Okay, maybe not everyone, but for an hour-long show, Caprica sure had a lot of death this week!
The title of the episode, “Retribution,” says it all. Clarice spent the episode picking off her former students who were now working with Barnabas against her. She later kills Barnabas by blowing him up, but before being blown to smithereens, Barnabas kills Keon, who threatens to leave the STO. And then there was Random Graystone Board Member who, rather than succumb to Daniel’s blackmailing or allow his wife to find out about his interest in S&M (or his having killed hookers. It’s not made clear. Daniel just says he “likes to hurt women.”) chooses to blow his brains out.
That’s five deaths in this one episode. In case you’re keeping track, that brings the total death count in 11 episodes of Caprica to 509. 500 in the MAGLEV bombing including Zoe, Ben, Shannon, and Tamara; the 2 Tauron men killed in the MCP theft; the politician Sam kills in the pilot; Nestor; Barnabas; Keon; 2 Barnabas lackeys…and a partridge in a Solstice Tree.
Who needs Cylons to destroy humanity when we already do such a good job of destroying ourselves?
In non-death related events, Agent Durham has finally become suspicious of Clarice and has come sniffing around. He contacts Amanda and asks for her help in gathering more information about Clarice, basically damning Amanda with the knowledge that, yes, everyone in her life is, or has become, a craptastic human being. Meanwhile, the only one spared Clarice’s wrath is Lacy, who’s still alive, but who Clarice kidnapped for unknown nefarious purposes. And then there’s Daniel who, now that he’s joined forces with Joseph, Sam, and the Ha’la’tha, has fully become his worst self.
Overall, this episode was enjoyable, but while it succeeded in character development and story, it failed in its excecution. Which is surprising in an episode with so much death in it.
See what I did there? Execution? Dea…oh, never mind.
I don’t know why the episode was structured the way it was—whether it was a directorial choice by Jonas Pate, or a writer choice by Patrick Massett and John Zinman—but the time shifts and putting the time of day on the screen for every scene were not only unnecessary, but muddled storytelling that was already incorporating flashbacks. And why have the entire first 2-3 minutes of the episode be the exact same footage of Lacy chickening out of bombing the spaceport that we saw at the end of the previous episode? The jumping around in time seemed like experimentation for its own sake, and the story would’ve worked a lot better told in a more linear way. Except for the STO storyline, it was practically linear anyway.
The look of the episode also left a lot to be desired. The colors in certain scenes—say, during the flashbacks, or whenever anyone was outside—seemed really washed out even for this show, making several scenes boring to look at. Also, the one flashback between Amanda and Zoe, which was great content-wise, was insanely bright! I had to turn away from the television, because I was blinded! This show works best visually when it embraces a deep, rich color palate that compliments the atompunk style of the show. In this episode, we see this in the scenes with Clarice and Amanda in the cabin, or the Adama brothers and Daniel sitting around the table.
Visually and structurally, this didn’t feel like an episode of Caprica.
There were also some moments that didn’t ring true. If Keon really thought Barnabas was crazy, why wouldn’t he just wait until Barnabas sent him out on a mission and then just…not come back? Why make a production of leaving and get himself killed? Also, if Clarice is going to bomb something, why would she do it out in the open like that? She was standing at her car holding a large detonation device over her head and pressing a button. Then part of a building blows up. Sheesh! The least she could’ve done was gotten in the car before pressing the button!
What saved the episode for me, though, was the intensity of what was going on for each of these characters. Episode structure aside, “Retribution” has each of the main characters firmly settling in to who they are and will be for the rest of this season.
Lacy had a brilliant moment when Barnabas confronted her and asked, “Are you loyal to Clarice, or are you loyal to me?” Lacy, without hesitation, says, “I’m loyal to God.” In that moment, we see that she has a spine; she has beliefs of her own, she hasn’t up until now allowed Clarice to have control over her, and she wasn’t going to allow that from Barnabas either. Magda Apanowicz’s work has been stunning these past two episodes, and I’m interested in seeing if Lacy’s loyalties are indeed with the One True God, or with Avatar Zoe, or with the One True God and Avatar Zoe as an extension of the One True God’s plan.
Eric Stoltz continues to be amazing. He wears mobster well, but where he really shone was in a scene when the wife of the board member who killed himself approaches Daniel’s car for answers. In that moment, as Daniel tells his driver to keep driving, Stoltz wears the look of someone who agrees to ride a rollercoaster without realizing how scary it’s going to be, and frantically wishes for a way to get off the ride. Daniel Graystone has surrendered himself to the momentum of his immoral choices, and it is fascinating to watch him struggle with wanting to get off the ride, but not knowing how.
The one who really had my heart this episode, however, was Amanda. Paula Malcomson astonishes me with the way she captures both Amanda’s brittle weakness as well as her moments of strength. I felt punched in the stomach as I watched this character, who has already been through so much, go through Daniel blaming her for Zoe’s actions in the hospital, or dealing with her only friend, Clarice, being responsible for Zoe’s STO involvement and subsequent death. When she went to her house to retrieve a gun, I was sure she was going to kill herself, and it would have been understandable! I couldn’t believe it when she was about to kill Clarice, but what happened next was better. When Clarice says that Amanda is the only one she can talk to, you can see in Amanda’s eyes that a decision has been made. She’s going to help Durham. Finally, after struggling with her past and grieving her daughter, Amanda has found a purpose, and I’m thrilled.
“Retribution” was jam-packed with action. I’m just sorry that the action had to be cluttered by ineffective story structure and poorer-than-usual visuals.
What I can’t stop thinking about, though, is what I wrote at the top of this article: Who needs Cylons to destroy humanity when we already do such a good job of destroying ourselves? I’ve been reading other reviews of Caprica, and there are some commenters who “want to see Cylons!” Who say “nothing happened” in an episode if Cylons weren’t in it.
The thing is, both on Caprica and on Battlestar Galactica, the story was never about the cylons. These shows aren’t really about “Humans vs. Cylons” at all. They’re about “Humanity vs. Itself.” The Cylons were chickens coming home to roost, and all the violence and death, the endless warring, the near-extinction of a species, was all humanity’s fault. On Caprica, that’s what we’re seeing up close. We’re seeing that we did it to ourselves, and it’s not a pretty picture. It’s hard to watch.
It’s easier to blame Cylons and watch us fight them, isn’t it?
Teresa Jusino was born the same day Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a freelance writer in New York City who is a regular contributor to websites like ChinaShop Magazine, Pink Raygun, and Newsarama. In addition to her geeky online scribblings, she also writes prose fiction and screenplays. Teresa is the author of a chapbook of short stories called On the Ground Floor, and she is working on a webseries called The Pack, coming in 2011. She is also the last member of WilPower: The Official Wil Wheaton Fan Club. Get Twitterpated with Teresa or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.