Caprica – “Know Thy Enemy”

“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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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.
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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Caprica – “Know Thy Enemy”

  1. I think the show is pretty clear about the Graystone’s gireve. When Clarice called Amanda, for instance, she was doing nothing but seating at Zoe’s empty room, and then she was totally emotional about getting the books that belonged to her daughter. She might not be as much a mess as Joseph, but she is a mess. The exception being, like you mentioned, when Daniel is around.

    I loved this episode, and both Barnabus and Vergis seem like very interesting additions to the show. I just hope they get creative with Vergis and his vendetta, and I hope he doesn’t go for Amanda when he’s done with the Bucs. I mean, Amanda is already becoming the show’s favorite punching bag. First Sam screwed with her, now Clarice, and there’s always Duram. She needs a break.

  2. princesscowboy

    Great summary, Miles.

    I guess my problem with Caprica’s depiction of the Graystone’s mourning is that even when Amanda and Daniel are alone together, they don’t seem to address their daughter’s death that much. I was shocked by the lovemaking scene–what couple wants to screw after their only child is blown up on the subway? I see the argument that perhaps the show doesn’t want to linger too much on this downer of a storyline…except the death of Zoe IS the show’s primary storyline. Her death is the catalyst for the creation of the first Cylon and, ultimately, the destruction of the human race. With those kind of stakes, I expected a bit more tormet on the part of the Graystones–I feel like I only saw that in the episode in which Daniel makes the Zoe avatar. And even then, he seemed more interested in the scientific/industrial possibilities of his daughter, rather than reconnecting with her. But perhaps that is the point of this show? If so, it is making it harder and harder for me to sympathize with the Graystones–and I feel like the show’s writers want me to. I just don’t know what to make of it.

    Re: James Marsden’s appearance, I was excited to see him but sad that he was older and fatter (we just watched BUFFY last year). It was quite a shock.

    • I think repression is the point, though. If the Taurons are analogues for immigrant culture (all passion-and-fire-and-saying-exactly-what-you-mean!, in the North American imagination), that places the Graystones squarely in WASP territory. And as post-Ordinary People fiction has taught us, WASPs are all about repression, distractions, communication issues, and fiery breakdowns followed by more repression.

      Interestingly enough, there’s a deleted scene from the episode up on Syfy.com, showing the purest expression of grief from the Graystones yet.

      • princesscowboy

        That is a good point re: the Graystones as WASPs. I’m just finding the 2 characters increasingly distasteful and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.

  3. Berry

    I love the pacing of this show. There is a complex inter-weaving of characters and plotlines but it doesn’t seem hard to follow. This is the program that I most look forward to each week. Looking forward to more of the Barnabas/Lacy story. I think that’s going to be major.

    And, just FYI princesscowboy, it’s James Marsters in this show…and BTVS went off the air 9 years ago.

    • princesscowboy

      Berry: Really? BUFFY went off the air 9 years ago? That would totally explain why I was able to watch all 7 seasons on DVD last year! And why their clothing was so out of date! Thanks for the clarification!

      My point was that it was just shocking to see young , sexy Marsden in BUFFY and then flashforward 9 years to puffy, old Marsden.

  4. Finally, Finally…I’ve been looking for this information for a long time. Thanks

  5. Pingback: Scene-ic Storytelling: Philosophy and Memorability in SyFy’s Caprica « Cultural Learnings

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