Feet of Clay
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall
“Reins of a Waterfall”
Syfy Channel, Friday at 10 PM Written by Michael Angelli Directed by Ronald D. Moore
Disclaimer: I have not seen the re-visioned Battlestar Galactica, and therefore all my comments on Caprica are from the point of view of someone completely new to the franchise.
Pop quiz: When your wife has publicly stuck her foot in her mouth, how do you manage damage control? Amanda Graystone told the world (or at least the media) last week that her own daughter was a terrorist. Why she didn’t just commit public seppuku and get it over with is beyond me. Now Daniel, who doesn’t believe Zoe was a terrorist, must somehow deal with the spillover. In the first few minutes of this episode, we get a montage of scenes showing us that people are boycotting his products, his friends are not answering his calls, and even the players on the Pyramid team he owns are asking to be traded. On top of all of this, there are hints that Zoe was being manipulated by someone with a hidden agenda—not just Ben Stark, but her own headmistress, Sister Clarice. Somehow, Daniel must juggle all these problems while literally fighting off the Adama brothers and threatened lawsuits, and while privately continuing to grieve for his daughter. That he does so convincingly and compellingly says more about Eric Stoltz right now than it does about the writing for this show.
One of the things I was looking forward to in Caprica was a little sly commentary on modern society. It’s almost impossible not to see the entire series as commentary, given that 95% of it is a mirror image of our society. Like all mirrors, it is going to show us ourselves at our best and our worst. Take, for example, the imaginary universe that Zoe and Lacy hang out in. While our cyberspace may not have actual avatars wandering through a virtual reality red light district, it comes mighty close. Are the creators telling us that that’s the ultimate fate of our own, less sophisticated Internet? That someday all this money and code and infrastructure will boil down to— a rave? And then there’s Baxter Sarno (Patton Oswalt), the late-night talk show host introduced as a sort of Greek chorus in this episode. A pastiche of Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart, he’s presented as the voice of the generation in much the same
way most late-night TV hosts would like to be seen. His biting satire at Daniel Graystone’s expense worked for me, though—I found myself even more in sympathy with Sarno’s target. And a common social problem was worked through via this character—does Graystone counter the hate campaign against his family by appearing on Sarno, thus entering his enemy’s home arena, or does a lofty silence work better? What finally decides the issue for Graystone is… his falling stock price? Even Daniel the stoic has feet of clay.
So what works in this show is the reflection of ourselves in the mirror of an alternate world. That’s a fine and ancient function of traditional science fiction. What isn’t working for me is the pacing and the plot. This episode was very simple, with two plots: how will Daniel handle the hate campaign triggered by Amanda’s idiocy, and how will Adama handle his fracturing family life? Both plots advanced at an achingly slow pace. Granted, this will be par for the course in any show which explores the relationships of the characters more than the science or problem at its heart, but even so, I would like to see a little more about the Cylons. I would like to see a little more about the science evolving towards the artificial intelligence inside it. I thought the most fascinating conversation in this series yet was Zoe’s dialogue with Lacy—telling her that she feels she is part Zoe, part AvatarZoe, and part robot. I like the idea that the eventual version of Cylon we will get is both more and less than human, rather than merely a human brain in an artificial body. I’ve already seen Frankenstein, and much as I love it, I know how that story ends.
What will keep me coming back will not be the soap opera, but the tantalizing questions raised by issues like artificial intelligence. If I want to see corporate intrigue, legal shenanigans, and street thugs teaching their nephews an apprenticeship in crime, I can tune into reruns of L.A. Law or The Sopranos. What I’m here for is the humor (Zoe, in her Cylon form, has to watch her parents have sex), the unexpected twist on a cliche (for the Tauron mob, family values include gay marriage), and the technological toy show (I want a version of Serge for my house). I also like the political/social commentary: we get to see a world in which religious fanaticism is as common as air, but sexual prejudice does not exist. I loved finding out in passing that the Pyramid team is co-ed. If the show continues down this path, and can pick up the pacing, it will be a high quality series.
I will also keep coming back for Esai Morales and Eric Stoltz. These two actors are slowly building a blood feud for the ages in the characters, with a subtlety I didn’t expect from the Syfy Channel. It’s one thing to beat up a guy in an alley, it is quite another to order a hit on his wife. And what happens when, as is inevitable, Tamara contacts Daddy? Will Adama reach out to his enemy for help? This is soap opera with a sci-fi twist I can like.
What ratings I have seen for Caprica do not bode well. I don’t think we can use the pilot as a rule, since it was available for months online and on CD. But the first regular episode, and this episode, have come in at under 1.5 million viewers. Even for cable, and even for the Syfy Channel, where expectations are lower, this is not good.