“Know Thy Enemy”
March 5th, 2010
I don’t intend to miss Caprica every week, really, but I’ve been busy the last few Friday nights and it’s always taken me a few days to get to the latest episode. This isn’t a show that I find myself anticipating each week, perhaps, but it is a show that really captures my attention while I’m watching it, which is ultimately more important so long as I’m not spoiled before I get the chance to watch the latest episode.
“Know Thy Enemy” isn’t quite as tonally rich as last week’s episode, but it does a few things that I think are working really well for the series, a sign of its quiet confidence rather than its confident ambition.
This episode featured the arrival of James Marsters, best known for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and yet his arrival did not stop the episode cold. One of the most interesting things about the show, to this point, is how easily characters are introduced into this world. Rather than their arrivals seeming soap operatic, shaking the core foundation of the show or wreaking havoc on characters’ lives, their impact is more subtle and natural. Baxter Sarno didn’t become an evil mastermind out to destroy Daniel Graystone, but was rather left a powerful television personality who is in a position of power. Note that we have never actually met Baxter Sarno as a man: even with Patton Oswalt, the show knew not to push the character too far, and there is no nefariousness surrounding the show or that part of this culture. This is not a show that halts all progress when a new guest star arrives, a trait that it picked up from Battlestar Galactica before it: at its best, that show was driven by a forward momentum that kept it from growing stale, and Caprica is moving with that same sort of pace even without the threat of an impending Cylon attack.
There are, of course, some consequences to this. Amanda Ann Klein pointed out on Twitter that the Graystone’s grief seems to be fairly limited: we had the Adamas performing a mourning ceremony, but Daniel and Amanda are out partying and living what seems like a fairly normal life. The “One Month Later” chyron in tonight’s episode reminded us that the time passed since the bombings is not that substantial, and that the Graystones should perhaps be showing more overt signs of their struggles surrounding Zoe’s death. You can sense that the show doesn’t want to get too weighed down by grief and the events of the pilot, both because that pilot was perhaps the show’s creative lowpoint and because it would potential hinder the sort of forward progress (often at the expense of human cost, such as with the STO and the initial bombing) that defines the series.
In terms of the Graystones, I buy their relative lack of grief for two reasons, both of which have remained in the background but are some of implicit in the stories being told. First and foremost, they have each other: while Joseph lost his closest friend and confidante, left with a hitman Brother, a crazy mother-in-law, and a distant son to help him through his struggles, Daniel and Amanda had their partner to lean on, someone to help them stay afloat in the midst of the trauma. Secondly, I think that there is a clear divide between their public and private existence, and I think the experience on Baxter Sarno helped to sort of reconcile those two worlds: they have their private grief, but they live unquestionably public lives, and I think that this requires a different sort of grief that won’t manifest itself in ways quite as serious as the Tauron ceremony we saw last week.
I think that’s another sign of the show’s quality in some ways, as it demonstrates that this isn’t the sort of universe where we need to see everything that clearly. Motivations aren’t unclear for the sake of building suspense, but rather because some people like Barnabus aren’t going to wear their heart on their sleeve, careful with information and details because that’s how people tend to act. The show is really interested in showing things that we tend to view as outside of social norms (group sex, drug use) as everyday, and so a character like Barnabus doesn’t feel particularly ridiculous when they wear a barbed wire around their instead: this is a world where people like that would exist, and it feels like an expansion rather than an invasion of the story being told.
The show isn’t perfect, but it’s proving to be very resilient and capable of standing up to the challenges it presents for itself, which is precisely the sort of quality that lets me sit back and enjoy the ride.
- The big talk was about James Marsters this week, but his role is small compared to John Pyper-Ferguson as Tomas Vergis. I remember Pyper-Ferguson from his stint on Brothers & Sisters, and he fit this role extremely well – he is one character who wears his heart (literally, in the form of tattoos) on his arm, which bothers Daniel more than any vague threat or uncertain motive ever would. The show was smart to emphasize the personal, rather than business, impact of this decision, as that’s more important to the show’s long-term success.
- Michael Nankin, not surprisingly, created a visually stunning episode, but I liked how subtle he was about the Robot/Zoe switches: they were usually limited to one a scene to keep from feeling too much like a gimmick, which helps give meaning to Zoe appearing to Philomon in Avatar form in the V-World. I know some really disliked the way this story began (the dancing scene), but there’s a real sweetness to it that really hits at the philosophical questions regarding sentience, so I’m really enjoying it.