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.
- 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?