Caprica review: ‘Know Thy Enemy’
Air date: 3/5/2010
Teleplay by Patrick Massett & John Zinman
Story by Patrick Massett & John Zinman & Mathew Roberts
Directed by Michael Nankin
Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
The key thing “Know Thy Enemy” and Caprica as a series have going for it is the sense that this is a series that’s constructing a fictional world that feels like a believable, lived-in place. That’s not always an easy task, and a big part of the equation is the fact that this place feels simultaneously familiar and fresh. Everything in general terms feels like our society (which is to say American, since the audience is predominantly so), but the story is freed in so many other ways from adhering to that template and can instead be about itself and the peculiar imaginings of its universe.
When you consider the fairly bare-bones plot movements in an episode like this, having it play out against a compelling developing backdrop is all the more important. “Know Thy Enemy” is not nearly as arresting as “There Is Another Sky” — but because it exists inside a world that I enjoy spending time inside, I can cut it a lot more slack than I otherwise might. Simply put, “Know They Enemy” is a lot more impressive for the way it feels as a slice of a larger world than for what it actually accomplishes.
In the main story, Tomas Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson), head of Vergis Corporation, strolls into town and unleashes a slowly percolating psychological terror campaign against Daniel, whom he knows but cannot prove stole the MCP from him. You’ll recall from the pilot that Daniel enlisted Joseph (who in turn enlisted his brother Sam) to steal the MCP from Vergis’ R&D lab on Tauron. In the process, two of Vergis’ employees (and close friends) were murdered.
It’s nice to see Daniel’s corporate malfeasance from the pilot come back to rear its head here. And if Vergis sometimes comes across as an unlikely construction of the writers (he wants vengeance, but he only wants it served via a series of painful personal incursions into Daniel’s life), he’s performed to a calm and measured perfection by John Pyper-Ferguson, who vows that vengeance will come with an easygoing smile that will be served out over the course of — hell, possibly the entire series’ run. “My dream is to tear up your dream,” he eventually tells Daniel. A great deal of menace is conveyed here in the most civilized manner possible. (Vergis arrives with the intent of buying Daniel’s sports team — simply because he knows Daniel loves owning it.)
I also enjoyed the portrayal of Joseph’s attempts to get into V-World, which rings true. He buys a holoband, but the preloaded Graystone consumer software (“WELCOME!!!” says the digital Daniel recording) doesn’t allow him to enter illegal VR realms. No wonder people have hacked the holoband and made more elaborate things like New Cap City; the consumer version looks like a glorified VR edition of Wii Sports. (Enjoy golfing and skiing, without leaving your home!) Joseph, not technically savvy enough to do it on his own, eventually instead has to track down the kid who told him about Tamara in V-World. This is storytelling at a fairly laid-back pace, but the attention to detail and characterization works.
Then we’ve also got Daniel’s lab tech Philomon (Alex Arsenault), who is a brilliant kid when it comes to robotic engineering, but rather unlucky in love. In keeping with my theme of this show creating its own world based on ours, we’re introduced to the Caprica version of online dating, which is given an intriguing little plot twist in that U-87/RoboZoe observes this guy and then e-mails him pretending to be “Rachel.” They then meet in a V-Club room. I continue to appreciate the straightforward use of Caprica‘s advanced VR technology in these plausible real-world social-networking situations. When Philomon notices that “Rachel” looks a lot like Zoe Graystone, Rachel has a pretty good explanation for why.
Still not working for me, on the other hand, is the STO plot, which continues to get more complicated even as it continues to refuse supplying anyone with a concrete motivation. Let me see if I have it straight: The STO is comprised of a series of independent cells who don’t work together. Clarice is in one cell, and her priority is to explore the Prophecy of Apotheosis, which she interprets to use technology to achieve immortality in the form of sentient AI. This is why she wants to steal a copy of the Zoe avatar (which she tries to do here, by getting Amanda liquored up in a visit to her home under false pretenses).
Meanwhile, there’s this other STO cell being run by a guy named Barnabas Greeley, a self-flagellating whack-job who is Keon’s boss, and whom Keon hopes will help Lacy in transporting her mysterious cargo to Gemenon. (How, or even if, Keon and Clarice are linked as STO members is beyond me, since she previously gave him a warning about the school raid, but here appears to have no influence over him.) Barnabas likes to blow things up, and indeed we learn here that Keon built the bomb that blew up the maglev — although the maglev was apparently not the real target; Ben set it off early. A lot of the STO throws their support behind Barnabas and his more violent tactics, which Clarice believes to be self-defeating at this point.
I suppose that logically this kinda holds together, but emotionally it doesn’t work, because these characters are enigmas being moved around mysteriously and are impossible to invest in as people. I enjoy a lot of the world that Caprica is creating, but the STO seems to exist apart from it. Barnabas is played by genre-show veteran James Marsters in an apparently important recurring role, so hopefully the writers will soon bring some urgency to this so-far less-than-impressive storyline.
Now to shoot up the place:
• Why does Daniel insist on having sensitive conversations in front of the U-87? Even if he doesn’t realize Zoe’s avatar is in there somewhere, he knows it’s a sentient machine.
• Nice piece of pragmatic wisdom from Sam: “If you’ve got time to ask if a bullet’s coming at your head, there probably isn’t.”
• Vergis appears on the Baxter Sarno program. It’s a nice beat that makes the world feel more lived in, filling out the edges.
• I never watched Buffy or Angel, so I am not very familiar with Marsters. I saw him in one episode of Andromeda, and I remember that it was a good guest-star performance on a show that usually just had bad ones.