close; that, in a lawless civilization, any tiny conversation could end in a gunfight. When something did happen – a fistfight, a gunshot – it didn’t just feel like an individual action, so much as a sudden outpouring of long repressed emotion. It felt like it didn’t matter who actually did the action; the universe was demanding a release of energy, and any character could be the vehicle for that release.

That’s how the last scene, the Maglev Memorial felt. The whole thing felt tense like a John Frankenheimer movie, with a litany of sad memory in the background – “My son woke up late, that’s why he took the Lev…” “I tried to help, but we were in the back car, and we were all shook up from the explosion…”

Joe took Daniel aside for a talk, but the really interesting stuff was happening with Amanda. Ben Stark’s mom came up to give back some of Zoe’s things. (Love her introduction: “Natalie Stark. (Pause) Ben’s mom. (Pause) Zoe’s boyfriend.”) Amanda found a little piece of jewelry, that unfolded into the infinity sign. She cracked. She got up onstage and gave a speech that almost seemed like a confession: “I don’t really know what it is that I’m missing. My daughter had a whole life and a boyfriend that I knew nothing about. Looking back, I think that she only showed me what she wanted me to see.”

Over in Casa Graystone, the Zobot was watching the speech on E-Paper, and the camera stared up through the E-paper, so we could see just the bare shadow of Amanda grieving. “We create life, and then one day, we have to face who they are. What they become and what they do.”

That was it for philosophizing. The episode’s final words were Amanda screaming, “My daughter was a terrorist!” The Graystones were chased away by angry villagers, whose faces revealed nothing but hatred. We ended on Joe Adama, looking almost happy that he finally felt angry, instead of just sad.

What did you think of “Rebirth,” viewers? Did the Zoe/Cylon switch work for you, or was it annoying? If you could be in a group marriage, would you be sure to exclude anyone named Olaf? How long do you think before Little Tauron totally sells out and becomes all touristy? And what the frak is up with Sister Clarice?

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