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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Caprica’ blogging: “Gravedancing”

(previous: “The Reins of a Waterfall”)

(lots of spoilers! assumes you’ve seen the episode!)
I’m waiting for the Jesus-shouters to start condemning Caprica. Oh, wait: they already are. Except they clearly don’t get what’s going on with this series. It’s not “anti-Christian” and it’s not “antireligion” — it’s anti-absolutist. It’s anti “assuming that you’re right just because you’re in the majority” and anti “assuming that you’re right just because you don’t even understand your own history.” It’s pro “recognizing the power of cultural hegemony.” Of course, just try telling Christians in the U.S. that the power of cultural hegemony is on their side. In fact, maybe that’s what some of the Caprica complainers are actually upset about: not so much seeing white-skinned, English-speaking monotheists cast as terrorists (though they clearly don’t like that at all!), but in being reminded that their cultural hegemony is only a matter of happenstance, not a matter of inherent correctness. It could easily have been the other way around, if that Roman Jesus cult hadn’t caught on and today everyone “decent” was lighting candles once a week at the shrine of Jupiter and presidents who want to pander to their religious base were invoking Mars when taking the nation to war.

Certainly, Global Defense cop Jordan’s contempt for monotheism — he calls the One True God “a moral dictator” — and Baxter Sarno dismissing who the Soldiers of the One worship as “the big destructo god in the sky” is no different from the disdain many monotheists of 21st-century Earth express for polytheism… or indeed for any religious belief (or lack thereof) that differs from their own. Someone with no team in the game — like an atheist — can sit back and say, “Aha! How does it feel for the shoe to be on the other foot, eh?” But probably many of the Christian Caprica complainers have never even considered that there’s another foot for the shoe to be on!

And that’s the power of this show: it highlights that the things we take for granted are not immutable, and not the way they must be. (Of course, the Christian Caprica complainers will argue that that’s not the case, that monotheistic worship of their deity was inevitable.) I’ve mentioned this before, but it keeps striking me anew with each episode of Caprica. The design decision not to invent completely another culture — to have characters wear clothes that look like ours and have names that sound like ours, and so on — is even more potent here than it was in Battlestar Galactica (where we were watching a culture fall apart, so things were in upheaval for the characters, too), because it makes those things that are different stand even more sharply. I didn’t understand that decision at first with BSG, and it hit me again as I watched this episode: I have never been so wrong about something. And I’ve never been so excited to discover that I love being wrong. I wish I was wrong like this more often.

The depiction of women on this show is even more intriguing than it was on BSG. And I don’t just mean Clarice in bed with three of her spouses (though, wow, I sorta can’t believe the show went there, and I absolutely love how much they’re pushing the envelope). I mean: Tauron Granny is one tough old lady, ain’t she? All that advice about getting the best stuff from enemies. And then her joke: “Tauron children play jacks with the bones of the Tauron children who lose at jacks.” (The look on Joseph’s face at that! I’m sure it mirrored mine.) And then: “The dead don’t really die until their death is avenged.” We’ve seen her as just a “nice” old lady up till now, angry with grief but still “nice.” But here’s the thing: She probably is “nice” in Tauron culture. She’s just a different idea of what niceness is.

And when Lacy mentioned that her mom fixes motorcycles for a living? I did a little mental double-take. I hadn’t really thought about it, but if I had, I would have assumed that the broken-down bike we saw in Lacy’s front yard in a previous episode was shorthand for “mom’s got a biker boyfriend” and that that was shorthand for “low class.” Not that I think bikers are low class, or women who date bikers are low class, but a lot of people do, and hence those are, alas, too often visual signifiers in our pop culture. And so I took it for granted without even thinking about it that that’s what was going on here. I love that the use of imagery and shorthand that we share with this culture doesn’t always mean that everything we’re seeing that looks like something we’re familiar with means the same thing. It’s great way to sneak in other, more subtle reminders about not taking things for granted and seeing beyond our assumptions.

There’s a lot of room for that in how the show portrays women. Amanda, for instance, is such an odd character (in a good way, in an interestingly complicated way), and we don’t know yet — maybe we never will — whether it’s just her quirks as an individual or whether she may be representative of women in Caprican society. How can she feel compelled to be “honest” about her daughter being a terrorist in front of the families of people who died on the train, but then genuinely (or so it seems) suggest to Sam that her adding to or removing from his tattoos could possibly be meaningful to him?

Also: I could not predict, at all, whether Amanda would survive this episode, or if Sam would actually kill her (or if Joseph could actually go through with it). I love that about this show, too: that it feels so unclichéd as to be endlessly surprising.

Random thoughts on “Gravedancing”:

• The Global Defense Department cops? When I see these guys (and how the show is depicting them), I wanna see Law and Order: Caprica City

• Wait, what? There’s an STO informer inside the GDD? There must be: who else could have called Clarice to warn her of the raid? Holy crap, it’s the Peter Wingfield boss! No, wait: it’s the blond cop, the one who’s been so hardass about everything, has made sure that everyone else knows how much she hates those STO fraks. Oh, it’s totally her, isn’t it?

• The Tauron bull on the dash of Sam’s car? Nice touch.

• When the nerd in Daniel’s workshop plays music and the robot starts dancing, the second selection he flips through is the original theme music from the original BSG — tee-hee!

• Legalized drugs!

• “Games like New Cap City” — I’m thinking this is an allusion to Grand Theft Auto?

• So, if this has all happened before, and it is destined to happen again, does that mean that PR and standup comics and talk shows are inevitable outgrowths of human civilization anywhere and everywhere? That’s depressing.

• “Larry hates it when I come home bloody,” Sam says with spousal affection. So his husband knows what he does, and is okay with it? Or Larry isn’t okay with it, and that’s why he hates it when Sam comes home bloody? What the heck is Larry’s story, anyway?

• Tamara “was gonna make us all proud,” Sam says. Judging from the coming attractions for the next episode, it’s a sure bet that she’s got a major role to play in events…

(next: “There Is Another Sky”)

(Watch full episodes and get recaps at SyFy’s official site for the show.)


MPAA: rated TV14-LV

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Isobel

    I’ve been waiting for your review of this episode because elsewhere I’m reading reviews that are causing me to worry about the future ofCaprica, that go along the lines of ‘it’s a really great realised world and all that but what’s going on? It’s boring’ and I’m reading them and thinking ‘but I’m more than happy just exploring their world! And there’s lots going on – it’s just subtle and I love it that way’.

    I haven’t been this excited about a new programme in I don’t know how long and thank you for being excited about it too, and loving the detail and the depth.

  • I started off being lukewarm to this show but it has really gripped me. Both last episode and this one are tense and feel very real. It is as if the story and characters exist in an alternate reality and all the creators do is train a camera on them.

    I wonder what they do when they aren’t being watched. I delight in finding out new things about them. I wonder if there is holoband game similar to the Sims where they watch us.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t get how anyone could call this show boring. There’s *so much* going on!

  • Isobel

    I know! There are so many little threads being run all around the place – what is going on with Lacy, is the Soldiers of the One she’s been involved with a completely different sect from Sister Clarice? Zoe didn’t seem to trust her (SC). What is Sister Clarice’s real game? What on Caprica does Zoe want to go to Geminon for? Is that tech guy who was dancing with Zoe going to get involved somehow? Something important is going to happen re: Tamara but I haven’t a clue as to what. What’s going on with the Adamas?

    It’s so far from boring!

  • Knightgee

    How can she feel compelled to be “honest” about her daughter being a terrorist in front of the families of people who died on the train, but then genuinely (or so it seems) suggest to Sam that her adding to or removing from his tattoos could possibly be meaningful to him?

    Another blog I read recapped it and thought she might have been subtly bargaining for her life by promising to give him tattoos in exchange for letting her go. I like that explanation, though I’m not entirely sure she had figured out what Sam was up to at that point.

  • Isobel

    I thought Amanda was a little unnerved at that point, but wasn’t really expecting trouble. I thought her suggestion of amending his tattoo was a pointer to how completely Capricans don’t understand Taurons, as if Amanda thought the tattoos were advertising rather than a description of the person carrying them.

  • t6

    I think people who call the show boring just want some space battles.

    This show reminds me of Mad Men…but on Caprica. And that is a good thing!

    The acting and writing is great, the direction and production is great. It should be nominated for Emmys. But it probably won’t be. Irritatingly.

  • Mike D

    Caprica is the closest thing to hard science fiction I’ve ever seen on TV. I love fantasy, being a typical GenX Star Wars/Star Trek/LotR nut, but I also love Isaac Asimov’s vision of exploring the consequences of scientific advancement and its human implications. Caprica deals with the issues like “What is consciousness/intelligence,” and “what is life,” more profoundly than any work since Asimov’s epic story that included the Foundation and Robot novels. Interestingly, Asimov has not been adapted to many movies successfully for the same reason people think Caprica is boring; no space battles.

  • Rachel Hartman

    Speaking of Sam’s tattoos and their significance, I found this post fascinating:

    http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/show-patrol/2010/02/exclusive-caprica-producer-jane-espenson-explains-sam-adamas-tattoos.html

  • DJ FU

    The original post author is being just as incendiary toward religion in general (and Christians in particular) as the ‘Jesus-Shouters’ that he declaims. The only difference being he (?she?) directs his vitrol against one sort of group / person, while the so-called ‘Jesus-Shouters’ direct their vitrol against another (polar) sort of group / person.

    Basically, what we have here are two sides accusing one another of doing exactly the same thing without having the cognitive competence to realize that they are each as guilty as the other.

    It would be humorous if it wasn’t so depressing.

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