Caprica, Part IV: The Mad Scientist Foresakes His Invention

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Yep, spoilers. But not too many. Mostly analysis. And deeper rumblings.

Caprica is finally back, and after toying around – and then around some more – with the notion of a murdered Amanda Graystone, we can finally move beyond the rather pedestrian plotline of one grieving father siccing his hoodlum brother on another. Revenge is a dish best served cold – but it’s also a rather simple dish to cook. And Caprica has more interesting things brewing on the stove

The Adamas toy with killing Daniel Graystone’s wife, then decide better. The Graystones, meanwhile, go onto a late-night comedy show to begin damage control, trying to tidy up their daughter’s supposed act of terrorism so they can get on with the business of selling holobands. They, too, have a change of heart. Zoe’s avatar, trapped in the body of a robot, decides not to act like a robot any longer (cue the dance party). And at school, meanwhile, we get a sense that the calm after the storm has been shattered. A bomb blew up on a train and everything cooled down, but now there are bombs in students’ lockers.

(Oh, and almost forgot: Polygamist pseudo-orgy scene. Nice touch, that one)

There’s a lot to process from this week’s Caprica, but here are my six preliminary thoughts (see our previous episode recaps here, as well as our complete Caprica coverage):

1. The acting here is just world class. When I look at all of these characters hitting an emotional wall, I marvel at how these actors are able to nail their conflicted positions so delicately and perfectly. There’s Eric Stoltz, as Daniel, grasping for words live on TV. There’s Paula Malcomson as his wife, fearlessly expressing the thoughts that reside in her heart. My heart leapt into my throat as I watched Esai Morales in those final scenes. He has a full-blown meltdown in front of his brother, simultaneously obsessed with revenge yet terrified by his own capacity to hate. And, hell, even Patton Oswalt is sprinting at full speed as the talk show host; he plays a convincing caricature of Jon Stewart, who begins as an adversarial interviewer and then slowly sees the Graystones as real people, caught in the eye of an emotional hurricane. On live TV.

2. The Zoe dance sequence seriously messed with my head. It was at once bizarre, overlong and yet transfixing. I kept looking at the scene in a different way, at first ambivalent about a dancing robot, then happy that a girl can once again have her moment to goof off and act her age, and then intrigued by the way in which this computer programmer is beginning to recognize an independent spirit in this hulk of titanium. This isn’t just a work project any more, and I think this dude senses something’s up.

3. Is the non-assassination scene a cop-out or a shrewd plot device? The key scene of the show – what happens between the Adama brother and Amanda Graystone – all plays out behind the curtains. Why did the show’s creators do it this way (read our full interview with the creators of Caprica)? Should we feel robbed of a key climax, or did something happen between the two that will come back to play a key role in the series later?

Seriously: Did anyone else find it odd that she does not even mention the creepy cab ride home to her husband?

4-6: I’m all about the Graystone/Baxter Sarno interview, which was just great television (both fictional TV in the Caprica universe, and must-see TV in my Brooklyn living room):

- I thought this was a brilliant way of pulling back the curtain and revealing the larger cultural fears that are swirling around Caprica about the technology that Graystone has created. Thus far, the story has been so insular that I don’t feel like we’ve fully registered the controversial nature of Graystone’s empire, and how a good many people view his virtual avatar space as a realm where bad things happen. This is yet another interesting moral debate to inject into the show, and the hostility between Graystone and that television audience was palpable.

- As the interview goes on, clearly the host’s bias against this hologram culture lodges itself firmly in Graystone’s mind. And as Graystone starts to explore this thesis, “thinking out loud” as Oswalt’s character encourages, Caprica goes somewhere very interesting. This feels less like a scripted exchange – remember Graystone’s handlers were even coaching him on which nouns and verbs to use – than a spontaneous realization on the part of the mad scientist that maybe his invention did have something to do with the disillusionment of his daughter.

While he’s been trotted out here by his corporate team to distance his daughter from his product, it’s not as simple as that for this inventor, and father. He believed in his daughter, and her betrayal of sorts has led Graystone (note that he’s not Blackstone, or Whitestone) to question all of the moral and ethical assumptions he has long made about the technology he created. And as I’ve mentioned before, this is what Caprica does so brilliantly. In Zoe’s dancing scene, mentioned above, we’re forced to ponder the point at which the soul meets the artificial reality. And in Graystone’s TV promise to remove the profit potential from his holoband, and democratize this virtual universe, we are forced to recognize all the negative societal repercussions that accompany even the best of technological advances. Graystone is starting to first process the possible downside of his masterpiece, and you see this in all the subplots of Caprica: Technology alters everything, from love to mourning, revenge, fame, war, sex, etc. Graystone’s mea culpa of sorts was stunning…

- …and potentially devastating as a business plan. We have yet to see the full fallout of his decision to relinquish and denounce a good chunk of his company’s profits, and no doubt the economic angle of this technology tale is about to amp up. Also, just an aside: When do you think others will start to realize that Graystone’s fully functional war machine is running around his basement as a sentient being, connecting to the internet and perhaps risking national security in the process? That has to blow up at some point…

For now, I’m left with more to think about than I am after watching just about any other television show. This was riveting stuff, flimsy only in the fact that we were all but kept out of the virtual space in this episode. But judging by the preview of next week’s episode, and how the rogue avatar looks like she’s ready to get armed and dangerous as she demands answers about her creation, we’re about to spend a whole lot more time in “the game.”

How about you; thoughts about the night of Graystone’s apology?

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