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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Caprica: "There Is Another Sky"

Illustration for article titled Caprica: "There Is Another Sky"
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Not everybody feels this way, of course, but Caprica is rapidly turning into one of my favorite shows on TV. I tend to value two things above everything else in my young TV shows: world-building and ambition. And Caprica is almost without peer in both categories as far as new shows go. This is a series that's tackling incredibly deep thematic material without breaking much of a sweat, and if it hasn't yet realized all of its ambitions, it seems to keep making small payments on them, gradually building up a head of steam that's going to explode into something truly fantastic. At the same time, I'm just enjoying the process of the slow accretion of detail, the way that the characters and the world they inhabit is only being gradually revealed.

I was appreciative that Myles McNutt wrote this piece earlier this week about how Caprica is not being fairly regarded. Now, to be fair, there was no way this show wasn't going to keep getting compared to its parent show, but I'm increasingly irritated by the notion that Caprica somehow has to answer for any perceived sins of Battlestar Galactica and/or atone for them. Despite sharing a universe, Caprica and BSG are two incredibly different shows. They're interested in similar things, but they have different approaches to examining those things, and Caprica is at a place where it's time to really start thinking about it as its own entity, not as an extension of the other series.

Now, "There Is Another Sky" maybe isn't up to the level of the series' third episode (its best so far), but in addition to a wonderfully evocative episode title, it boasts some tremendous images and some moments that only this show seems capable of pulling off out of the shows on the air right now. I wasn't a big fan of Alessandra Torresani hanging around as Zoe after the pilot, outside of her scenes in the virtual world, because I thought the "Now she's a robot and now she's not" visual gimmick often ended up making things goofier than they needed to seem. But the show's kept with it, and I've gradually come around to seeing things the series' way. Now, I wouldn't want to see Zoe as only the robot (or vice versa). It's these questions of identity that are always going to haunt the show, and this is a sterling visual representation of those questions when it's utilized well.

Look, for example, at the scene where Daniel presents the first Cylon to his board, looking to move forward with a new profit center and away from holobands (as promised on Baxter's show last week). That moment when Daniel orders the Cylon - which he still doesn't know contains the essence of his daughter - to tear off its arm and she has to comply or give up the deception is absolutely nauseating and horrifying. There's such a disconnect between that hulking robot and the blissed out face of Torresani that makes the whole scene have that extra bit of terror that pushes it over the top. This is unlike anything I've seen on TV, and I love the show for going there.

The big visual idea here, though, is that alternate Caprica, the game world that Tamara and friends invade, the game that doesn't let you know what the goal of the game is, the game that won't let you back in after you die. I love the visual design of New Cap City, the vaguely Blade Runner-ish spin on things, and the way that you can just be hanging out there and suddenly have a zeppelin show up around the corner. It's also a place where Tamara can start to grasp how powerful it can be to not be able to die in this world. In a way, death is only the beginning of her journey. Apparently, her journey involves becoming some sort of gangster/gun moll, but this whole transition is shot strikingly, concluding with a gorgeous image of the girl walking down the middle of a deserted city street. (Also very good was the scene where Tamara realizes that she's actually dead. This is an old, old trope of the ghost story, which Caprica has some structural similarities to, but here, it becomes a way to seize a new kind of power, not a way to move on. Accepting who you are is central to realizing your power in Caprica, whether you're taking on the old family name or coming to terms with your own death.)

In general, these visions of the sort of futuristic/sort of present tense world of Caprica are the best thing about the series. They always suggest a level of detail that the series continues to plumb, even as its plotting may seem rather slow-moving. Caprica is just a world you want to drink in, a place where everything feels like it could lead to a potentially interesting story. I don't know just how much of this society all involved with the show have thought out (though I'd imagine quite a bit), but there's a meticulousness to it that I'm finding inherently compelling.


Anyway, the other big storyline tonight involves Joseph and Willie attempting to bond together as Joseph realizes that Willie's been drifting away from him. This involves fishing, at first, but it eventually turns into Willie beating another kid up, and it concludes with a surprisingly moving funeral service for two characters that we barely know. There's something so universal about grief, but there's also something so specific about it, and this episode did a good job of finding a way to make the Adamas' grief easily understandable but also private to them, while also distilling funeral services down to their base components to create a service that would prove a sort of founding document of funerals. (The moment when the priest asks if Joseph and Willie will let Tamara go when we know that there's a message coming to let them know that she's still sort of alive is just exquisitely done, wrought with all kinds of emotions for both the characters and the audience.)

Naturally, these storylines intersect at the end, as Joseph learns that his daughter is still alive in the virtual world, even if she's not, strictly speaking, his daughter (or is she?). After spending so much time with the Graystones in recent weeks, I think Caprica needed to do an episode where it focused on the Adamas in a similar fashion, since they've often been relegated more to the background. And, befitting the family at its center, "There Is Another Sky" is a moody and brooding episode, a slow rumble of a story about the costs of clinging to a life - yours or any others - so hard that you can't see the rest of the world crumbling around you.


Stray observations:

  • They sure use a lot of purple in the nighttime skyline of Caprica.
  • I have to admit that I found myself occasionally having trouble caring about the whole "Let's steal this guy's identity so we can raid his vault!" plotline in New Cap City, but once Tamara began to realize who she really was, it became something far more powerful. But the heist stuff was kind of rote, sad to say.
  • I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not Noel, who had other commitments tonight. He'll be back next week.