EPISODE REVIEW: Caprica: “Gravedancing” (Episode 5)

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I can’t really decide if running a new episode of Caprica opposite the Olympics is a gutsy counter-programming move, or a case of Syfy just throwing in the towel. Certainly there’s an argument to be made for the latter. The ratings have been unkind: The pilot got a remarkably unimpressive 1.6 million viewers, though that number might be offset somewhat by it having been available for download for like six months prior. Regardless of how many people chose to get the first ep off the web, however, they’d already lost 200,000 viewers by the second episode. By the third ep they’d dropped by another 72,000 viewers, and I think it’s fairly safe to assume that tonight’s ratings will be beyond dismal. In fact they’ll be so low that next week will almost *have* to show a slight rebound. But whatever insane programming strategy the hopheads at Syfy are pulling here, the fact remains: This show has lost a half million viewers in just three weeks.

This comes as a surprise to no one, really: There has been all manner of behind-the-scenes turmoil as writers are fired, finalized scripts are re-worked or simply thrown out, show runners are fired, and in general everything we’ve heard from off the set makes it sound like panic is setting in. Couple this with the pretty lame last season and a half of Galactica, and the resounding “Meh” attitude from the geek community and the outcome is pretty predictable. I’m certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I officially dubbed this a “Troubled” series months before it hit the air. They’re talking about stunt-casting to bring in Galactica viewers, and really there is virtually no way this show can hope for a second season, all of which I’d pretty much predicted six months back.

What I couldn’t have predicted, however, is that I really kinda’ dig this show.

PLAY BY PLAY

Daniel Greystone - Decides to go on the Sarno Show to spin damage control for his company’s crashing-and-burning stock values. He does so against his wife’s wishes, and attempts to stick to a PR script decrying his daughter of being “Troubled,” but this goes over like a lead baloon, and he’s just making things worse until his wife busts on stage and bails him out. Way off script, he starts talking, he basically agrees with Sarno about the moral morass that is the Virtual World, and woolgathers about eliminating the profit motive for the virtual world, and contributing any profits they do make to a charity to attempt to provide good, moral choices for kids. He wins over the audience - surprisingly - and alienates his board of directors.

Amanda Greystone - opposes her husband going on Sarno until the police raid her house and tear through Zoe’s things. She heads to the studio to warn her husband, sees him crashing and burning, and busts on stage to save him. It works. Later, being driven home by Sam Adama, she realizes he’s a gangster that’s going to kill her.

Joe Adama - Keeps checking up on Sam to make sure he’s going to kill Amanda, and then chide him for not having killed her yet, but feels moral pangs about it, and finally changes his mind upon seeing her on Sarno. He tries desperately to contact Sam to tell him not to do it, but can’t reach him.

Sam Adama - Stalks Amanda, then impersonates Sarno’s chauffer and offers to take her home, where, in a well-played creepy scene, he makes it subtly known that he’s a gangster and he’s going to kill her. There’s a nice fakeout later on where he claims he did kill her to his brother, when in fact he got the “Like sixty text messages” not to do it, so he’s deliberately fracking with Joe as payback for jerking him around. “You’re a Caprican in a Tauron body” he chides.

Lil’ Admiral Bill - blows off school again. His really vicious grandmother tells him to get Sam to get him a job as a towel boy for the Caprica Buccaneers. “You can get more from enemies than you can from friends, because they’re afraid of you” she tells him.

Sister Clarice - Wakes up in a bed with three other people amidst some lesbian kisses while two of her husbands are being all creepy and gay, then they change partners and are about to start the day off with a bisexual orgy when she gets word that the Creepy Inspector Guy is about to do a locker search at the school, and warns her STO club members, then - in a rather unexpected scene - she breaks down. After that she smokes some dope, and watches Sarno, where he says “Half the audience is stoned.” Evidently he’s right.

Lacey - goes to see the kid who was going to help her get to Tauron. He refuses. She helps him rebuild a motorcycle, and he relents. There’s some sexual tension here.

Zoe - is attempting to get into the V-world when the lab tech with an obvious robot fetish starts staring at her chest and says “This is some of my best work.” There’s a couple good sight gags here, and then he plays some music and decides to make the Zoe-bot dance. There’s a funny, goofy scene of the two of them dancing which, for the first time, gives Alessandra Torresani a chance to show a little charm.

Tamara Adama - isn’t in this episode at all, but she gets a name check.

The Creepy Police Inspector Guy - raids the school, which nets nothing. He begs the chance to go over all the communications of the school and students in an effort to track down the cell leader of the terrorists there, and is informed that, should this fail, he will…uhm…be lacking some plumbing afterwards. Later he raids the Greystone house looking for evidence, and finds none.

“What is this to you?” Amanda asks him, “Did you lose someone on that train?”

“I lost everyone on the train,” he replies.

OBSERVATIONS

While the robot fetishist is flipping through the channels, we get a quick flash of the Stu Phillips Galactica theme. It’s the actual 1978 version from the TV show, not any of the rerecordings.

Speaking of which, I’m digging the music for this show more and more. It’s got some thematic similarity with the BSG soundtrack (Which started out weak, and eventually grew to beautiful), but it’s much more confident than the BSG music was in the early days, and it’s taking a lot more chances with incidental music, layered themes, and some lush bits that haven’t quite resolved themselves into a leitmotif yet, but seem to be edging that way. Definitely I’m getting the soundtrack when it comes available.

The scenes with the Greystone family played out really, really well, first with anger, then tempered a bit with heartbreak, then ultimately re-bonding over her attempt to help her husband save face, and the resultant honest desire to face up to their mistakes and try to make amends. The final couple scenes play out as really sweet without being sacchariny. It’s hard not to feel a lump in your throat when they’re arguing and Amanda says “We’re parents,” and Daniel shuts her down by saying “No, actually, we’re not.”

This being only the fifth episode (The pilot officially counts as two), it’s probably too early to say this, but it feels like there’s already been a good deal of character drift here. The show was obviously intended to be balanced between Daniel and Joe as its twin leads, but the fact is Eric Stoltz is consistently delivering such great, multileveled performances that he’s completely overshadowing poor Esai Morales; the poor guy either can’t keep up, or simply isn’t being given the opportunity to do so. The Joe Adama character is already being overshadowed by his gay hatchet man brother, Sam, who’s a more compelling character, with a more creepy/cool performance. I mean, who’s more interesting? A mob lawyer or an enforcer? Both are reprehensible, but the latter automatically makes for a better story, whereas the former kind of already feels like the guy who’s holding the coat for the more interesting characters.

I don’t know how much they’re paying Polly Walker, but I do hope it’s a bundle because Sister Clarice certainly isn’t helping her career any. I don’t know what dramatic purpose the whole ‘group marriage’ thing is supposed to have, unless maybe it’s to make ‘gay’ seem normal by comparison, but it’s got a through-the-roof ick factor, and is hard to watch. Clarice, so polished, prim, and icy in the pilot, is a moral degenerate by our standards, and even by the subjective standards of the show, she’s seen to be a degenerate - a drug addict, an arch-terrorist, an religious fanatic in the bad sense of the word, and someone who’s evidently not above manipulating her creepy swinger/family to pump jailbait kids for information. Literally. The scene where she breaks down is powerful, and comes out of nowhere, so she’s got some acting chops, but the character is, thus far, a career killer. She’s a sick, wrong, bad person, and unlike Sam Adama, she’s not even an entertainingly bad person, she’s just a mess. One wonders what attracted her to the STO, though I suppose it’s probably her fundamentally broken nature. It’s unclear if her family knows of her involvement, though the youngest husband might. I’m increasingly of the opinion that they don’t, however.

I genuinely really like Magda Apanowics, who plays Lacey. As with all “Teenagers” on TV, she’s in her mid-twenties, but she’s totally got the unsure-yet-plucky girl thing down cold. She’s smart, she’s resourceful, she’s driven, she’s entirely too trusting, but she’s entirely believable as a high school chick who’s really sort of mesmerizing yet not at all cool. There’s a rising sense of ’what the hell have I gotten myself in to?’ It’s a neat performance, and she’s thus far been able to show vastly more range than the ‘star’ Zoe. She’s not given a great deal to do in this episode, however.

We find out a grab bag full o’ stuff about Tauron tonight, all of it distressing. In essence, the planet is Sicily on steroids. Everyone is violent and vicious, it’s increasingly seeming like the mob runs the government there, everyone’s got tats, and even more-or-less assimilated Taurons on Caprica are seen helping hatchet men and flouting what we’d consider common decency. This kind of supports Tigh’s occasional xenophobia from BSG: Evidently you really couldn’t trust a lot of people from the other colonies. It’s a strange direction to take on a show as sexually liberal as this, yet seemingly supportive of ethnic biases against those swarthy ethnic types. I find this troubling. All Taurons have been portrayed by Hispanic actors thus far, by the way. They act like stereotypical New York Italians, and I think the tats are supposed to evoke the Yakuza. I’m just a boring ol’ white boy from the middle of the Midwest, so I’m certainly not the best person to judge, but it makes me uncomfortable. Almost as if I were Hispanic or Italian I’d be offended, but I can’t say for sure. We also find out that revenge is basically a religious ritual ’mongst the Taurons - a person can’t get in to the afterlife until their death is avenged. Creepy.

Lil’ Admiral Bill is a terrible, terrible human being, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile him and the Olmos iteration of his character. The kid actor isn’t given much to do, but he hasn’t impressed me thus far, and while I never quite get a good look at ’em to be sure, it appears to me that his eyes aren’t even blue. (Olmos wore blue contacts for BSG to make him look a bit more like Jamie Bamber. Bamber, meanwhile, dyed his hair black to look more like Olmos.)

Lil’ Bill’s grandmother is a vicious, hateful woman.

Nice fakeout with Sam pretending to have killed Amanda, by the way.

Patton Oswalt is Sarno, a recurring character who’s on TV in the background in most of the episodes. He’s a kind of Dave Letterman character, with a bit of Jack Parr thrown in. If you like Oswalt, you’ll like Sarno as a little bit of world-building. He’s not really my cup o’ thespian tea, but he did a good enough job here tonight.

There's a lot of really, really bad things said about God and monotheism in this episode. I found myself cringing at the sacrelige of it all. I presume this will be equally uncomfortable for most of my fellow conservatives. In fact, if you're a social conservative, this show would be very, very difficult to watch, what with the freaky sexuality, the relative glamorization of vicious murderers, the deliberate association of monotheism with terrorism, and so on. Definitely not a show for children, probably not a show for most of us adults reading this site either.

I am really digging the odd structure of this show, still, however. There’s no “A Plot” here, as I’ve said before, it’s more like a prime time soap, and it works really well. I’m told that there were major ’direction changing’ decisions made after episode seven or so, thus my fear is that it’ll switch from a soap to some hokey TNG-like thing, with an A-story that has to be resolved by the end of the episode, and a pathetic B-plot that roughly mirrors the A-story on a more personal level, during which the cast learn An Important Lesson About Life™. Joking aside, I am legitimately concerned, as I really am enjoying the hell out of this show, waaaaaaaaaay more than I anticipated (Longtime readers will recall I kind of hated the last two years of BSG), and I think there’s a strong chance network attempts to ’save’ the show will make it suck.

Not to repeat myself, but this show is filmed in Vancouver, and is airing opposite the Olympics, which are also in Vancouver. I’ve suspected a good hunk of the audience is Canadians playing “Hey, there’s my house!” and I can’t help but think this’ll really cut in to that. (Yes, yes, I know. Canadian ratings don’t count. It was a joke, people. Sheesh!)

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