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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Caprica’ blogging: “Ghosts in the Machine”

(previous: “The Imperfections of Memory”)

(lots of spoilers! assumes you’ve seen the episode!)
I’ve been thinking about this for at least a few episodes, but it really hasn’t seemed more important till the interactions in this epsiode between Daniel and the U-87, which were so intensely gripping: I wonder how much discussion and experimentation behind the scenes went into the decision to have those who are talking to the robot make eye contact with it, even when we’re seeing such interactions from avatar-Zoe’s perspective. I mean, of course Zoe feels as if whoever is talking to her in the robot body is making eye contact, because they are, but the actress playing Zoe is so much smaller than the robot, which means how the other actors behave in such scenes is changing from moment to moment: now they’re looking up, now they’re looking down…

On the one hand, it almost seems so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning: Of course the actors must make eye contact with Zoe if the moment is truly to feel as if we’re experiencing it from her point of view. On the other hand, though, it’s not actually a true representation of what’s happening: avatar-Zoe cannot be looking at these people and seeing them looking down at her, no matter how much else she may feel entirely as if she’s still in her own petite meat-body. So there’s absolutely an element of distortion and interpretation. And the decision to present it as it’s being presented had to be made somewhere along the way. It could have been done differently: the other characters could have been looking at Zoe’s face, but up at her. (That might have presented other problems, though, too: How would Zoe-in-the-robot-body “look” in a long shot? Would she be floating in midair, her face at the height of the robot’s face? But mightn’t she actually feel as if she is floating, experiencing the world from that much taller body?) But instead, she is perceiving them as looking down at her.

Maybe that doesn’t mean anything. But I think it might, since Caprica is playing so much with the differences — and similarities! — between the physical world and the V-world. (I almost wrote “the real world and the V-world,” but I think one of the things this show is doing so well is demonstrating that the V-world can be just as “real,” in many ways, as the nonvirtual world.) Take avatar-Zoe, for instance. She actually has never had a body of flesh and blood, though in the V-world it certainly seems as if she’s able to experience things as if she does. (A residual of original-Zoe’s fleshly life, perhaps.) But in the robot body, presumably she cannot feel anything physical at all. When Daniel had the robot outside and was talking about what a beautiful day it was, it struck me that avatar-Zoe would be able to feel the sunshine or the breeze. And maybe that’s why she was able to endure Daniel’s trial by fire: because she couldn’t feel the heat of the flames.

And then there’s Joseph. He approaches New Cap City not very differently — at least at first — than he does the physical world. He doesn’t seem to find the notion of being able to “kill” someone any more appealing there than he does outside the game, even knowing that no one really dies. (And then his brother tells him real killing takes being able to see it all as a game!)

So what is real, anyway? Joseph’s guide in the game isn’t wrong: Is New Cap City, with its lack of rules and the necessity of figuring out for yourself what’s important, really all that different?

(Ooo, and who is Joseph’s guide, anyway? It could be anybody, including anybody we’ve already met. It could be Lacy. It could be Tamara, if she’s figured out how to tweak her avatar. Which I bet she has: she’s smart, she’s got followers already, they’re the ones leaving the flower graffiti around New Cap City, right? I bet she’s got, like, zeppelins and shit at her command, doesn’t she?)

Another thing that struck me with this episode: Caprica is all about all kinds of grief. Which is weird, because you might have expected that Battlestar Galactica should have been about all kinds of grief — what with everyone having lost everything — and yet it wasn’t.

Frak, I love this show.

What, wait? Next week is the season finale? So soon? I’m gonna have some serious Caprica withdrawal.

I think I’ll have to write about Stargate Universe in its absence…

Random thoughts on “Ghosts in the Machine”:

• I can’t remember — did Amanda start seeing her brother after she had the ambrosia with Clarice? Did Clarice drug her with the booze?

• I love Zoe’s new dress, which is of course entirely the product of her imagination: it’s very metallic and almost robotic looking.

(next: “End of Line”)

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

MPAA: rated TV14-LV

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