“But Which One?”
OK, Amanda usually annoys me but she’s at the center of several interesting issues this week. We can start with the ways Caprica is pitting psychology against religion. Psychology has taught Amanda that her “visions” of her “dead” brother are illusions, signs of madness, while Clarice understands them as a spark of the divine—perhaps helping to explain how Zoe was born of this woman. Where have we heard this debate between psychoanalysis and religious belief lately? Well, for one, through the Church of Scientology, but of course, we know that it has a much longer history with many who we might in the modern Western world classify as “mad” being treated as holy fools in other cultures. And of course, this history of mental illness may explain why Amanda is such a blabbermouth and says things that are so destructive to the interests of her family. Then, again, depending on how we read the segments where she is chasing her brother, she may be neither sacred nor mad, but simply the victim of some previous conspiracy. (I love the fact that the show doesn’t really make clear whether what we are seeing is real or subjective at certain moments—the interweaving of her dreams with contemporary events and the blurring of the picture. Some of this reminds me of films like Images and Don’t Look Now, which played with this border between subjectivity and objectivity.) Second, though, I love the scene where Clarice (the monotheist) and Amanda (the polytheist) are talking past each other. So, we have a crisis of faith where Amanda wants to believe in God but doesn’t know which of her gods she should put her faith in, and she doesn’t really get that Clarice is trying to recruit her for the One.
And finally, we again return to the issue of drugs in Caprican society as the two women spend time together in the Dive smoking a hallucinatory substance which, best we can tell so far, seems to be legal—if not exactly respectable—in this society. Of course, you’ve heard the joke that you can tell you are watching a cable show if the sympathetic characters are using drugs. This imagery is still not going to be appearing on the major networks.
I also continue to be very interested in some of the representations of games in the series. For one thing, I am going to be really intrigued to see if Daddy Adama discovers his inner Tauran in New Cap City. He’s entering a world where people are playing at organized crime, but he has it in his family ties if not in his blood. He may be a newbie now, but he’s got some pretty good instincts and I have a feeling we are going to soon learn that his daughter has risen fast through the ranks and has already started to make this city her own. I am reminded of a story, probably invented as the best stories are, of Rudy Giuliani coming in to see his daughter playing Sim City, starting to give her advice, and she snarls at him, “Dad, you run your city and let me run mine.” The story is usually told to talk about how complex and accurate Sim City is but it may also tell us something about how certain skills and interests run through family lines.
I was especially interested in Zoe’s discussion of why her avatar lacks the ability to instantly acquire the skills she needs to get through the flight simulator. She argues in effect that she doesn’t want to do things the easy way; she wants to earn her way through the virtual world. I am reminded of the ongoing debates around multiplayer games about what constitutes cheating and whether it is appropriate for a character to pay real cash to buy a ready-made avatar which can function at higher levels than they have earned through game play. Or for that matter, the debates about using power surge formulas in any kind of digital games to give the avatar actual lives or otherwise excempt them from the rules of the game play. There’s good stuff about these issues in Mia Consalvo’s book, Cheating: Gaining Advantages in Video Games.
Zoe’s also on to some key issues in game design with her discussion of generative design. It is in some senses the holy grail of game development. The reliance on formulas to produce essentially similar landscapes in games is an ongoing frustration for players and designers alike. So, whoever is writing these scenes knows enough about game design to be on top of key debates in the field. Of course, this gets us closer to some religious issues as well in terms of how do we understand the concept of divine creation. What would it mean to replace the Watchmaker God of old with the Game Designer God of the 21st century?
Finally, one of my favorite moments was watching the family dog seem to figure out that the Cylon is Zoe before her father got a clue what was going on. I have long been interested in the myth of the loyal canine who knows his master better than any human can. This notion of devotion and intuition is built into the sentimental process which transformed dogs from work animals into family pets. (For more on this, see my essay on Lassie in The Wow Climax) Of course, my ever practical wife suggests another explanation—that Zoe has been playing with the dog in her search for human contact and so he turns to her with the ball, not knowing that he risks blowing her cover. I suppose this would suggest a dog owner who can’t resist their attachments to the pet, another signifier of the sentimentalization of the relations between humans and animals. Give the dog a bone!
Apropos of Henry’s comment about the thin line that separates “madness” from “spiritual experiences”, I was reminded of the studies that link temporal lobe epilepsy with visions & hallucinations. In fact, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran has shown that temporal lobe epilepsy is often associated with enhanced emotional responses to religious words and symbolisms. The broader implications being that some of the religious visions of sages, prophets, and shamans may have roots in here. Is Amanda Graystone experiencing something like this? Considering the overall mystical leanings of the BSG universe, probably not, and I would bet on a deliberate design either via conspiracy or some good intentions gone bad.
There is an interesting discussion in this episode about the nature and value of the virtual world. Joseph Adama questions the point of the creation of New Cap City, if it is no different than the real world—ask i.e. it follows all the physical rules of the real world and if you die, you are excluded from the game permanently. So why create New Cap City? The answer that he is provided has to do mostly with moral consequences: that he can kill anyone in here without going to jail and that he can frak 50 women in a night. But he can do all that in the V-world as well—except that the death in there is not permanent. So is it simply a matter of high stakes in a fantasy game? Basically, if you lose (die) you permanently lose the privilege of being part of an exclusive party. Or is there more to it?
Zoe, on the other side, is also challenging the nature of the virtual world. First by her refusal to instantly download flying skills for her avatar—as she wants to go through the learning experience just like the real world. Second, when she questions the validity of the argument that there is no accountability in the virtual world. She believes in (or wants) consequences—even if the actions are taken in a virtual world. Perhaps it is because she is primarily an avatar—with the virtual world her birthplace and the “real” universe. Not to mention that this is the only world where she go on a date with her geek appreciator. No wonder she wants to improve the scenery of the virtual world. Artificial herself, her sense of beauty, though, is away from artificiality. Maybe she was programmed that way.
What is the essence of a person? Is it their memory? Is it the way they look, their smile, the things that they do? This week on Caprica, we are asked to consider what memory is, its place in the “spiritual” realm, and how memory lives on, or not.
Although the beginning scenes in which the MagLev train memorial is being taken apart are moving, I can’t help but think about 9/11, when memorials and notes cropped up all over New York City as people waited, and hoped for word about their loved ones. The pain on Amanda’s face was very much like what happened to people who grieved again once the memorials were taken down some time after 9/11. With laws being enacted about roadside memorials and the like, I thought this was a interesting way to draw the audience into this week’s story, as well as provide a point to consider: What constitutes the essence of a person? Can a simple memory be enough, or is there something more to memory that is needed in order to keep a person’s essence alive?
While Daniel Graystone continues to skulk around, trying to hold on to his beloved Bucs and keep his company out of the clutches of Vergis, (who seems to both want to sleep with Daniel and destroy him at the same time?) his Wife Amanda is seeing visions of her dead brother. And after some well placed drinking and smoking of a controlled substance with Sister Clarice, Amanda explains that she spent a little time “away” in a facility because of her hallucinations. Sister Clarice, intrigued by Amanda, both because of her visions and because she’s Zoe’s mother, starts to talk to her about God’s protection and love. I was struck by how the language used was , well so evangelical in this sequence. Even more intriguing, the one true God is male.
As more of the STO religion is revealed, I hold out hope that the religious complex will get more interesting .It is not the religious complex that is complex, rather, the existence of Zoe and Tamara offer more interesting questions about what composes one’s personal “essence” In other words, what is it that makes you, you? And if a dog, in this case, Zoe’s dog, can recognize Zoe, what is it then that makes her dog be able to see her, even through all of the metal her essence is encased in? I know Dog is GOD spelled back wards, but seriously!
The idea of essence, soul, life force, ka, whatever it is called in the particular religious complex, is an ancient one, and the ways in which it is playing out in Caprica can be missed in watching the virtual world that Joseph has to navigate to try to find his daughter Tamara, or the world that Zoe enters into so that she is no longer encased in a Cylon frame. I think the bigger, more interesting point in all of this is perhaps what sister Clarice keeps babbling about, the ability to live forever. The phrase “everything that has happened before, will happen again” now makes a little more sense to me in light of how all of these characters, coping with loss, have tried to find ways to make their loved ones live on, even if their physical bodies are not there anymore.
In this sense, the holoband world is an inferior world, a world in which you die, and nothing is left of you, nor can you reenter it ever again. With Daniel’s realization at the end of the show that Zoe might just be in that MCP, and inside the Cylon body, one wonders if he will embrace his daughter, or if he will just seek to exploit her once again to further his ambitions for his corporation. I hope that the essence of Zoe’s “person” rebels if Daniel goes this route. Somehow, I think he probably will.