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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Caprica’ blogging: “Know Thy Enemy”

(previous: “There Is Another Sky”)

(lots of spoilers! assumes you’ve seen the episode!)
I’m hearing lots of people around the Web complain that Caprica is “too slow” or “boring” or that “nothing happens.” By this I assume that they’re waiting for stuff to blow up on a regular basis — or at least for someone to get their asses kicked in some way that is perceived as satisfying — and Caprica continually fails to deliver this.

This is why I love Caprica: because it’s science fiction but it’s of the drama variety, not the action variety. I think lots of people who think they’re science fiction fans are actually action fans who’ve just happened to enjoy a bunch of SF action movies. There’s nothing wrong with that: I’m not making any judgments. But they’re two different beasts. There hasn’t been a lot of straight-up SF drama on TV — in fact, the only show I can think of that comes close to matching Caprica as pure SF drama is the sadly short-lived Century City, the SF legal drama that lasted only four episodes on CBS in 2004-5. (Apparently a few unaired ones are available on Hulu, which I must watch.)

Caprica thwarts the expectations of SF action lovers by allowing most of the bloodshed and most of the explosions to happen offscreen: this episode alone showed us only quick images of the aftermath of Sam’s murder of Vergis’s employees (and Daniel’s nightmare about that), and mentions only in passing another bombing of a holoband cafe (the most we see is the cluster of emergency-response vehicles in the aftermath). Because Caprica isn’t about murders or bombings: it’s about why people murder and bomb, what motivates people to do such things. And as fun as it can be to have Bruce Willis swoop in and take his righteous revenge against people who murder and bomb for simplistic reasons, in real life the reasons are rarely so simplistic.

As much as I do get a huge kick, many times, out of the Bruce Willis-saves-the-world movies, I am getting immense satisfaction out of Caprica, too. Even in a “slow” episode like this one, which is all about scratching at the surface of those motives, all about showing us how complicated these people are. There are no villains here, only complicated people I’m finding endlessly intriguing in their complexity, and in how I cannot even say if I love them or hate them — it’s both, mostly.

And, well, perhaps I cannot say that I love the feeling that Caprica is very much of our time, in that you cannot help but feel the inevitable disaster and collapse looming in the near future of these colonials. But it does make Caprica feel so very authentic. We know that the Cylon apocalypse is mere decades away. And whether it’s the case or not, it does indeed feel to us today that Something Bad is looming in our future too: further economic disaster, or environmental collapse… just… something.

It’s unpleasant, on one hand, and totally riveting on the other.

Random thoughts on “Know Thy Enemy”:

• Oo, Tauron City! Shiny!

• Totem poles. Interesting. These surely are meant to be read as signifiers of native cultures. But what’s “native” when all the people here arrived only a few thousand years earlier? Or was there a local native culture that the humans escaping from “Earth” overwhemled and destroyed? (Also, that museum must be the one at the University of British Columbia, which I visited years and years ago. Cool!)

• Joseph buys his holoband from “Emptor Electronics”! Har har. (And then he can’t get the frakkin’ plastic bubble packaging open. Seems like that’s a universal inevitable of human civilizations, too. Nice touch.)

• Fake salesman-y Daniel Graystone-in-the-legit-V-world is kinda scary…

• “You people.” There’s a phrase to echoes harshly…

• I love all of Clarice’s old-fashioned stuff: the old dial radio, the boxy cathode-ray TV in its wooden casing. Her home is a cosy, warm opposite of the Graystones’ cool glass box.

• Oh, the poor nice geek, who can’t get a date. At first I thought Zoe was being mean to him in teasing him with her online-dating email, but then I started to wonder if she was just being nice, as he’s been nice to her. Probably, though, she’s got a weirdly convoluted reason for doing what she’s doing, which will slowly unfold over the next ten episodes.

• Scary Barnabus is a self-flagellant for the One True God. I’m guessing they didn’t bring on James Marsters just so he could torture himself and turn Lacy away, so I’m predicting a trip to Geminon in the near future.

• The “Conclave” Clarice wants to talk to — they gotta be the skinjobs, the Final Five who lived through this all before, right?

• Does Daniel say something about a “turncoat tax” he’d have to pay if he sold the C-Bucs to a Tauron?

• Ol Doc Fraser’s got a little thing for Joseph, doesn’t she? I mean, who can blame her?

(next: “The Imperfections of Memory”)

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

MPAA: rated TV14-V

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