Season 1 Episode 8

Ghosts in the Machine

Aired Friday 10:00 PM Mar 19, 2010 on Syfy

Episode Fan Reviews (7)

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out of 10
173 votes
  • As expected, writer Michael Taylor rescued the show from its lows with more unpredictable story telling and improved dialogue. Yet he, unexpectedly, failed to soar to the heights I'd come to expect from his past work, especially on "Battlestar Galactica."

    Firstly, the story line revolving around Daniel (Eric Stoltz) and Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Toressani) (well, her avatar, actually, but, for all intents and purposes, it's Zoe) was quite well written and beautifully acted. Thankfully, the pitfalls of cheesy teen romance were avoided by leaving Philomon and Keon aside this week. This meant that Lacy Rand's (Magda Apanowicz) scenes, though few – as they have been the last several episodes – were enjoyable, as she interacted only with Zoe. The two friends discussed the latter's dilemma about trying to convince Daniel she wasn't inside the cylon, so he'd pay less attention to it, and she could flee to Gemenon, as planned.

    Finally, viewers were given a strong and believable justification as to why Zoe was hiding from him. Based upon his misleading her when he transferred her from the virtual world into a cylon body, she concluded that, while he might feel some connection to her as a representation of his daughter, this wasn't enough to fully humanize her in his eyes. Given what she saw as his business priorities, if he were sure that she was inside the robot soldier, which he had already been developing for a military contract, he might exploit her.

    Father and sort-of-daughter's doubly complicated relationship was illustrated in their interaction, which offered up this episode's best moments. Stoltz displayed both the emotional neediness of a father seeking his daughter as well as the cold disregard he'd show a stranger in pursuit of that goal. The scenes in which Daniel tried to connect with Zoe's avatar as though she were his daughter were incredibly effective. I particularly loved how he lectured her angrily about her supposedly committing the terrorist act that killed many on the train, rather than directing her displaced feelings toward their source: her parents. The way he explained how wrong she was to be so hard on her parents for the mistakes they had made in raising her – that life itself was full of difficulties forcing snap and potentially regrettable decisions – felt like an insight from which I could learn. This is when Battlestar worked best, when it made me look at the world in a different way by pondering some truth I hadn't considered. I'm happy to see Taylor ensure Caprica finally lives up to its predecessor in continuing to do that at which most of the post-pilot episodes had failed. Furthermore, seeing Daniel express his love for his child in showing understanding for her own seeming mistakes was moving. It all made what came next that much more disturbing. Just as Daniel had a twin relationship with Zoe's avatar, it seemed that the latter's attitude toward him was dictated by factors beyond simply his daughter's feelings. Her experience as an artificial intelligence observing from afar also provided her with the skeptical perspective of him as a scientist and industrialist who might threaten her survival. Presumably hoping that Daniel would give up on his hunch that his daughter was effectively still alive inside the cylon and to avoid confirming this belief, Zoe's approach was to only follow orders given the robot; in front of her father, she could not afford to act outside of officially programmed parameters. So, even though Zoe was touched by Daniel's pleas, her refusal to show herself prompted him to react viciously by using his daughter's emotions to trick her into doing so.

    Although Daniel's behavior was shockingly manipulative, the fact that it was rooted in his understandable desperation to know for certain whether she was there made it psychologically genuine. His psychological tests played out wonderfully – with each uttered phrase sneakily unveiling the level of cruelty to which he was prepared to resort with disturbing effect. He first reminded her of Zoe's deep-seated fear of fire, based on the trauma of her witnessing the family home burn down when she was five, while the cylon was instructed to repeatedly assemble and disassemble a gun. He later told the cylon to stand still in the middle of a circle of fire that he hoped would terrify her into stepping out of it.

    During each test, Zoe revealed herself in what Daniel called "tells" – slight hesitations and pauses that were uncharacteristic of the robot's movements – which, in turn, only reinforced his conviction that she was in control. Yet, despite her knowing that she was unconsciously providing these clues, it was realistic that she'd stubbornly stay the course, not knowing what else to do. Yet, the quality of writing maintained such an unpredictably tense atmosphere between the two characters that it was nevertheless a surprise that Zoe didn't break under duress.

    Despite all these breakthroughs in the series, what promised to be a compelling final scene between the two, filled with the moral ambiguity of Battlestar Galactica, felt somewhat unsatisfying. The final test involved Daniel asking the cylon to shoot the dog, which it did with what turned out to be blanks. It was perfectly fine to have Daniel step back from the brink of depravity by not endangering the dog, given the still menacing fact that he forced his daughter to make a hard choice of killing the family dog, rather than expose her free will to not shoot. However, Zoe's moral complexity was compromised by her disclosure, later on to Lacy, that the cylon had known from the gun's lightness that it contained blanks. I suppose the audience was still meant to feel dread – and be assured of Zoe's moral ambiguity – with her telling Lacy that she was tempted to kill her dad and still might if she didn't escape soon. Yet, it felt like a cop-out to steer clear of Zoe crossing some moral line. Perhaps the writers were correct to keep in check her willingness to sacrifice others to serve her aims. All the same, at this point in the series, she is already the daughter who never committed a terrorist act and, now, she knowingly shot the dog with blanks; in both cases, her father thinks she's more depraved than she really is, and there's something unsatisfying about a lead character whose only sins so far are lying to a stranger (Philomon), hiding from her father, and guilt tripping her best friend into helping her run away.

    At the episode's close, it was uncertain what Daniel concluded from the cylon's actions. Did he think the cylon's willingness to kill the dog meant Zoe couldn't be inside it because she wouldn't do such a thing? Unlikely. More credibly, he was merely disgusted with his daughter's avatar for taking things this far; he might even have concluded that she is nothing like his daughter and be ready to further dehumanize her. Time will tell.

    Less successful, though fairly entertaining, was the plot entailing Joseph Adama's (Esai Morales) search for his daughter Tamara among the perils of the New Cap City game. He was accompanied by Emmanuelle (Leah Gibson), a mysterious femme fatale who said, in the previous episode, that she had been sent to his aid by Tad, the teen whom Tamara had sent to find him. Emmanuelle was portrayed well and with great subtlety; she was also visually captivating with her unique, though not overtly beautiful or sexual, appearance that gave her toughness a believability. Taylor did a good job of creating obstacles for the characters to surmount, diminishing the predictability that has hurt most of this series' installments to date. However, it still felt like the virtual world was the least interesting place for the show. I couldn't really get over the fact that it was a simulation and that, while I couldn't wait to see father and daughter's avatar reunited, I didn't ultimately care for the dangers Joseph had to overcome to find her. Consequently, this story line's excitement was limited and without sufficient emotional resonance.

    It made sense that Joseph hesitated to kill others in the game, despite the stakes of being killed and losing his chance to find Tamara, because everything there feels real and he can't normally bring himself to violence. His escort, Emmanuelle, upbraided him for jeopardizing both their lives. So, once he got back to the real world, it was an interesting, if somewhat predictable, touch to have him ask his gangster brother Sam (Sasha Roiz) how he kills people so easily. The answer, though intriguing, felt a bit forced in its charming coincidence: imagine that the people you have to kill aren't real – that it's all a game. This is, of course, exactly the situation Joseph is facing.

    There was a flair I appreciated to the writing of New Cap City this time. It ranged from the superbly acted shifty criminal occupying Joseph's virtual world apartment to specifically the male transvestite club owner, who conveyed a flamboyant and threatening creepiness. When the transvestite asked Joseph to answer a riddle on penalty of being shot, I worried that, as per TV formula, the gifted hero would come up with the correct answer. I was glad he couldn't and luckily managed an escape. It was also startling to then have him recognize, as he was leaving, a symbol that Tamara loved to draw on the wall. This, in turn, convinced him to reenter the club and ruthlessly kill (that is, force out of New Cap City permanently) anyone to get near the transvestite to get answers. The transvestite revealed that she had been there, and that, once he tried to have her killed for answering his riddle incorrectly, she acquired mythical status as one who couldn't die.

    I must admit to being confused by the implication of this plot's ending in this episode. Joseph and Emmanuelle found a wall full of Tamara's symbols, perhaps implying that she was powerful enough in this game to put her stamp on the territory. Emmanuelle strangely concluded that Tamara was happy in this world and that Joseph should give up on the search. This was an odd assumption. Tamara's success at dominating the game wouldn't imply her desire to stay there, surely.

    Amanda Graystone's (Paula Malcolmson) plot had her visiting the site of the car accident that she had witnessed as a passenger and that killed her brother. As in the previous episode, she talked through the bewilderment of having just seen her brother with Sister Clarice (Polly Walker) over the phone. I'm not sure what the dramatic interest is supposed to be; obviously, as Amanda suspected, these are hallucinations that are probably brought on, as Clarice suggested, by the pain over Zoe's death, which, in turn, remind Amanda of her earlier trauma over her sibling's passing. The reality is so clear that I'm not even sure what the point is of showing the audience such conversations repeatedly. I was relieved when Clarice's insistence that she come over was refused. I dislike scenes in which the two of them hang out, although Taylor might have done a better job than previous writer had. Instead, Amanda was treated to a visit from Tomas Virgis (John Piper-Ferguson). From the moment the robot butler Serge (voiced by Jim Thomson) relayed Virgis' message that he wished to speak with her, a sense of foreboding loomed over her scenes. He had, after all, threatened to make Daniel suffer, and, imagining his revenge manifesting in an indiscriminate manner upon all those associated with him, the first person I assumed would be hurt was the wife. Yet I was glad to see him do no such harm when she greeted him. He simply told her that Daniel had someone steal his MCP (a kind of microprocessor) and murder two of his friends in the process. This reasonable tack implied Virgis has greater moral ambiguity than the archetypical nemesis. For her part, Amanda responded realistically – expressing loyalty for her husband, who supposedly was not capable of such horrible things, which is what most loved ones of criminals probably tell themselves. Yet the accusations certainly planted doubt in her mind, and her resulting distress took the form of blaming the messenger, as she shooed Virgis away. Nonetheless, this kind of slow-burning, guilt-ridden payback of turning Amanda against Daniel didn't feel particularly thrilling.

    A later scene showed Amanda worrying or grieving. Even if her upset grew out of a new concern (Daniel's potential criminality) and the scene was only a few seconds long, the mere fact that she was in roughly the same dour mood she had been in every episode so far was exhausting. I already felt like the collective effect of constantly being exposed to scenes in which Amanda mourns made me overreact and recall my very own trauma upon merely detecting the hint of another one unfolding.

    Wayne Rose's directing of this very good episode and last week's worst one yet indicate how much more important the writing is to the direction. The same could be said for director Michael Nankin helming the very good "There Is Another Sky" and the following, not so good "Know They Enemy." All this is to say that I'm thankful for Michael Taylor's presence on Caprica's staff.

    8.4 out of 10