Capricology: Big Ideas, Lack of Humanity

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Diane Winston_____________

Watching this week with my mother and daughter (“Why is she shooting at that man? Which reality is this? So are we the bad guys?”), I didn’t need much convincing to see the episode in terms of familial relations: mixed, missed, and mordant. That many of the relationships played out between the poles of opposition and differentiation made it all germane, for whom among us doesn’t feel the two-way pull?

Daddies and daughters, for starters. Daniel and Joseph’s quests to find their daughters led to very different resolutions. While Joseph willingly sacrificed health, reason, and reality to find Tamara, Daniel taunted and tortured the Zoebot in the hopes of finding his daughter within. Angered and frustrated by her unwillingness to respond, he orders Philo to destroy the chip that safeguards her identity. In both cases, the daughters are forced to fully differentiate themselves from their parent. Tamara, aware of the toll that Joseph’s quest has taken, pretends to shoot herself, then de-rezzes him. It’s a noble choice. Zoe, maddened by the news that Daniel plans to “kill” her, launches a desperate bid to escape. It’s a last stand that may end up costing her freedom and her father’s company.

Just as Joseph’s family—Tamara, Emmanuelle (a.k.a. God with us) and Sam conspire to save him, Daniel’s family acts to bring him down. The reasons are obvious: Joseph is weak but decent. Daniel is a bastard. He has alienated Zoe and marginalized Amanda. He is physically and emotionally absent as she descends into madness, and his attempt to reach out to her (by not lying about his crimes against Vergis) is too little, too late. Amanda is another story; her annoying quotient is off the charts. Still, I can’t believe we’ve seen the last of her or those sexy pumps.

Clarice’s “families” likewise endure loss and destruction. The bomb meant to kill her ends up taking the life of her husband, and—when she realizes who set her up, will further enflame the rupture within the STO. The split within the monotheist family mirrors the tensions among radical religious groups torn between violence and supernaturalism as a modus operandi. (Neither seemed appealing—does that make me a closet polytheist?) But wouldn’t it be nice to see a group of revolutionaries pull together just once?

This week had a lot of bam, wham, and shazam, but where is it all going? (Bad sign: I could not provide an adequate elevator summary to my mother.) Watching Caprica this intently has made it more work than pleasure, and I am never sure if I am enjoying the series or simply admiring its aesthetic edges. The sets and costumes are lovely, the special effects neatly done, the acting crisp and the music tantalizing. Yet, there’s something cold at its heart. On a recent podcast, David Eick explained that he did not want viewers to have easy choices for heroes and villains. I can accept that but I still need to be drawn in by the characters’ compelling messiness. As a show about ideas, Caprica is admirable. It’s exploring the basic questions that impel all of us in 2010: whither technology, what is humanity, how do we create a good society, what is worth dying for, why is life meaningful, what is the nature of experience and how do we evaluate good and evil in a grey world. But as a show about people—even people who are avatars and robots—it’s lacking in humanity.


Henry Jenkins_____________

As this half season draws to a close, it is a good time to take inventory of where Caprica has gone, what’s working, and what isn’t about the series. Diane writes, “As a show about ideas, Caprica is admirable…. But as a show about people—even people who are avatars and robots, it’s lacking in humanity.” I would second that assessment. Yes, the series has generated a complexly generated world which mirrors and yet is often surprisingly different from our world, and it has developed a series of plotlines that raise important questions I have been enjoying grappling with here. But at the end of the day, I am not sure which of these people I’d actually want to spend time with. I don’t have to find them admirable, but I do have to care about them on an emotional level, and I do have to find them interesting. Some of my favorite characters are not good guys, yet there is something there I can admire and respect. And so far I would say that I admire Caprica more than I “love” it as a fan.

The turns that the series took during the past week leaves me with less hope rather than more. I don’t much care for Amanda, for example, but I did like the fact that the series had depicted the Graystones as a couple that still held some affection and attraction toward each other, and now the suicide attempt seems to represent a final disillusion of what was working in that relationship. I really enjoyed the online romance between the Zoebot and her geek boy toy, and now we seem to have killed him off and in doing so, we cut down on one of her few remaining ties to the human realm. The other tie of course was through Lacey who has acted as a sounding board for Zoe as she struggles to process her tortured (in this case literally) relationship with her father, and now we seem to have done damage to that relationship and pushed Lacey over the line into actively participating in terrorism. I’ve really been enjoying Daddy Adama’s exploration of New Cap City and have especially looked forward to seeing what would happen when he finally met his daughter again, and for the moment at least, that option has been taken out of his hands in a flash of an eye. And I enjoy Clarice, especially her group marriage, so of course we had to inflict some pain there as well.

Basically, every potentially meaningful human relationship on the series was betrayed and then damaged in the course of the episode, all in the name of creating cliff-hangers which will carry us over until the series returns. Clearly some of these will be fake-outs, but even so, it seemed to represent a wholesale turning aside of many of the plotlines that held my attention over the past series of episodes in favor of a largely unknown future. Of course, we’ve known all along where this is going—it is a tragedy of sorts that will show us how the ties between humans and Cylons were shattered and how a war which would cost the lives of much of the human population of many worlds began. But I do need to see little glimpses of utopia along the way, and I’ve come out of this most recent episode more than a little disillusioned.


Salman Hameed_____________

Count me in the disillusionment camp as well. I did not mind the bam, wham, half season-finale—I just think this pace came a few episodes too late. After a fast start, I thought nothing fundamentally changed until the last episode. Tamara still adjusting to her virtual experience and Joseph chasing her avatar, Zoe’s avatar trapped in the robot and Daniel attempting to manipulate her and/or her robot self, Amanda upset about…well about everything, Clarice searching for Zoe’s avatar and protecting STO students from harm, and Lacy spending most of her time trying unsuccessfully to get Zoebot to another world. BSG, I remember, was captivating because it would reshuffle the deck every few episodes, and our sympathies and loyalties challenged every few weeks. Like Henry, I admire Caprica, but do not love it. And I think Diane is right on the mark when she says that some connection with humanity is missing. Ideas are there, but stories that draw us in and make us care for characters are missing.

At the same time, I’m not giving up on Caprica. There is still much to come—the building of the cylon army, the mistreatment of cylons and their subsequent rebellion, the 18-year war, and the peace and calm before the storm that launched BSG. It seems to me that Caprica is stuck somewhere in between half-melodrama and half-exploration of philosophical themes—and doing an inadequate job in both cases. First seasons, however, can often be rocky (for geek references, see Babylon 5 and Star Trek: The Next Generation). But Zoebot is now a killer (even if it was an accident) and finally out of Daniel’s lab. For the writers of Caprica, I hope it is time to reshuffle the deck.

Waiting with hope for 1.5.