'Caprica' recap: 'Wanna be a terrorist? Let's see some terror.'
I never watched Battlestar Galactica on real live television. I got into the show when a roommate loaned me the season 1 DVD. That was summer, 2005. In early 2006, a classmate sent me a link to a (vaguely) legal website that was hosting all the season 2 episodes. I became an honest citizen for season 3: I suffered the commercial breaks watching episodes on the official network website. (Back then, Sci-Fi was spelled correctly). By the time the back half of season four finally started in 2008, I was tired of pixelated video. So I went show-crazy and paid real money to download every episode from iTunes. You do crazy things for love.
There was something mystical and wonderful about watching a TV show that way – a day or a week after it aired, buried somewhere in the Internet. It felt like a secret message beamed across the universe, like a mystical frequency hidden just beyond the radio dial.
It felt, now that I think about it, like a secret world. You didn’t enjoy Battlestar because it felt like an escape from the real world. Far from it. Like every addictive fantasy world, from Middle Earth to Vice City to Dante’s Inferno, Battlestar made you believe that the fantasy was somehow more important than reality.
Caprica, I think, is a show about fantasy. Which means it is a show about lies. And those lies can be strangely redemptive. Last night’s midseason finale, titled End of Line, played a little game of “Two Truths and a Lie” with the characters. The Zoe Avatar revealed her existence to Philomon. Daniel Graystone admitted the truth (or anyway didn’t bother to lie) to Amanda about those dead scientists in Tauron City. Both of these revelations accomplished nothing but harm.
Meanwhile, in Adama land, a noir-ish web of lies converged in an elaborately staged Electra-complex fake-murder-suicide. Joe Adama was dressed like a noir hero — cherish the way he hung his hat when he walked through a doorway. But in New Cap City, Joe was nothing but a sap: drug-addicted, obsessive. His only friend in the V World was secretly plotting against him, for his own good.
Viewers, I didn’t anything could top last week’s Daniel vs. Zoe burning-lawn showdown for pure psycho-emotional sci-fi headtrippery, but the sight of Tamara shooting herself and then her father was dizzying. Somehow, the creators of Caprica actually made Joe’s New Cap “death” feel pivotal and terrifying. Somehow, too, everyone around Joe told him only lies… and those lies brought him back to life.
I don’t want to limit what we saw last night; Caprica is so much more than just a list of lies that daddies tell themselves about their daughters. We got more STO plot last night than in every other episode combined. We got some of that patented Caprica unsentimentality — how brutal was it when Philo set off the security alarm?
And we got moments of sublime beauty. I’m thinking of Zoe, looking through her robot eyes in the rear-view mirror and seeing the eyes of a dead girl staring back. Or a few seconds later, when she flipped her car over the road block, and we saw a huge hulking Cylon hang upside-down, looking at peace in midair in the millisecond before gravity claimed its prize.
Let’s keep things simple though, viewers, with the four reasons why last night’s Caprica revived my faith in this show, and made me think that the best is yet to come:
1. Clarice Unbound
Man, it was AWESOME to see Sister Clarice emerge from the smoky fog of the Caprica City spacedock, flanked by some heat-packing husbands. More than a few of you on the comment boards have been hoping for Clarice to be a little bit more like Atia, Polly Walker’s badass matriarch from Rome. We saw some minor flashes of Atia last night, but more important, we saw some real proof that Clarice can actually walk the walk.
I mean, how awesome was it when she took down Barnabas? I like how the show finally gave us a healthy serving of James Marsters last night, and he really came alive in his scenes vs. Clarice. “Really, Flower. You did that all on your own? That’s kind of cheeky.” “Little boy Barnabas. You need to toe the line. Otherwise, someone’s gonna get hurt.” Huzzah! Dramatic conflict!
Caprica is great at revealing power dynamics, and I love how Clarice and Barnabas occupy two totally different parts of the fringe-terrorist stratosphere. I’m intrigued to see more of the STO leadership (who, Barnabas informed us, “like action, not crazy plans to make you into a bouncer in some homemade heaven.”) But I’m mostly just curious to see how Clarice is going to respond to the assassination attempt, to say nothing of her dead husband.
There were some rumblings from the Caprica creative team that the latter half of this season would be more action-packed. That promise, combined with some behind-the-scenes reshuffling (Jane Espenson stepped aside as showrunner, though she’s still an exec producer and a writer) had me worried that we were looking at a bad-idea action reboot. (Remember when seaQuest DSV became seaQuest 2032? Or when the Sliders started only going to alternate realities with badly animated monsters?) But what I saw last night felt more like a release of terrific emotion, after a half-season of slow-burn tension. Clarice Willow, FTW.
2. Brain Crush
Puppy love is annoying. It’s annoying when it happens to your friends, and it’s annoying when it happens to characters on TV. There’s a reason that brilliant soaps like The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, and (based on recent episodes) Gossip Girl go downhill by season 3. A show can only sustain so much stupid-cute bad romance before reaching cutesy critical mass.
So give this to Philomon and Zoe (PhilZoMon?): they were adorable together, and they were utterly wrong for each other, and the way their relationship ended was as cruel and despairing and unflinching as anything TV has produced in the post-Wire world. We saw them first lying on a bed in the middle of a virtual lake, a great image that captured everything wonderful and hidden about their relationship.
Philomon, you see, thought he had it all figured out. He knew that Rachel didn’t look like the girl in his V World dreams, and he didn’t care. “I love your brain. You’re the smartest person I know, and that’s a beautiful thing.” Meanwhile, back in the real-world lab, the Zobot’s pendulum eye kept on swinging in Philo’s direction. Love how much personality they fit into that goofy red robo-dot.
I thought that Zoe’s revelation was heartbreaking, not least because there was a quality of “Finally!” to it. “You said you didn’t really care what I looked like in the real world,” she begged. When he continued to flip, she pinned him. That was a hell of a visual, flipping back and forth between little Zoe holding Philo in an embrace and big U-87 pinning Philo between two awful arms. (It reminded me a little bit of the best shot from Avatar, the one where ten-foot tall Neytiri cradles human-size Jake in her arms. I wish James Cameron were that weird all the time.)
Philomon did his duty as a scientist, or maybe he just thought his gal pal was getting clingy. Either way, he called for security, and Zoe forgot that she was in a robot body. Just one more death on a planet that’ll be dead in less than a century. Zoe fled into the night with a stolen car, just another messed-up kid leading the cops on a mad chase, driving north on Colonial 5 at high speeds.
When I think of the Zoe Avatar, I find myself thinking about a song: the gorgeous cover of “Bette Davis Eyes” sung by Leighton Meester. Maybe it’s because Alessandra Torresani looks a little bit like Meester, or because Zoe Graystone is basically a dystopian Blair Waldorf. Maybe it’s because “Bette Davis Eyes,” like Caprica itself, has a tangled pop culture origin story: The song was made famous in 1981 by Kim Carnes, but it was actually recorded almost a decade earlier, and the title refers further back to a Hollywood star from days long gone. Maybe it’s because Meester’s “Bette Davis” was never actually released. It was originally produced for a supposed debut album that’s perpetually five minutes away from getting a release date. The song escaped from the recording sessions and lives out there in the Internet, hiding, like the digital ghost of a beautiful dead girl.
3. Mrs. Graystone goes for a swim
Readers, in hindsight, some of my gripes last week about Amanda’s mental state seem a mite, ah, insensitive. (Previously on ReCaprica: “Hey Amanda, stop being such a sadface, you sad loser! Like, why don’t you jump off a bridge or something, crybaby?”) There was something just plain moving about Amanda Graystone’s steady dissolution last night. She tried reaching out to Clarice. She tried to explain something inexplicable to Daniel. “It was so hard to be crazy around you. You were always so sane. I could always count on you to be you.”
Her hubby, for his part, wrote her an Eros Day card. That was a nice gesture, but futile. It’s interesting to consider Amanda’s role this season in relation to Daniel and Joseph. All three of them lost a daughter in the MagLev crash. But Daniel retreated into his work, and Joe retreated into V World. Amanda’s problem wasn’t that she was sad. She just didn’t have any retreat. The problem, Doctor, is too much reality. I prescribe a holoband, stat!
We’ll learn about Amanda’s final fate soon. A TV rule of thumb is that no one’s dead until you see the body with blood coming out of the mouth. But the Pantheon Bridge is pretty tall…
4. The Best Supporting Cast in the Business
Viewers, who’s your favorite second-tier Caprican? Are you partial to Tomas Vergis, that noble savage, that Tauron who walks like a Caprican? Or do you prefer Cyrus, who can deflect Daniel Graystone’s narcissistic genius with one withering glare? Last night introduced us to Colonel Sasha Patel from Military Procurement, who punctured all of Daniel’s lies with a few choice words (and then stepped out for a night on the town with Vergis.)
I’m not sure how often we’ll get to see her after last night, but I find myself fascinated by Tamara. Is it too much to ask for occasional trips back to New Cap City, to see this ghost girl build herself a digital empire? And I’ll miss Scott Porter as Nestor, even if he never got to do much more than grin. (He booked Clarice’s flight but couldn’t find her passport. Isn’t that just like a husband?) Bye-bye, Scott — in a just world, we’d be sending you off to play Captain America.
Last night, we got a late entrant in the Most Valuable Supporting Player sweepstakes. Joe’s assistant Evelyn (revealed for the first time, I think, as a Tauron) was Emmanuelle all along. (“Nothing’s real here. Not even my pretty face.”) It was an interesting reveal — a character who didn’t do much this season was revealed to actually be ANOTHER character who didn’t do much this season. But I’m intrigued to see more of Evelyn now. There’s a fact buried in BSG lore that I could bring up right now, but I prefer not to mention it, because it feels like a spoiler. I assume people out there know what I’m talking about, though. (Mark in FL, you’re with me, right?)
People, this was an awesome episode: fast-paced, desperate, vivid, alive. I loved Zoe screaming at Lacy, and I loved how Lacy was trapped by friendship and faith into bloody murder. I haven’t given Magda Apanowicz enough credit this season. Her Lacy started out as a blank, devoted to the more charismatic Zoe, but I love seeing her struggle through moral growth in a deeply ambiguous world. Here’s a character who only wants to do the right thing, and tries to follow everyone’s advice, and still ends up pressing the button that takes a life.
And everything Eric Stoltz did was perfect — every line, every syllable. And Barnabas’ big Dirty Harry gun, and Amanda carefully removing her shoes, and Daniel playing the frakkin’ theme music on the piano. I’m at a loss for words, readers. Literally. Here are my notes from the show’s final minutes, transcribed verbatim from my notepad.
AMANDA – about to jump?—– JUMPS— SEES HER OWN EYES IN THE MIRROR — INCREDIBLE —— SPEEDS THROUGH EVERYTHING COMING TOGETHER PERFECTLY!!! —- CAR EXPLODES – Clarice – “Oh my god!” —-WEIGHTLESS ROBOT – MEGASPLOSION —- “This is Graystone.”
Last night’s episode was directed by Roxann Dawson, who played B’Elanna Torres, who was the only good thing about Star Trek: Voyager.
Dear Caprica: I love you, you crazy girl.