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'Caprica' recap: The gods might die, but the dogs remain

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Image Credit: Eike Schroter/SyfyYesterday, Amanda Graystone smoked cigarettes. Lots of them. She got bored, so she turned on the window video. She slouched around all day. When the sun went down, she slouched around all night. Someone stopped by the house and told her some terrible news about a member of her family. She said she didn’t believe the news, but it was clear she did.

This all happened on last night’s episode of Caprica, the eighth episode of the season, but it also happened way back in episode 2. (The visitor was Agent Duram instead of Vergis, but they said the same thing: “There’s a murderer in your house.”) Viewers, I think that we’re reaching the critical mass point with Sad Amanda; it’s starting to feel less like believable grieving time, and more like pathological depression. The dead-brother visions feel like a double anchor – how many dead relatives does this lady have, anyways?

On one hand, it’s just disappointing because Paula Malcomson is such a good actress. On Deadwood and John from Cincinnati, she was an incredibly verbose presence, with no apparent wall between her brain and her mouth. (Here’s one random scene that proves my point. Kids, don’t say any of those words.) The writers occasionally let Amanda cut loose a little bit, but too often, she’s left all alone in the pristine interiors of stately Casa Graystone (which, with its neon-pale lighting, looks like the loneliest Apple Store in the world.)

She’s like Monica Vitti in the worst film Antonioni never made, and I’m focusing on her so much because I’m worried that her character’s stasis augurs ill Caprica‘s future. But first, because I do love this show, I feel the need to point out that there were four things in last night’s Caprica that were so good, so fascinating, and so deviously smart, things that felt unlike anything else I’ve ever seen on television:

1. Daddy-Daughter Day

The episode-long war of wits between Daniel Graystone and Zoe was brilliant from start to finish, an unsettling mixed cocktail of interrogation, torture, and father-daughter psychodrama. (“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”) DG knew Zoe lurked inside the Zobot, so he put his big brain to work on figuring out how to get her to admit it. He tried boring repetition: forcing the U-87 to constantly load and reload the gun, while he described the fire that consumed the first Casa Graystone.

(Aside: This episode foregrounded something interesting about the Zoe Avatar’s existence. Both she and Daniel implied that, within the U-87, Zoe exists alongside of a more basic robot personality. Zoe in particular talked chillingly about “becoming the robot.” I hadn’t really thought much about this, but of course, we saw the U-87 destroy the robot targets back in the pilot, before Zoe “woke up.”)

Last night, the Zobot was played by special effects, a robot model, and a silent Alessandra Torresani. So essentially, we were watching Eric Stoltz, speaking dialogue that probably ran for pages without a break. And good god, but Eric Stoltz just killed it. The look on his face as he poured gasoline around the robot, knowing that Zoe was deathly afraid of fire, was heartbreaking, and yet gruesomely inhuman.

This subplot concluded on a bit of a wimp-out; Daniel ordered the Zobot to shoot the dog, and she did, but Jango!, the gun was loaded with blanks. Personally, I think the dog should’ve stayed dead, but the tension in the scene (with Daniel counting to five) was unbearable. You realized, by the end, that even Daniel wasn’t quite sure why he was doing all of this. If he loves his daughter so much, why was he torturing her so terribly?

2. The Partial De-rez

Joe and his new friend Emmanuelle visited the digi-version of Joe’s apartment and found some digi-drug dealers. A gunfight ensued. So far in V World, when a person gets shot, their avatar will de-rez instantly, but last night, some avatars only partially de-rezzed. The special effect was deeply unsettling.

3. “Holobands Are Not Addictive,” say Holoband manufacturers.

Joe Adama looked stellar in his V World clothes, complete with a white hat and a black suit. In some ways, I think this character is really coming alive in New Cap City – we’re seeing a slightly more playful side of Joe than the stonefaced widower we’ve gotten used to. I laughed a little bit when the Dirigible came overhead, and Joe mumbled, “I hate that thing.” Or how about when he told Emmanuelle, “You’re a real-life Nikki Casino.” I have no clue who or what that is, but something in Esai Morales’ delivery made the line work.

In the real world, though, Joe is a mess. He’s unshaven. He mostly lies on the couch and dies very slowly. He looks a bit like that World of Warcraft guy from the South Park episode, or like a heroin addict. His dissolution is all the more disturbing because, when we first met him, Joe seemed to be cut from Tauronese concrete.

Viewers, it is just me, or has Joe suffered a bit of retcon character-tweak in these first eight episodes? In the pilot, it seemed pretty clear to me that he was a Tauron trying to be a Caprican. That was the central drama of his character: he was an immigrant, trying to make a better life for his family by destroying everything about himself, no religion, no Tauron food. But lately, every subplot seems to be about how he’s a Caprican trying to be a Tauron. It’s a bit of a muddle. It doesn’t help that, like Amanda, Joe’s personal life has mostly shrunk to a room with the lights turned off.

4. The Riddle of the Transvestite

Mysteries looks a bit like a swing-dancing strip club, with a crossdressing MC who’s like an imp-Satan version of Divine. I loved the gun-check room at the door, but what I liked even more was the weird riddle the MC asked Joe: “As the gods overthrew the Titans, so the men have overthrown the gods. But when man visits his sins upon his children, how shall he be repaid?”

This was a tease to the greater BSG mythos – the Cylons are often said to be “Mankind’s children” – but it also complicated our understanding of the episode. Last night, after all, Caprica‘s two main storylines were about fathers obsessed with their dead daughters. Daniel Graystone set his daughter’s ghost on fire, which is not very nice. But the conclusion of the episode also forced Joe to ponder his search for his own daughter. After all, New Cap City is just as real as life; maybe it’s the best place for a dead girl like her?

AND YET…  (THE GRUMPY EPILOGUE)

Last night’s episode felt uncomfortably off-balance. I’d say it was the worst episode so far, except that all the Daniel/Zoe stuff was incredible. But that just hits on something more worrisome: even when Caprica is good (and this show can be very, very good), it never seems to have actually figured out a fine balance between its multiple selves.

And sometimes, it just feels repetitive. Last night featured interminable scenes of Lacy and Zoe hanging around the V Club and talking vague conspiracy, and lots of Sister Clarice vaguely seducing someone to her will, and lots of Joe Adama vaguely yelling “TAMMMMY!” (If this show were more popular, “TAMMMMY!” would be the new “WAAAALLT!”) This all felt old four episodes ago.

What did you think of last night’s episode, viewers? Do you agree with me that some elements felt a bit tired, or do you demand to see more of the Sister Clarice’s husbands tilling the garden? Do you think that you could’ve watched a whole hour of Daniel and Zoe? What kind of cigarettes is Amanda smoking? And should the writers have stuck to their guns and actually killed Caesar the dog?