Caprica review: ‘Gravedancing’
Air date: 2/19/2010
Teleplay by Jane Espenson
Story by Michael Angeli & Jane Espenson
Directed by Michael Watkins
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?