Judge Jim Thomas is a brave little toaster.
The Beginning of the Battle for Humanity Has an Ending.
The latter half of Caprica's inaugural season saw a number of key changes: Showrunner Jane Espenson, who had assumed the mantle from co-creator Ron Moore, was replaced by Kevin Murphy, who had joined the team following stints as head writer for Desperate Housewives and as co-exec producer for Fox's short-lived Reaper. In addition, the show was moved from the Friday time slot inherited from Battlestar Galactica to Tuesday, where ratings dropped sharply. Hopes for resurrection were quickly dashed when the network formerly known as SciFi canceled the show, leaving five episodes unaired. Universal now brings us Caprica: Season 1.5.
Facts of the Case
As the latter half of the season opens, Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz, Mask) has lost his last link to his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani, Grand Union) when the U-87 Cylon prototype was destroyed, and has lost his wife Amanda (Paula Malcomson, Deadwood). As a final indignity, he has also lost his company to his bitter rival Tomas Vergis. For her part, Zoe finds herself adrift in the virtual realm, New Cap City, where the normal rules don't seem to apply to her. Joseph Adama (Esai Morales, NYPD Blue) finds himself unwillingly drawn deeper into the Ha'La'Tha—the Tauron mob. Zoe's best friend Lacy Rand (Magda Aponowicz, Kyle XY) found herself caught in an STO power struggle between Clarice Willow (Polly Walker, Enchanted April) and Barnabas (James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), resulting in a botched attempt to assassinate Clarice.
The set includes all nine episodes on three discs:
• "Things We Lock Away"
• "False Labor"
• "Blowback" (unaired)
• "The Dirteaters" (unaired)
• "The Heavens Will Rise" (unaired)
• "Here Be Dragons" (unaired)
• "Apotheosis" (unaired)
Here Be Spoilers: You have Been Warned.
In our review of the pilot we noted that the series would have to find a way to fully flesh out the various cultures without sacrificing story in favor of backstory. That's one challenge that they never quite overcame. While we get a good feel for Tauron culture, in terms of the religious culture as a whole and the Church of the One True God in particular there's almost no backstory, making it hard to place the STO's actions in a proper context. Based on the videoblogs, the producers wanted a clear demarcation between the church and the STO, but the very fact that the church supports and protects the STO undermines that assertion. Even something as little has having a rank and file member of the church publicly denounce the STOs tactics would have helped that point; instead, everything remains distressingly vague. Clarice's plan for Apotheosis (interestingly, the concept of a virtual heaven was used in an episode of Max Headroom) parallels Daniel's idea for "Grace," a product that would use avatars of the dead as a means to alleviate grief, but a key question is never asked: How effective can Apotheosis be as a recruiting tool given that it's obviously accomplished through technology, not divine intervention? Let me be clear on this: Clarice deluding herself on this point is not a problem; it's her obsession, so of course she can't see clearly, and that's what makes her so compelling. But couldn't someone in the church have noticed?
As the show moves closer to the end, the plotting get a little haphazard, with such non-sequiturs as Lacy gaining control of the Monad Church. It's an interesting idea, but Lacy has been so reactive throughout the series that there's no foundation that supports her becoming a religious leader; hell, at one point she was trying to get out of STO, and now she heads the whole church? A particularly bizarre case is the sudden death of Willy Adama, a truly WTF moment at which you start to wonder if Bill Adama was perhaps a Cylon after all. The explanation, though, is oddly prosaic: Due to a miscalculation, the actor initially cast as Willy Adama was too old; Bill Adama would have been into his 70s at the time of BSG. So they killed poor Willy Adama off and let Joseph Adama have another son with his new wife Evelyn; they name the child William in honor of his dead older brother in accordance with Tauron tradition, and that's the William who grows up to be Edward James Olmos.
That's a whole lot of work spent on fixing a continuity error, and one can't help but wonder if production time and energy similarly wasted on other such issues perhaps caused some of the overall lack of narrative control. For instance, why is it that the avatars created during the final attack don't suffer the same traumatic disorientation that Tamara (and all the reborn Cylons we ever saw in BSG) suffered—particularly since we see Zoe herself suffering the same thing at the very end of the series?
The final episode itself is a puzzlement; plotwise it's effective, but for whatever reason, there's not a lot of suspense or tension. The Greystones are curiously blasé about infiltrating Atlas Arena; a dropship lands in Atlas Arena, disgorging a team of Cylons right before the start of a pyramid game. People in the stands just stand around. The Cylons pull out weapons and aim into the crowd. People in the stands just stand around. Having identified the bombers, the Cylons shoot them. One. At. A. Time. Why not shoot them all at once, and not give them a chance to react? For that matter, why don't the bombers set off their bombs as soon as the Cylons emerge? (Answer: So one remaining bomber can succeed in blowing himself and a bunch of Cylons up, providing a "sacrifice" to jumpstart the assimilation of Cylons into colonial life.) It's a good idea, but the execution is something of a faceplant. And I have got to know exactly how Clarice survives, because that makes no frakking sense whatsoever.
Technically, it's another solid offering from Universal. While the video is strong, the CGI work in the last episode is a little weak; it looks as though the sequence needed one more rendering pass to get more realistic textures, particularly when the Cylon squad deploys in the arena. Extras are modest: "Re-Caprica" is a neat little conceit brought over from the BSG discs—a whirlwind, tongue-in-cheek recap of season 1.0—I particularly like referring to Daniel as "Dr. Frakenstein." Kevin Murphy provides a number of commentary tracks including a good one for the finale, but Murphy never quite sounds comfortable. There are also several podcasts; particularly strong are the ones for "Vanquished," with Eric Stoltz (who also directed the ep), and "The Dirteaters," with Esai Morales, Sasha Roiz, and Magda Aponowicz. The actors are clearly having fun, and it's a treat hearing how they approached given scenes. Particularly poignant is David Eick's podcast for the second episode, "Retribution." Recorded shortly after "Unvanquished" premiered, Eick talks about the low ratings, and how "Retribution" would be moving the series in a different direction that he hoped would win back viewers. None of the podcasts or commentaries appear to have been recorded after the cancellation. The videoblogs give a quick look behind the scenes of various show elements—music sound design, effects, etc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Acting remains a strength of the series, even when the writing isn't up to the challenge. Polly Walker is an amazing amalgam of sexy and scary; many of her scenes would have been laughable in lesser hands, but she pulls them off effortlessly. Paula Malcomson turns in exceptional work as well; her character is more clearly defined than in Season 1.0, plus she gets to take the character in a slightly different direction when she plays Amanda's avatar that Daniel is using to try and recreate Zoe's program.
The frustrating fuzziness on the religious front is partially offset by the continued development of Tauron culture, particularly in "The Dirteaters"—my pick for the best episode of the set. It pulls together disparate fragments of Tauron culture and uses them to give a rich, tragic backstory for Joseph and Sam, one that directly informs their subsequent actions. If that kind of care could have been taken with other facets of the series, things might have turned out better.
The final episode ends with a brief coda that moves the clock forward about five years, where they intended to start season two, with Cylons more or less fully assimilated into the colonial culture and becoming an integral part of the Church of the One True God, and Daniel creating a new body for Zoe—the first skinjob. It's a great sequence that fills in just enough blanks to capture your imagination for the second season; the sequence also has more raw energy than most of the episodes that lead up to it.
"Yes, we're tired. Yes, there's no relief. Yes, the Cylons keep coming after us time after time after time. And yes, we are still expected to do our jobs!"—Col. Saul Tigh, XO Galactica
In a very real way, that quote, from BSG's first regular episode, "33," was the touchstone for the series; the writers could go anywhere they wanted—provided that they never lost sight of that core concept. That quote guided the show, keeping it from veering off into any number of WTF tangents (at least until Starbuck came back from the dead). Caprica had no such anchor quote. Having three different showrunners over the course of a single season had to result in a certain narrative schizophrenia, even if you dismiss the persistent rumors that the changes were the result of network interference. And so Caprica veered off into any number of WTF tangents, never quite managing to find its way. It had strong ideas, great conceits, glorious scenes, but the show as a whole always seemed careening wildly as though it, like the Cylons themselves, had evolved beyond the writers' ability to control. In several commentary tracks, Murphy talks about the plans for the second season, and you get the sense that while the first season was a rocky one, the show was slowly but surely getting its sea legs.
At the same time, the court has to question if this show, even had it lived up to its vast potential, would have survived. Not only was the Tuesday night time slot a killer, the simple truth is that the audience for a show as complex and adult as Caprica doesn't really line up with the demographics of the network formerly called SciFi. If you look at the schedule and play the old Sesame Street game, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other," it's pretty clear that next to pro wrestling, ghost hunting, and Sharktopus, Caprica is the odd man out. Perhaps Blood and Chrome, a spinoff focusing on Bill Adama during the first Cylon War, will have better luck.
The court applauds the cast and crew of Caprica for having the stones to take the franchise in a different direction, and finds them guilty of having a reach exceeding their grasp.
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