TV Review: CAPRICA, 1.10 – “Unvanquished”

Syfy's prequel to the venerated Battlestar Galactica remake was always going to face an uphill struggle. The notion of a prequel usually denotes there's been a narrative conclusion to a better storyline, so now the makers are trying to turn back-story into a narrative of its own. Sometimes prequels work, but usually they fail. Caprica failed to inherit the majority of BSG's audience when it debuted earlier this year; possibly because there's more family drama than military action, maybe because it feels less epic in scope, or perhaps because none of Caprica's characters are de facto heroes. And while that brings uncertainty and darkness to bear, you have to wonder if that's what audiences want to watch right now. There was ambiguity in BSG, too, but we started that show with a simple humans/good versus robots/evil premise, before things started to get complicated. Unwisely halted after airing half its first season (a worrying trend, suffered by Stargate Universe, too), Caprica returns for the latter half of its debut year with "Unvanquished". It was worrying how much I'd forgotten about the cliffhanger-heavy episode that preceded this months ago, but suffice to say all the characters were left in dire straits. Billionaire entrepreneur Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) has been forced to give his arch-rival Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson) control of his Cylon project and ownership of his beloved pyramid team The Buccaneers; his wife Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcomsen) has apparently committed suicide by jumping off a bridge; Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) has witnessed the avatar of his dead daughter Tamara kill herself, thus ending his quest to be reunited with her in the virtual world; and Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani) escaped her father's lab inside her Cylon armature, only to be captured at a roadblock and apparently erased. The frustrating thing about "Unvanquished" is that it almost completely slammed on the brakes, following the previous episode's breakneck pace and plentiful developments. Indeed, this episode barely touched on what€™s been the show's most successful storyline with Zoe's existential crisis, save for a brief scene towards the end with Torresani in a pair of spray-on trousers giving some Clockwork Orange-esque "droogs" an ass-whupping. Instead, it was another slow and ponderous hour, which is exactly what infuriated the majority of curious viewers when Caprica began. It's curious the show decided to return with an episode this measured and loquacious, when there's a chance some lost viewers may have decided to give it another go. In this episode, Daniel has fallen on hard times. So much so that he's agreed to join forces with Joseph's gangster clique from Tauron, the "Guatrau", whom he wants to help him get rid of Vergis, in exchange for a profitable partnership with his invention that can resurrect dead people as virtual avatars. A cure for grief, as he puts it. Intriguingly, this technology is also what Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) is counting on to impress her own clique -- the "Soldiers Of One" monotheistic cult, based on Gemenon -- whom she meets to discuss her vision of how to boost their membership by using Graystone's technology as a means to guarantee an afterlife for the STO faithful. However, her appeal that "Apotheosis" will see their numbers swell isn't met with enthusiasm by Conclave leader Obal, who actually sees this artificial Heaven as heresy. I believe this is the first time it's been shown that the STO don't all share Clarice's viewpoint, although maybe that's about to change. The twist to Clarice's subplot was in seeing Obal receive permission from STO leader "Mother" to assassinate Clarice because of her controversial point of view, only for Mother to instead give the nod for Obal to be killed instead. And while Mother isn't in agreement that a technological afterlife is a worthwhile venture, she clearly senses it's likely to draw more followers to their cause, so gives Clarice authority over all of Caprica's STO cells. Elsewhere, Vergis is beginning to mass-produce Cylons to meet military demands, but none of his automatons have the spark of intelligence that Zoe's Cylon had before it tried to escape and was captured. Daniel's right-hand man Cyrus (Hiro Kanagawa) has apparently been kept on by Vergis, but is still loyal to the Graystone family and also smitten with Daniel's desire to create a sentient artificial life form. So much so that, against orders, he resists destroying the Cylon containing Zoe's personality and instead boxes it. Meanwhile, Zoe is revealed to have escaped into the virtual world of New Cap City, there posing as a "Deadwalker" like Tamara Adama (purely artificial constructs in the virtual world populated by human avatars, thus able to manipulate the game and survive "death") It appears that Tamara and Zoe are the only two "Deadwalkers" around, which gives the show some nice duality, as they're the daughters of the two families this show revolves around. Caprica's one of those shows where reading the synopsis back is sometimes preferable to actually watching episodes themselves. There are some good ideas and terrific acting in this series, especially from Stoltz, but there's something very distancing about how it goes about communicating all that. I have a feeling it€™s a series of fundamental problems with the whole concept of this show. As I said earlier, the fact none of the main characters are particularly likeable is undoubtedly a big failing: Daniel's a selfish, ruthless billionaire; Joseph's a rather sinister gangster. The members of their families each have personalities with more negative than positive traits, too. The fact the broad sweep of Caprica's storyline is a given for anyone who watched the first episode of Battlestar Galactica is another problem; one that obviously needed to be overcome by the writers early on, but I'm not sure they've succeeded. There's definitely some unexpected wrinkles in how the Cylons were created and will eventually start a war with the Twelve Colonies (I never expected the virtual world component, particularly), but nothing that a feature-length prequel movie couldn't have told us more succinctly. Does Caprica justify being a TV series, aiming to be on-air for years? I'm not convinced. We're halfway through season 1 and it feels like we need a significant change; a twist to make this story feel necessary and gripping, because at the moment there are independently compelling ideas and a remarkable universe to play around in, but not much holding the seams together.
WRITER: Ryan Motteshead DIRECTOR: Eric Stoltz CAST: Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomsen, Alessandra Torresani, Magda Apanowicz, Sasha Roiz, Brian Markinson, Polly Walker, James Marsters, Hiro Kanagawa & John Pyper-Ferguson TRANSMISSION: 5 October 2010 €“ Syfy, 9/8c
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