By Darren Franich
Updated February 06, 2010 at 10:17 AM EST

Gods, these media people are vultures. You can’t turn on a TV without seeing Amanda Graystone shrieking “My daughter was a terrorist!” all plaintive, like she was expecting a big hug. CAP News is sticking cameras and microphones in front of every jobless loon with a picket sign: “Blame the Parents,” “Blood Money,” “Boycott Graystone.”

The economists are ravenous: Cubits and Pieces keeps flashing that graphic with the plummeting Graystone Industries stock price. The politicians are feeding the flame: The Global Defense Department released MagLev security footage showing Zoe Graystone and her emo-bomber boyfriend. Even the frakking athletes can’t stay quiet: Some of the Buccaneers are making some noise about not wanting to play for a terrorist (although that’s probably just their agent bargaining for a bigger salary). Somewhere, you just know that a gaggle of politician wives are forming a group (call it the Committee of Concerned Capricans) to look into setting age limits on Holobands. After all, we all know that Holobands are the gateway drug to Terrorism.

On the third episode of Caprica (titled “Reins of a Waterfall” – no clue, but I like it), the people are angry, so the press is angry. Or maybe the press is angry, so the people are angry. We men of Earth have seen scandals like this before before. We’ve seen the very wealthy and very powerful brought low by embarrassment. And we now have to add another name into the already-confusing Late Night Talk Show bracket: Baxter Sarno (Patton Oswalt), who appears to be the demon offspring of Jon Stewart (he’s political), Jimmy Kimmel (perpetual grin, perpetually vicious), and Jay Leno (he keeps picking on the same people). And he’s leading a full-on crusade against Daniel Graystone. We’re talking, like, Jon Stewart vs. CNBC/Murphy Brown vs. Dan Quayle/Murrow vs. Senator McQuack TV Crusade.

At Stately Graystone Manor

Cyrus wants Daniel to go on “Backtalk with Baxter Sarno.” We have to minimize the damage to the Graystone brand. We have to move the news cycle onto a counterstory. Play the grieving father. Tell some self-deprecating jokes, like you’re somebody else making fun of the guy on TV.

Daniel wants none of that. “Scandals are like sunburns, Cyrus. They fade.” “Or they give you cancer,” says Cyrus. Daniel might be the genius, but Cyrus is too smart for him. His boss wants to pretend he doesn’t like the PR game, but he’s like anyone else in this age of spectacle: He’s all about the image. “Why else would you come to this rat hole,” asks Cyrus, gesturing around what appears to be the set of Million Dollar Baby, “Instead of your big, beautiful, and expensive gym down at the lab? You wanna look like a man of the people.”

(Side note: Full props to Hiro Kanagawa, whose Cyrus is a standout in Caprica’s supporting cast. If the second episode of Caprica was all about deepening our understanding of the lead characters, last night’s episode was all about expanding the universe. There was a whole series of great throwaway moments last night from characters who only appeared for a scene or less. I’m thinking of the reporter at the hospital, who doesn’t flinch when a glass bottle hits her cameraman’s camera — “I’m not hurt, we’re okay.” And Joe’s lightly flirtatious back-and-forth with the judge’s assistant -– last time he ever asks for coffee, he swears. And the calm, cool way Pryah the PR master has of explaining in no uncertain terms how to rebuild a broken reputation — “You don’t want a logical appeal. It has to be emotional.” Or the way the GDD director stuttered at Agent Durham and his partner, “Guys, ju… just… just be better.”)

Caprica has already asked some free-floating questions about Image vs. Reality and how people perceive themselves and each other (recall Amanda Graystone on Zoe: “I think she only showed me what she thought I wanted to see”). The main plot last night supercharged these questions by giving us a long look at how the media functions on the Twelve Colonies. Durham uses a choice info-leak to the Caprican Tribune to cut through some bureaucratic red tape. (Replace “Durham” with “McNulty” and Caprican Tribune with Baltimore Sun, and you’ve basically got a subplot from The Wire.)

Personally, I love this stuff. If there’s one common thread that runs through almost every great show of the last 10 years, it’s the notion that actions are only as important as how those actions are perceived, and that the maintenance of one’s image is actually more important than the maintenance of one’s soul. That was true on The Sopranos and every secret-criminal-suburbanite show that followed it (Dexter, Weeds, Breaking Bad). It was true of Deadwood and Rome, two shows about powerful people doing their best to keep the hoopleheads happy. It’s sure as hell true of Mad Men. Yeesh, it’s even true of Gossip Girl.

Still, Caprica isn’t just a Socratic Dialogue about the difference between Perception and Reality. It’s also maybe the most twisted hour on TV right now. When the Graystones came home after a long day of being battered by the media and/or Tauron mobsters, the scene hit a whole series of intriguing emotional notes: from casual grinning sarcasm (“Someone threw a bottle at me. It hit a frakking reporter.”), to old-married-couple arguing (“Did you have to tell it to the Twelve Worlds?”), to old-married-couple crying (“I’m sorry!”) to old-married-couple tenderness (“I’m crazy about you.”) to old-married-couple coupledom (“How about a good frak?”). And the Graystones went at it, right in front of the robot containing the horrified-looking downloaded personality of their daughter! It was like an 80s teen sex comedy, except kind of moving and totally disturbing.

Little Tauron, My Heart Bleeds For Thee

Little Tauron appears to be made up completely of fruit stands and Off-Track Betting parlors. This week, Willie Adama was handing out burritos at the latter, in a smoky room filled with serious-looking men. The kind of people who swear, make racist comments, and hate the cops, all in one sentence: “Virgons, they could frak their wives right in front of the cops, and they throw us in jail for it.” It’s tough being a Tauron. On the bright side, if you’re a Tauron, you’ve probably got a cousin who drives Daniel Graystone’s limousine.

Viewers, how do you feel about the burgeoning truancy of Willie Adama? I like how Sam Adama seems to be teaching his nephew all the wrong lessons for all the right reasons, but given what little we know about Sam so far, it seems a bit strange to me that he would so completely try to undercut his brother’s parenting. Does he really think that the best thing for his 11-year-old nephew is a cold morning beer in a betting parlor?

I’m going along with this, though, because I like Sam. He’s the sort of charmingly corrupt gangster we’ve seen and loved a million times before, with some nonchalant homosexuality thrown casually into the mix. And hey, some parenting is better than no parenting, and Joe Adama seems too focused on his dead child to look at the other one. He can’t even keep his bribes straight anymore; we saw him get a hushed dressing-down from a corrupt judge who decidedly doesn’t give a frak if it’s Adama, not Adams.

By the end of the episode, Joe seemed to have found some inner peace, even telling Daniel he was “Sorry.” I thought he meant, “Sorry about having my mobbed-out brother beat your face in.” But based on the chilling line that closed the episode, I think I’m wrong: “Daniel Graystone lost his daughter. I lost my daughter and my wife. Balance it out.”

On one hand, there’s no way Sam’s gonna do it. Right? On the other hand, just how dark are the recesses of Joe Adama’s depressed soul?

Bergman Would Be So Proud

Over in the subplot I may start referring to as “Philip Roth’s The Plot Against Caprica,” there were some intriguing moves forward. We saw Sister Clarice try to continue her emotional seduction of Lacey, but she made a big mistake when she forgot to bring her Scott Porter-rific husband.

The sequence between Clarice and Lacey had the kind of wondrous improvvy magic I’m getting used to seeing on Caprica: Clarice kept on trying to sit next to Lacey, literally cozy up to her, but Lacey kept on sending her away. “Could I have some sugar?” “Do you have any lemon?” “Do you have a spoon?” It reminded me a bit of a classic Lost scene, where Charlie sits down next to Claire’s diary and struggles bodily not to open it. (This episode was directed by Battlestar/Caprica mastermind Ronald D. Moore, whose podcasts are must-listen no-bull chroniclings of all the great and terrible things that form a TV show.)

I think I like Caprica so far because it’s a show that can go from a wonderful little banal moment like that to a stagy, stylized sequence like the one between Avatar-Zoe, Lacey, and Avatar-Tamara. The way the light from the Virtual Door suddenly revealed Tamara laying in the middle of the black room, and the slow movement of Lacy and Zoe around her (they almost looked like electrons circling a frightened, girlish nucleus.) And then, just a few minutes later, we get the shot of the night: The camera, staring up at Avatar-Zoe as she guilts Lacey into helping her, her head trapped in a halo of light from the stained-glass window on the wall. Three episodes in, Caprica already feels elastic enough to include all sorts of filmmaking styles. You get the vibe that they’re just getting started.

It certainly helps that the creators of the show keep on taking full advantage of the visual opportunities offered by the virtual world of the Holobands. Sister Clarice’s meeting with a mysterious Soldier of the One took place in what looked like a Catholic Confessional. We learned that the STO leadership isn’t too happy with Clarice, and also got a faint inkling of the larger implications of the avatar’s existence: “The Zoe Avatar is going to help the Soldiers to serve the Lord through apotheosis.” “Apotheosis” has a few meanings, but in Ancient Greek (also the origin of the Tauronese language), it refers to a human becoming divine. (Warning: This is a severe oversimplification.)

“Not everyone shares your view of apotheosis,” said the Man in the Confessional; a chilling line, the kind of mysterious aphorism common to long-form science-fiction mythology shows (I’m thinking about “And they have a plan” from BSG, or “We have to go back!” from Lost, or, more recently, “The Bliss is how she controlled us!” from the hopefully-as-good-as-it-seems V reboot.) Sniff. Sniff. I smell a Season-Long Mystery.

What did you think of “Reins of a Waterfall,” viewers? Are you as excited as I am about a Graystone/Sarno showdown? Did you enjoy a peek into the inner workings of the Global Defense Department, who are deeply suspicious of everyone, unless you’re a member of the Bottle Rocket club? How will Graystone Industries ever pay back the two billion cubits it owes the Twelve Colonies Banking Consortium? And finally: Are you excited or disgusted by the fact that more than half of college-aged viewers get their news from Baxter Sarno?

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