Commentary. Reviews. Rants. Television. Pop culture. Whatever. It do what it do.
From the creator of Jammer's Reviews

Caprica review: ‘Gravedancing’

Caprica: Gravedancing

When Daniel agrees to go on a late-night talk show, he considers distorting the truth about his daughter for the sake of public relations. Joseph finds himself caught between his conscience and a brutal Tauron code when he asks Sam to take vengeance on the Graystones.

Air date: 2/19/2010
Teleplay by Jane Espenson
Story by Michael Angeli & Jane Espenson
Directed by Michael Watkins

***1/2

Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


After last week, when I complained that Caprica felt a little too much like chess pieces being moved around on a crowded chessboard, “Gravedancing” makes a course correction and for the most part plays like focused and intense storytelling. There’s some compelling stuff in this episode that makes the series feel alive and rejuvenated. And by giving most of the important focus to a few threads, rather than spreading it all over the place like “Waterfall” did, the drama here is more involving.

It also really helps that “Gravedancing” deals with urgent character crises and brings them to boiling points by way of skillfully employed ticking clocks. I’m all for serialization in my TV shows, but this episode benefits from having some clear-cut story elements that have a beginning, middle, and (for the most part) an end.

On the one hand we have the ticking clock surrounding Daniel’s forthcoming risky public relations appearance on Backtalk with Baxter Sarno, which mixes talk-show comedy and headline-news polemic and features Patton Oswalt as a host who already has his own opinions on the matter. (Think Jon Stewart or Bill Maher but with a less competent writing staff; Jane Espenson does her best to invent a fictional satirist of a fictional world.) Daniel’s problem is figuring out what to say that doesn’t distort his own memory of his daughter while at the same time doing his best to quell the public anger out there at him and his company. Amanda doesn’t want him to do the interview at all. She probably should’ve thought about that before blurting out to the entire world that her daughter was a terrorist (a moment I still can’t bring myself to believe).

On the other hand we have the ticking clock that has been created by Joseph asking Sam to carry out Tauron vengeance, killing Amanda to “balance things out.” Joseph is clearly conflicted about doing this, despite his assurances to Sam to the contrary. Slowly, the episode becomes a vise in which we inevitably approach the point where Joseph will change his mind — at a point where it might be too late.

Both of these storylines play out with great interest in a way that I felt finally recaptured the promise of the pilot. Daniel’s dilemma is unenviable: How do you apologize to the world that your daughter might have been a terrorist while also explaining that you didn’t have a clue? With Daniel’s PR handlers in constant orbit, a key moment comes down to whether he will describe her as “troubled” — a word he doesn’t want to use at all because it’s simply so untrue. But he does use the word. Amanda can’t stomach it and walks out onto the stage.

This is an inspired moment of drama, but even more inspired is the way the episode doesn’t turn it into cheap exploitation but instead a scene of surprising honesty and sincerity about two parents who couldn’t predict the future simply because there was no evidence for them to see. And the allegorical points are well conceived. The notion that some would be looking to blame teenage terrorism on the sort of hyper-violent entertainment found in hacked holoband programs rings absolutely true (cf. the Columbine massacre). When Daniel mentions how parents and the industry have lost control over their children’s VR content including with violent games like “New Cap City,” he might as well have said “Grand Theft Auto.”

The brilliance of this scene is in how it takes what initially looks to be an inevitable train wreck and turns it into a thoughtful allegorical debate and a sort of personal redemption for the Graystones. Their lives aren’t going to be fixed anytime soon, but this at least keeps things from piling on, and moves their story forward.

The merging of the Graystone story with the Adama story is gracefully pulled off, featuring a clever conceit where Amanda can get off the stage of Sarno’s show and immediately step into the waiting car of Sam Adama, who offers her a ride home. This car ride is played out with agonizing suspense (*) since we know what Sam represents while Amanda absolutely does not, but then gradually gets an idea. The dialogue they share in the car has this quietly menacing and wonderfully absorbing film noir quality to it, no doubt helped along by the classic autos and Sam’s fedora. Meanwhile, the story cuts back to Joseph sitting at home in a panic as he texts “DON’T” to Sam on his cell phone, having finally come to the realization that has been sneaking up on him all day that he doesn’t want to go through with this at all. This is some very good stuff, and very well executed.

* For me, at least, this was masterfully played to the point that I convinced myself I wasn’t even sure Amanda was necessarily going to live. While it should be obvious that Paula Malcomson as a series regular isn’t going to be killed in episode #4, while I was in the moment in that car, I was not positive of that. Plus, I knew this is also the former BSG writers we’re dealing with.

What I find interesting and a little surprising is how uncompromisingly hard-core so many of the Taurons truly are — even Joseph’s mother-in-law, who quietly scoffs at Joseph’s weakness in calling off the hit on Amanda. (When Sam talks to Amanda about the cultural tattoos, but how not all Taurons are gangsters, I couldn’t help but think about how characters on The Sopranos would often decry negative stereotypes that they themselves embodied.) It should be interesting to see how far this series goes into developing the cultural divide between Tauron-Capricans and the Old Country Taurons and the issues of moral relativism.

And now for bullet time (aka pop a cap in your ass):

• I still find that melodramatic Amanda/Daniel scenes aren’t clicking for me, with writing and acting that strain for effect. Fortunately, I was glad to see the other side to Amanda here, which tempers the character and shows her as a thoughtful conscience.

• The STO/GDD plot still strikes me as a little obtuse, and the extent of Clarice’s operation at the school is unclear. Is she running the entire STO school operation, and how many are involved?

• The “dancing Cylon” bit was kinda fun, but I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that Zoe was going to accidentally break the tech guy’s neck (being a teenage girl inside a big-ass robot body and all).

• Lacy wants to get Cylon Zoe to Gemenon and needs Keon’s help. Okay; plot point, check. But Clarice, Lacy, and Keon are ciphers as three-dimensional characters go.

• Agent Duram says he “lost everyone” on the day of the maglev bombing. Was he speaking metaphorically or does he have a personal stake in the case?

• Clarice warns the STO kids about the GDD raid. But who warned Clarice? Is there a leak/mole at GDD? Paging CTU…

• The morning nuzzling at Clarice’s house was goofily amusing to a crazy monogamist like myself. Apparently, you kiss one person good morning, roll over, and kiss someone else good morning. Then someone rolls over onto you and starts lookin’ for lovin’. I’m trying to keep an open mind here, but this may simply be too silly. Don’t people get jealous?


32 Comments
  1. Mal - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 11:18 pm

    No mention of the BEST SCENE EVAR: Sam fraking with Joseph (washing his bloody hands etc.), to the point where Joseph yells in anguish that he can’t tell whether or not Sam has killed Dr. Graystone. You know what, I couldn’t tell either! Oh, it was an awesome, awesome scene.

  2. Ralph - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 1:18 am

    Sam frakking with Joseph was absolutely brilliant, I agree, and I must say I was still not entirely sure whether he’d done it or not. Great suspense. Finally an episode that lives up to the promise and I hope they can carry that quality writing on from here.

  3. karatasiospa - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 2:22 am

    yes this was a much better episode but i’m still wondering what is the direction of the series. I mean this is 18 years before the first cylon war so what they intend to do? tell us all the story of this time? for this to do they would need 18 seasons!!! or perhaps they are heading somewhere else? i don;t know and it is still early to judge but i keep wondering.

  4. Evan - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 2:31 am

    ‘Agent Duram says he “lost everyone” on the day of the maglev bombing. Was he speaking metaphorically or does he have a personal stake in the case?’

    The way he delivered the line, it sounded like a deflection more than a way of showing empathy. I think he meant that it was his department’s and, by extension, his duty to “protect and serve” all citizens. Thus, everyone who died aboard the train was someone he was responsible for. Hence him redoubling his efforts and prying into the Graystones’ affairs.

  5. mouse - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 5:43 am

    Original recipe BSG on the radio for the win.

  6. Devin - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 6:15 am

    The tension in the car scene was magnified by the fact that she could remain a series regular even as a dead avatar.

  7. Jeremy - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 7:41 am

    I was beginning to become worried for Amanda as well. With one of the main characters being dead (Zoe), it didn’t really seem that unlikely that she’d end up dead. They had you really wondering if Sam had actually done it or not.

  8. Brendan - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 10:53 am

    Much respect to Bear McCreary for making that car scene so good. The old timey pop song slowly morphing into the BSGesque drums was really cool and effective.

  9. poltargyst - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 12:33 pm

    karatasiospa, is the series heading somewhere? If the BSG series is any indication, the writers themselves may not know where the series is heading. Look for a major character to vanish into thin air in the final episode without explanation.

  10. knitpicker - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 12:32 pm

    This is probably stupid, but wouldn’t it be ironic if Daniel Greystone eventually becomes the mythical Daniel.

  11. enniofan - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 6:19 pm

    @knitpicker: I think you are right on. Surely t

  12. enniofan - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 6:26 pm

    Stupid mobile phone. I meant to say the surely the writers didn’t JUST pick the name Daniel out of their ass for grins as they were writing ” No Exit,” knowing “Caprica” w
    as on the way.

    I liked gravedancing every bit as much as the other episodes. But I think this series is due to really take off, and I’m excited.

  13. Alex99a - Friday, February 26, 2010 - 2:31 pm

    Too bad that “Backtalk with Baxter Sarno” isn’t a real show. I think I’d watch it. Maybe they can do webisodes.

  14. Eduardo - Friday, February 26, 2010 - 3:18 pm

    Getting Jane Espenson to run Caprica as executive producer was a smart move by Ron Moore. She used to get a bit of a bad rap from a lot of fans, when she was still writing for BSG.

    I remember her early days as a Buffy writer/producer. I’m surprised she was able to make the transition so effortlessly from comedy to drama, since she used to write the “funny” shows at Buffy and Angel.

  15. knitpicker - Friday, February 26, 2010 - 8:08 pm

    It’s nice to finally have an episode where I can begin to engage with the characters. I’m delighted with Sam and very happy with the portrayal of Tauron culture. How cool that the tattoos have meaning. It’s interesting seeing the tribal loyalties take precedence over job loyalties. Then there is the stark contrast between the ritualized Tauron violence compared with the random STO violence.

    Unfortunately, the whole STO thread continues to make no sense what-so-ever.

  16. Anthony Aguilar - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - 3:47 pm

    The scene in the car was very tense. I concur with everybody who says that they weren’t sure that Amanda was going to live or not. Just wonderful. And the acting was great on both counts.

    I don’t think the melodramatic scenes between Mr. and Mrs. Graystone are too bad or overacted. I think they may be realistic given the trauma that has stricken them. Emotions are bound to fly. I never really mind the dialogue either. I do remember feeling distinctly for Zoe in the episode that she had to watch her parents have sex…

    The show, so far (this having seen “There is Another Sky”) on the whole seems to be a bit too scattered for me. They really need to pull it together into a coherent whole. At the moment there seem to be too many storylines and plot threads. However, I believe that they can pull it off and it is for that hope that I continue to watch the show.

  17. MattJohnston - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 5:23 pm

    From what I’ve seen of Caprica (up to There is Another Sky) so far, I think the thing I’m really appreciating the most from it all is the meticulous world building that they’re doing. They’re imbuing every episode with something new about Caprican (and Tauron) society and, I reckon, creating the most distinctive and fully-fleshed “alien” planet that I’ve seen in scifi. I really adored the Tauron details that were put into ‘There is Another Sky’, in particular.

  18. enniofan - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 10:22 pm

    ^ I would hope at some point in the show’s run that we get to see most of the colonies.

    It would be a pity if they build up this universe across 2 shows and you NEVER get to see anything other than the minimal glimpses of Cylon destruction you get in Razor or The Plan.

    I mean, they spend SO much of BSG harping on Sagittarons, yet they’re spending a lot of time on “Caprica” drilling it into us that Taurons are dirt-eaters (and I don’t much remember anyone saying anything about Taurons in BSG).

  19. karatasiospa - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 2:32 am

    i just read that caprica ratings up to reins of a waterfall were falling from 1.6 million for the pilot to 1.1 million for reins… and that is not promising gor the series. allthough it is still early to judge. But i also read that the 10nth episode will be season finale!! i hope they will not do the same thrick that they have done in season 4 of BSG. Seasons of 10 episodes ?! and then they will sell the season dvd for 20 dollars or more! i really hope that they will not do it.

  20. knitpicker - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 8:21 am

    That is why I use Netflix. It saves precious shelf space as well.

  21. enniofan - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 5:52 pm

    ok, they have already filmed the entire season 1 of Caprica, and rumors have it that a 2nd season is greenlit, if you read Trekweb at all.

    SyFy are very much on board the Caprica bandwagon from everything I’ve read and heard.

    I mean you HAVE to know that SyFy knew they were getting into when letting everyone set up shop to film Caprica. Battlestar never had superb ratings, either.

    and the financing is somewhat different for cable shows as opposed to network.

  22. karatasiospa - Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 6:35 am

    the problem enniofan is that, as it seems, the 1st season will be only 10 episodes. What kind of season is this? before the release of the pilot i read that syfy ordered 19 episodes plus the pilot. And now they will release these episodes in 2 seasons?! and sell them seperately?! that is cheating!

  23. alex99a - Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 7:46 am

    It has all happened before, and it will all happen again….

    Jammer is getting behind on reviews :)

  24. Jammer - Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 8:56 am

    Karatasiospa, the first season is airing in two chunks, just like all of BSG’s seasons except for its first season. It is essentially the Season 1.0 and Season 1.5 approach that SciFi/Syfy has done for years for many of its shows.

    Alex99a, yes it has all happened before and may happen again, but I will get something posted sooner rather than later, even if I go with a briefer approach (which so far has not happened because I just can’t stop myself).

    The fact of the matter is that with my schedule Friday is the absolute worst day for me in terms of watching the show on time or getting around to writing about it. If the thing aired Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, I’d be much more on time with these things.

  25. alex99a - Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 2:12 pm

    Just pulling your leg a little, my man.
    Whatever, whenever! :)

  26. enniofan - Monday, March 8, 2010 - 12:04 am

    question….the “morning nuzzling” at the Willow residence.

    These people are STO.
    the STO are monotheist,
    the STO rail against the decadence of society…while having group marriages?

    what an oddly muddled morality this universe has.

  27. karatasiospa - Monday, March 8, 2010 - 2:22 am

    Since i saw BSG in Dvd (BSG was not on greek tv at that time while caprica is now) i don’t quite understand jammer what do you mean for the season airing in two chaunks. Can you please explain it to me ? When these seasons 1.5 where released?

  28. karatasiospa - Monday, March 8, 2010 - 2:23 am

    Yes Finally a great episode and a great science fiction episode. Now i’m really engaged.

  29. karatasiospa - Monday, March 8, 2010 - 2:24 am

    No that was for the next episode!!! sorry!

  30. Jammer - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 5:41 pm

    Karatasiospa, in the U.S., seasons two and four of BSG were basically split in half and aired as separate chunks (you can see this based on the air dates on my season listings pages). Basically they aired 10 episodes, then took several months off (in the case of season four, it was nearly seven months between the end of 4.0 and the beginning of 4.5) before airing the last 10 episodes.

    In a way, based on how the seasons were structured in terms of the stories and with each half-season basically having a season-finale-like cliffhanger, I would argue that these all should’ve been called separate seasons. When you consider that the DVD sets were also sold separately (as seasons 2.0, 2.5, 4.0, and 4.5), that just makes the case that they might as well be separate seasons. I think the reason they are not separate seasons has more to do with the way the contracts are written for the actors and writers and producers more than anything else, but that’s just a guess.

    I have a post that talks more about this notion.

    Based on what I’ve read, it sounds like Caprica season 1 will be similarly split into two halves, with the second half airing late this year — fall, I believe.

  31. karatasiospa - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 2:39 am

    Jammer i don’t know why they split the seasons in two but the only thing that they achieve by selling them seperately for 20 dollars or more each is turning even more people to piracy,

  32. Peremensoe - Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 8:33 am

    “These people are STO.
    the STO are monotheist,
    the STO rail against the decadence of society…while having group marriages?

    what an oddly muddled morality this universe has.”

    What’s the problem?

    There is obviously no intrinsic conflict between monotheism and plural marriage; every major monotheist religion on Earth has condoned it at some point. ‘Decadence,’ like ‘morality,’ is often in the eye of the beholder. For example, Capricans, regardless of religious orientation, seem to hold drug use (now) legal and fairly unremarkable. Our polygamous ancestors would surely have found many aspects of our (and Caprican) mundane society irredeemably decadent.

    I haven’t watched far enough to see whether the group marriage element of Caprican society has any specific relevance to the plot, or if it is just part of the world, but if it’s just the latter, I like it. Caprica is often *like* (Westernized, industrial) Earth, but it is *not* (Westernized, industrial) Earth, and the tweaks and twists to familiar referents are among my favorite aspects of the show.

Submit a comment