Mar 23 2010 10:23am

Caprica S1, Ep 8 - “Ghost in the Machine”

Life is brutal, and you have to make choices – like that – and sometimes you make the wrong ones.     - Daniel Graystone

Until now, “Gravedancing”, Episode 4 of Caprica, held the title of Episode Most Likely to Make You Squee On Your Couch With Your Knees Pulled Up To Your Chest and Your Fists Pulled Up to Your Mouth (unless that was just me?). “Gravedancing” has been usurped. Badassery, thy new name is “Ghost in the Machine.”

The titular ghosts, Avatars Zoe and Tamara, each have their fathers coming for them, acting beyond their usual threshold of moral dubiousness. Daniel, suspecting that Avatar Zoe is in the U-87 cylon, puts it through a series of increasingly harrowing psychological tests designed to trick Avatar Zoe into revealing herself. She slips once, but after that remains determined to hide from Daniel at all costs. Joseph, with a little help from a virtual friend and a performance-enhancing drug called Amp, continues to pursue Avatar Tamara in New Cap City. She isn’t readily lured out either, and after Joseph steels himself to become increasingly violent in the game is told that it “seems like [his] daughter has found a home. Maybe [he] should go back to [his].” Meanwhile, Amanda continues to struggle with her mental state, even as she’s defending her husband to Vergis’ accusations, and Sam and Lacy both work to convince those closest to them that it is perhaps time to stop being so stubborn in their quests. That it is time to move on.

If you thought the Sam and Amanda storyline in “Gravedancing” was suspenseful, it is nothing compared to watching Daniel change tactics to try and flush out Avatar Zoe. On one hand, it feels like watching child abuse as he makes her relive a childhood trauma over and over, then makes her shoot her own dog. On the other hand, we see that Daniel is a desperate father trying to cling to the last piece of his daughter he has left. However, even though Daniel pushes the limits of what’s acceptable, there are still certain lines he won’t cross. He merely surrounds the U-87 with fire, knowing that Avatar Zoe will either walk right through it, or it will burn itself out. He orders the U-87 to shoot the family dog, but he fills the gun with blanks. Daniel isn’t completely heartless – his tears as he pleads with his daughter’s avatar suggest the opposite – but he is a scientist, and he will run test after test to get a result. He continues to grieve through his work.

Interesting, then, that Joseph, who has always been presented as the most benign of the two, actually pushes his boundaries the most. Remember, Daniel had Vergis’ MCP stolen, but he never put a hit out on anyone. Joseph has, despite taking it back later, and following a pep talk from Sam, he pushes himself to the point where he is capable of killing people himself. Granted, they’re virtual people at first – but so are Avatars Zoe and Tamara. Joseph wasn’t even capable of killing people in a game at the start of the episode, but by the end, he’s capable of shooting up a roomful. How long will it take for him to start rationalizing the deaths of real people?

Both men are capable of horrible things, yet when Eric Stoltz is lovingly looking at a cylon, or Esai Morales looks at a greeting card written out in a young girl’s scrawl, we can’t help but be on their side, even as we condemn their actions.

It isn’t only the two leads who were pushed outside their comfort zones. Sam (Sasha Roiz), in yet another compelling scene with Joseph, is put in an uncomfortable position when Joseph asks him, seemingly for the first time, what goes through his mind when he kills someone. He answers, and you can see that Sam is not the soulless monster his job description might lead you to believe he is. Amanda (Paula Malcomson), in an unexpected scene with Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson), is once again put in the uncomfortable position of defending her husband. What’s interesting here is that Amanda always comes to Daniel’s aid, without fail, even as she taints her daughter’s memory by labeling her a terrorist at a public memorial service. She is completely blind to her husband’s flaws, even as she hones in on everyone else’s. And then there’s Avatar Zoe, who is pushed to her limits emotionally and psychologically, allowing Alessandra Torresani to give her finest performance to date. Her angry, hurt, fearful glances marked her steps from newborn, naïve avatar to emotional, vengeful cylon, as she barely said a word. Avatar Zoe is clearly her own person now, and it is exciting to think about where she can go from here.

There was one thing that didn’t ring true for me in the episode. Avatar Zoe says that she knew the gun she was given with which to shoot Caesar was filled with blanks the moment she picked it up, because the U-87 knew. Wouldn’t Daniel have known what the cylon’s capabilities were? Wouldn’t Daniel know that even if Avatar Zoe is in there, that she would also have access to the cylon’s abilities, too, and they would make it easier for her to continue to be stubborn about not revealing herself? If so, why did he bother with the blanks? Perhaps Daniel was just grasping at straws and just didn’t think about it, but I have a hard time believing that from a character who is all science all the time.

However, did anyone notice that he said that Avatar Zoe was giving him “the cylon treatment?”  Heh.  I love puns.

Lastly, I’m very curious about Tamara, and suspect that we might have already seen her since Joseph’s been back. I suspect that several of the virtual people with whom Joseph has interacted might be Tamara in a different form. Could she be Emanuelle (Leah Gibson), Joseph’s guide? After all, she did get shot and not die – though she did flicker in a way that Tamara didn’t when she got shot. However, Tamara might have developed the ability to fake certain things by now, having been in the game for a while, and Emanuelle does deliver the message that Tamara might be at home here. Or, is Tamara actually the drag host at Mysteries? Describing Tamara’s first appearance at the club in such detail, and bringing up such religious-minded questions, only to be left holding a sunflower, much like Tamara uses in her signature? Tamara is helping Joseph along. But to what end?

And lastly, can anyone answer the drag host’s riddle?

As the gods overthrew the titans, so has man overthrown the gods. But when man visits his sins upon his children, how shall he be repaid?

Could it be that this has all happened before, and it will all happen again?

Suspense, intricate character work, and provocative questions about morality and the connections between technology, religion, and immortality. Caprica got back on the rails this week, and proved why this show is one of the most intriguing shows on television right now.

Watch the nid-season finale of Caprica Friday, March 26th at 9PM ET!

Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a contributor to PinkRaygun.com, a webzine examining geekery from a feminine perspective. Her work has also been seen on PopMatters.com, on the sadly-defunct literary site CentralBooking.com, edited by Kevin Smokler, and in the Elmont Life community newspaper. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Summer 2010! Get Twitterpated with TeresaFollow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

Andrew Gray
1. madogvelkor
I don't know what the answer to the riddle was supposed to be, but it was obviously foreshadowing the Cylon War. Which is even more ominous if the Host and Tamara are connected.

The one part of the episode that bothered me was that the gun had blank bullets in it. I think it would have been much more powerful if she really had killed it, showing the lengths both she and Daniel were willing to go to for their goals.

The whole story with the dog reminds me of Odysseus -- only the dog Argos recognized him in disguise, and he was forced to kill his dog to hide his identity.
Bryan Cogswell
2. shmoo
As the gods overthrew the titans, so has man overthrown the gods. But when man visits his sins upon his children, how shall he be repaid?

Is it too obvious to just say "man will be overthrown" ? Perhaps i'm just bad with riddles...
rick gregory
3. rickg
Do we know WHY Zoe is so determined to hide from Daniel? I mean, at this point I can certainly understand it, but it seems pretty cold to let your parents grieve for their daughter and not let them know that she still exists in some form. Zoe seems just as manipulative and cold as Daniel in many respects which is even more frightening given her age and relative lack of life experience.
Teresa Jusino
4. TeresaJusino
@madogvelkor - while I agree that the blanks were troubling, it was for a different reason, as you read in my review. I'm actually glad that, while Avatar Zoe was ready to kill the dog, Daniel was not. He's pretty out-there, but there are still things he won't do or have done. I like that he still has limits.

@rickg - I think the question you ask points to one of the main issues in the whole show. This ISN'T Zoe. It's Avatar Zoe. She's a different, independent being, and Daniel is not her father. That's kind of the point. Real Zoe wouldn't have wanted to kill her dad. Avatar Zoe has all of Zoe's memories, but she's been building new ones, all of which have been formed with mistrust. Avatar Zoe only knows Daniel as a liar and a manipulator. She doesn't really know him as a real father. So she's totally willing to kill him.

No wonder cylons went to war with us. They all had Daddy Issues. :)
Teresa Jusino
5. TeresaJusino
@rickg - also, as for her reasons not to reveal herself - she doesn't want to be used as a weapon. She wants to fulfill Real Zoe's mission for her. And again, all she knows about Daniel is that he will lie and manipulate. She doesn't trust him to let her be free once he discovers her in there.
6. KateTW
This is a small point-- about the dog-- being a serious dog person, of course I was shouting at the screen 'just don't kill the dog!' Avatar Zoe later told Lacy that if the gun had been loaded, she might have pointed it at Daniel instead. I took this to imply that she would not have killed the dog in that situation, while letting Lacy know how dire her situation is 'get me out of here before I do something I really regret.' Glad to know Avatar Zoe is not a dog killer. I'd have a hard time rooting for her if she were, Homeric allusions or no.

I have my fingers crossed about the series continuing. (And will do as I'm told Teresa re: watch times) Glad to see the issue w/ cylons with human memories who are not the same people continue... Its a fascinating premise.

Love your ideas about the cabaret host...
rick gregory
7. rickg
Hmm... good points Teresa. I forgot, but yeah Avatar Zoe knew she was an avatar unlike Tamara initially. That opens the way to some interesting musings on Zoe. She IS Zoe (and says so at one point in the first ep) but she knows she's NOT even when she said that.

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