Season Premiere: Caprica – “Unvanquished”

“Unvanquished”

October 5th, 2010

Returning to numbers below its performance earlier this year, Caprica seems to be heading for an early death. On the one hand, this disappoints me: as a fan of this franchise, I am interested in seeing where the show might be headed. However, watching “Unvanquished” I realized that I do not feel any particular need for the series to continue. There is a decided lack of urgency to the way we approach the series: I’m co-editing Antenna this month, and I concur with Derek Johnson’s question mark in regards to our anticipation regarding the series’ return (in fact, I couldn’t prepare his piece for publication until I watched the finale, which only happened last night, thus proving his thesis).

What’s fascinating is that “Unvanquished” seems like an incredibly intelligent start to the second half of the season and yet does nothing to make the series seem more exciting; it seems more logically planned out, but logic is not enough to convince me that this show deserves to be saved.

This is really a completely different show, isn’t it? Zoe has switched from a liminal figure trapped between robot and human being to a cyber samurai in the V World, Clarice’s trip to Gemenon more clearly defines the religious context of the STO, and Daniel Graystone’s relationship with the Tauron crime syndicate is quite removed from his initial experimentation. The first working Cylon is literally boxed in the hour, promising to take the series in a new direction.

And yet, oddly, it’s a direction which moves away from the narrative we are familiar with: the path towards the birth of the Cylons and the plight of the Adama and Graystone families seems to be lost, in favour of a show more focused on the people involved and their somewhat circuitous route to that point. It’s like the show is suddenly going off topic, taking the world that it created largely in relation to our existing knowledge and telling stories which no longer seem to connect with where we know this story is going.

It’s a strategy that is in the series’ best interest, although perhaps not initially – this is a transition episode of sorts, redefining character relationships and establishing a new direction. There are still bits and pieces of what we find familiar, don’t get me wrong, but they seem almost symbolic. You have discussion of the monotheism which eventually forms the Cylon belief, and the show continues to use key elements of regeneration in terms of Clarice’s plan for apotheosis. However, these no longer seem to be the guiding force of the series, with more focus placed on character development in the context of those stories. Eric Stoltz has really brought Daniel Graystone to live, and I thought Polly Walker was quite strong in giving us more insight into Clarice’s relationship with religion in the context of her role as leader of its “strong hand.” These stories are inherently more interesting, at least in theory, than many of the stories which started the series, which is a good note for the show to hit.

At the same time, some of it seems oversimplified: there’s no sign of Willy Adama, and Joseph Adama seems to have lost some of his nuance in his role as intermediary between the syndicate and Graystone. It isn’t so much that these elements were integral to my enjoyment of the show, but the unhinged father grieving his daughter seems to be lost, while the son being exposed to his family’s nefarious connections is entirely absent. And while I thought the final scene of Zoe Graystone walking through the V World and taking out some thugs with her samurai sword was a really fantastic scene in and of itself, I’ll miss the questions of identity that “Zoe in Robot” created. As badass as that final scene may have been, Zoe seems a less interesting character when roaming the V World than when she was forced to exist alongside her father and his work.

However, she might be a more exciting character for some. “Unvanquished” lays the groundwork for a very different show without really giving us a glimpse into it. If you’re excited about that direction, then this is a smart decision: the episode establishes Clarice as a more prominent figure within her church, creates a new relationship between Daniel and Joseph, and places Zoe into the V World, laying the groundwork for the characters’ future storylines. However, I’ll admit that I’m a little bit concerned with the new direction, as the show is embracing the kind of broad action vibe which I thought marred the mid-season finale. I liked this episode fine because it was about the fallout from that action, without indulging in the action itself outside of Zoe’s scene, but it seems to lay the groundwork for a show less interesting in the quiet, philosophical moments which drew interest from tension and atmosphere rather than forced “This button will kill your mother” games.

And while the episode does seem to be trying to move further away from the straight “Battlestar Galactica prequel” mode that we saw in the first half of the season, Amanda Graystone’s fake death – complete with, unless I was mistaken, Paula Malcolmson being absent from the credits – couldn’t help but hearken back to when BSG pulled the same trick. It also did little to build my enthusiasm for the character: as much as I enjoy Malcolmson, I don’t find myself engaged with her character, and to be honest I’ve more or less forgotten why she was jumping off that bridge in the first place – frankly, I’d rather she had stayed dead so that we could at least see Eric Stoltz dealing with a truly substantial loss instead of a fake one.

All of this is to say that while I’ll keep watching, and I hope for the sake of the people involved that the show continues, “Unvanquished” did little to convince me that I need this show in my life, or that I needed it to return three months early. I want to love this show, and there are parts of it that I enjoy: I really enjoyed, for example, the parallel of Mother and the syndicate believing in the same technology either as prophet or profit, and thought that was rather skillfully done. However, as skillful as it might have been, it did little to convince me that the series is heading down a road I am legitimately excited about.

And, unfortunately, that’s a problem the show has had from the very beginning, to some degree, and that’s the problem: this seemed like a chance to really change our minds, to push away our nagging doubts, and I just don’t think “Unvanquished” lived up to that task.

Cultural Observations

  • According to IMDB this was Meg Tilly’s first acting role in fifteen years – was wondering why there was a “Special Appearance” credit.
  • I’ll admit that I was apparently spaced out when watching this, because I must have blinked and missed Patton Oswalt.
  • Interesting comment from the elder who doubts Clarice: “I believe in being surprised.” Perhaps that’s the creed for the new season, now that’s we’re moving away from the “This becomes BSG” mode?
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8 Comments

Filed under Caprica

8 responses to “Season Premiere: Caprica – “Unvanquished”

  1. Tausif Khan

    I find this episode to be more of a mid season pilot. It gave us a quick look at the issues that the series will focus on for the rest of the season (if not the series) and reset the character relationships to highlight what the creators and writers find interesting about the show. Again because it is kind of like pilot I am giving it more leniency because it can not have the rich complex slowly developing relationships that can be evident mid season (ironically). In some ways new identities are being formed Lacy is becoming a cultist as opposed to the best friend to the hero, Amanda Greystone is now also an avatar, Clarice Willow is not comic relief anymore (Thank God). So I look at this as a mid season pilot.

    I still believe the issues of identity confusion still exist. Zoe and Tamara still have to make peace with the idea that while they were born (their human consciousness) as humans the selves that they are now is completely code. Clarice Willow mentions the ability for computer coding to copy a soul. So the question of souls, identity and consciousness are still there but I will agree not in the forefront as of yet.

    Joseph Adama mentions that Tamara was confused as to her avatar identity (could not feel her heart beat) and continued to be confused throughout the first half of the season so she could still be confused as to who she is (even though she is now leader of a gang this could just be a stop gap to fill an emotional hole. Taurons do seem more family oriented). So identity is still up for contemplation but not in the forefront.

    I found this mid season pilot as a more integrated story that is hurtling forward. This is the part that makes actions show more interesting. To me they are not interesting if there isn’t something also being said along with the action and I think that is happening given that questions of identity still remain. Now it seems political questions of religious extremism have taken the forefront and what interest the writers most.

    I would argue to you that this version of Caprica is more in tune with the mentality of BSG than the first half of the first season of Caprica. The first half of the first season of Caprica seemed to me like Buffy in the Battlestar Universe an attempt to combine humor, horror (terror?), soap opera and action together and to explore rich and important philosophical questions. Caprica’s first half was more focused on social intrigue (multiple partner marriages, V club and high school with two girls and a guy friendship).

    Jane Espenson was the show runner for the first half who is interested in humor and thinks it is important to representing real life situations because real people crack jokes in tough times. She was also a sitcom writer and would be relied upon to write the comedic episodes of Buffy.

    In this new version of Caprica political intrigue takes the forefront as we look at how people make decisions (mother superior and Clarice Willow in the religious cult and Daniel in killing his mother). This type of story telling can at times be somewhat dry because it is about decision making (Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight was just and endless set of terrible decisions in the form of the famous prisoner’s dilemma case in game theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma) but becomes more interesting when social concerns are integrated into the plot (romance and humor among friends).

    To that end BSG explored the topic and limits of torture after 9/11. Caprica now seems to be looking at religious extremism as an important topic for global politics as the other strand of exploration after 9/11. Therefore in some ways to me it is closer to the themes and topics important to what made Battlestar Galactica interesing.

    I look forward to this more action packed tightly drawn and hopefully character nuanced version of Caprica. I hope they give Ron D. Moore and co. a little wiggle room to show how the show has improved.

  2. belinda

    I actually like the shift to what presumably will shape the psyche of a cylon – the religion, the concept of immortality, a collective consciousness, etc that seems to be heading towards the v-world – so I understand why they’re shifting Zoe over to the v-world rather than have her stay put in the robot, (but I doubt that’s the last we’d see of Zoebot, given it is the only ‘true’ cylon who is sentient at this point), but for now, I’m pysched that it seems likely Zoe will cross paths with the only member of the Adama family I’m interested in – Tamara.

    And if the focus is now on the v-world instead of the physical Zoebot, for me I think the different push and pulls – whether it’s Daniel (driven by capital), Clarice (driven by religion), or that we have yet to know what Zoe’s goals are yet (driven by ideals?), which might be the most important,since she is the creator of the program – of the concept of life after death/immortality to be potentially intriguing and equally thought provoking. I think it’s a necessary step before they get into more of Zoebot type cylons.

    • belinda

      Oh, and since it was more SciFi’s fault that the season was chopped in half, and not what the writers intended, I didn’t feel that the Amanda fake death was meant to be a trick. It would have only been a week where we didn’t know of Amanda’s fate, instead of months.

      I found it remarkable that given this episode wasn’t meant to be a mid season premiere episode, it fared better than I expected.

    • Tausif Khan

      I like your comments a lot Belinda. I think Caprica might end up focusing on:

      “Cyborg theory was created by Donna Haraway in order to criticize traditional notions of feminism—particularly its strong emphasis on identity, rather than affinity. She uses the metaphor of a cyborg in order to construct a postmodern feminism that moves beyond dualisms and moves beyond the limitations of traditional gender, feminism, and politics.”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyborg_Manifesto

      So there is a lot of possibility.

  3. Tausif Khan

    “The title of this scholarly yet remarkably accessible slice of contemporary cultural history has a whiff of paradox about it: what can it mean, exactly, to say that we humans have become something other than human? The answer, Katherine Hayles explains, lies not in ourselves but in our tools. Ever since the invention of electronic computers five decades ago, these powerful new machines have inspired a shift in how we define ourselves both as individuals and as a species.

    Hayles tracks this shift across the history of avant-garde computer theory, starting with Norbert Weiner and other early “cyberneticists,” who were the first to systematically explore the similarities between living and computing systems. Hayles’s study ends with artificial-life specialists, many of whom no longer even bother to distinguish between life forms and computers. Along the way she shows these thinkers struggling to reconcile their traditional, Western notions of human identity with the unsettling, cyborg directions in which their own work seems to be leading humanity.”

  4. Thank you for this!

    The question I’m working on at the moment, is whether Tamara-A can be classified as a cyborg when she has no real world body? Zoe did in the first half of the series, but not anymore… Is she no longer a cyborg?

    Food for thought. Mostly for me 😉

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