“End of Line”
March 26th, 2010
While I hadn’t seen “End of Line” before writing my post about Caprica’s memorable scenes and their impact on its storytelling earlier today, I could feel myself posturing towards the finale throughout writing it. While I liked “End of Line” just fine, its position as a hackneyed [mid]season finale designed to allow SyFy to split up its original programming across different quarters meant that it would be pretty much forced to push the stories that haven’t had the same sort of thematic dialogue and striking sequences as Zoe’s story to some sort of conclusion sooner than might be ideal.
And while I know Battlestar Galactica got a reputation for its cliffhangers, I don’t think Caprica is particularly good at them, especially with its pacing as it is. The result was an episode that forced every story along like it was a high speed chase, leaving no time to really stop and consider the consequences or the thematic ramifications in the process. The few stories that had a chance to stop and slow down turned out alright, and those desperate for plot advancement are probably somewhat appeased, but “End of Line” is very clearly not the end of the line, and the usual slow build that defines the series was entirely absent in an episode that offered some good thrills but left out the chills.
I know that was a really lame rhyme, but when I wrote “chills” it really described my response to the Daniel/Zoe material last week, so I decided to stick with it. Sadly, things did reach the “end of the line” of sorts in that story, considering Philomon’s tragic death at the hands of the robot he loved. It was really unfortunate that their relationship had to be rushed to get to this point so soon, as Zoe’s “you said you’d love me no matter what I look like” forced Philomon to confront the reality a little bit too quickly. There’s a useful and effective tragedy in that Philomon, the only one who believed in and valued the unique sentience of the robot, panicking at the reality staring him in the face, so I’m not suggesting that his death was in vain or a wasted opportunity for the show. However, I really liked the dynamic that he brought to those scenes (as I wrote about earlier), and so I really hope that the sort of charm and levity isn’t entirely lost now that things have “gone boom.”
I just don’t know if I particularly like the show that “End of Line” decided to be as much as I like the show it seemed to kill. I watched Battlestar Galactica enough to know that the world will not be an innocent place in the future, so I accept that eventually people will become corrupted by the cults or the technology or the drive for success and power. But it seemed like that corruption wasn’t given the proper time to really develop: we didn’t get to see enough of Barnabus to buy him as any more than your basic terrorist (as much as I like James Marsters), we didn’t spend enough time with Joseph in V-World to get the full extent of his degraded condition, and we know too little about Lacy for us to really empathize with her position beyond “relative innocent in peril!” Neither of the stories were bad per se, and they both ended in interesting ways (Lacy blowing up Clarice’s car, Tamara killing Joseph in V-World with the help of his colleague who wants to sex him up), but it seemed like those endings were either trumped up to create a cliffhanger or too underdeveloped to be an effective one, respectively.
The one story that was underdeveloped but managed to maintain the sort of eerie calm that Caprica has going for it was Amanda Graystone’s march towards a suicide attempt. In some ways, the story was much too sudden, the brother story coming too far out of left field and never quite connecting as it could have with Zoe’s death in the last few episodes. However, the show knew that it had to sell her state of mind, and so we got arresting sequences like her pre-outing rituals set to some great operatic music which then returned as she stood on the edge of the bridge. By placing Amanda’s story in an entirely different gear than everything else, and by capturing in that gear some sense of her mental state, the show was able to achieve their end goal (Amanda jumping off the bridge) without making it feel rushed. Yes, it was still a shortcut, but it was an effective one that felt rushed in a real and terrifying way rather than a contrived one.
And too many of the shortcuts felt contrived: I don’t care about a corrupt government procurement officer, and I don’t care about the Buccaneers, but the biggest problem is the show doesn’t really care about them either, and it shows. They are a means to an end, a reason for Daniel to rush the reproduction of the MCP and (somewhat knowingly) murder his daughter in the process, and while that scene plays out as it’s supposed to, and Zoe and Daniel remain the show’s most compelling characters, the show had to very blatantly create those situations and it felt a bit too far removed from the show’s usual pace. Once the story showed down, and the high speed chase ended with Zoe looking in the rear-view mirror both literally and metaphorically (both worked well), it was a reminder of what has been the show’s strong suit thus far…and then things went boom.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the critic who wrote a piece praising the show for its contemplative philosophical scenes is a bit turned off by this sort of high-stakes, high-speed finale, but I want to be clear that I think this kind of episode has a place. However, the show has not yet built up enough story, nor has it built the story it has consistently enough, for it to throw together a finale of this nature and expect that it’s all going to work. The show remains really compelling, and I think that some of the cliffhangers put the show in an interesting position when it returns in the fall, but every explosion feels like it’s moving the show further away from what I want it to be.
I’m not selfish or arrogant enough to suggest that is a definitively negative thing, but I do think that they needed more time to negotiate these particular moves, especially when this is only halfway to the end of the season.
- Two interesting structural notes this week. First – and apparently this is something that Galactica used to do as well – it appears that “Previously on Caprica” actually means “Previously on the planet of Caprica,” as the Clarice story about Barnabus and his secret cell messages in bike ads was completely new. It really threw me off, and was the first indication that there was going to be a mad dash to the finish.
- Also, I’d put this up there with the most useless of in media res, chyron-aided structures: we had a clear shot that it was Zoe driving the truck pretty early on, so it really only added any drama to whether or not Philomon would live. That it had so little to do with the other stories meant that it seemed like a forced effort to create excitement, and I wonder if the episode’s pacing might have seemed more natural without it.
- There’s some really interesting staging on the show sometimes, and as Noel pointed out they tend to cook a lot: Daniel and Amanda discussing the theft of the MCP over the preparation of various peppers wasn’t genius or anything, but it made for another point of visual interest, and Stoltz and Malcolmson did some fine work to sell the scene in the process.
- Seeing Jason Street with a semi-automatic weapon still doesn’t quite seem right.
- Don’t know why, but really loved the shot of Joseph snapping back from V World and lying in the fetal position – the c-shaped Coffee table, for whatever reason, really caught my attention, and the shot lingered on it for longer than I expected.
- Speaking of V World, really liked the settings for the various altercations: the crowded halls of a dance club were getting old, and the nature settings give the scenes a quality which is moving them closer and closer towards Baltar’s dreams on BSG, which I think is intentional and a very cool little production (and story, really) nod.