Reaction Time: Caprica Returns, Zoe Awakens, Mommy Goes Berserk

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Wow – talk about the worst memorial service ever.

Caprica is now officially back in action, pushing beyond that first pilot with a story that was less about the building of Cylons and the conspiring of two fathers to resurrect avatars of their dead daughters than about how in the wake of a tragedy, everything has started falling apart. (Read our interview with Caprica‘s co-creator about cheating death)

I like the direction the show’s writers have started to take things – and having already seen next Friday’s episode, I can only assure you that the complications to come are even more intricate, in the ways they probe the issues of mourning, virtual life, political power and religious fanaticism.

So how about you? What did you think of Zoe, the little robot girl? Of Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adama, starting to turn on one another? Of young Lacy, getting wrapped up in her teacher’s odd home life?

Here are the four things I thought this episode did brilliantly:

- Throw the balance of power all out of whack. When we finished the pilot episode, Daniel was an eminently powerful man, with all the resources in the world at his disposal to chase after his daughter, daring to dream that he could bring her back to life. But in the second episode you could almost feel, with each and every word that his wife said at the podium as she ratted out her daughter as a terrorist, that the Graystone prestige is shattering in front of our eyes. What happens now if the world starts to turn on him, and his company? What if his government contract is threatened? What if he is discovered to be reviving the spirit of a murderous terrorist?

- Widen the gulf between Graystone and Adama. When Daniel denies Joseph access to his home, it’s such a passive moment – just one word, uttered to an automated butler – yet such a bold act. The man who helped steal Daniel the equipment he needed, who then relied on Daniel to help him see his daughter again, now has basically been cast aside altogether. Not only that, but his need to return to Daniel’s virtual world has shifted in intensity. Now it’s not so much Adama’s need to reunite with his daughter but rather his need to ensure that she is not sitting in there, alone and abandoned. The interpersonal dynamics have shifted a bit. Daniel is now keeping a desperate father at bay, ensuring that Adama feels as if he has not only lost, but abandoned his girl. This is not going to end well.

- Create a genuinely jarring half-human-half-robot. The camera techniques at play here, sometimes showing young Zoe as a robot and other times showing her as a teenage girl – being berated by technicians or tended to by her scientist-father – quickly forces one to confront the implications of a virtual life…and what responsibilities we have to our sentient robots. In Steven Spielberg’s A.I., which yes, I think I like more than just about anyone on the planet, it was a little boy who was programmed to love mommy. But now it’s a daughter whose consciousness has been digitized and downloaded to the point that we don’t know what we’re looking at any more. What is this Zoe: Human? Not human? Once human? Something in between? The paradoxes are haunting.

- Successfully avoid the question of what Avatar Zoe’s real purpose is. Yep, if you really think about, we’re not any closer to knowing the big answers to the big questions. In the pilot, we had the real-life Zoe creating a virtual version of herself, with a much larger purpose in mind. She even tells her avatar this, implying that she will change the course of human history.

This was the central mystery of that 2-hour founding chapter: What was Zoe up to, and what would this virtual replica achieve? If you really think about it, episode two answered none of these questions. It instead showed the ways in which Zoe’s death kicked into motion a series of events that are equally dramatic and captivating.

Ironically, this is why I think Caprica is already on track to become something notable. In only two episodes, it has proven able to be engaging without even leaning on its core conflict. Just like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, the subplots are every bit as compelling as the central plot. And I’m left with more questions and thoughts now than I had a couple days ago, as the story threads unwind. One can feel some major issues arising in Caprica that dare us to challenge our deepest convictions, and I for one am starting to get hooked.

What did you think of the show, of the direction they started to take the stories of Zoe, Daniel, Joseph, Amanda and Sister Clarice? Where do you want Caprica to go next?

More at Techland: The 19 Rejected Names For the iPad

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