The budding relationship between Sister Clarice and Amanda remains boring. Although the plot element introduced in this episode of Amanda's delusions is potentially interesting, it's dramatized in so unfulfilling a manner that it ultimately feels more like a potential time-filler. I found Clarice's interpretation of Amanda's hallucinations as divine a bit too odd to accept; her beliefs have moved beyond slightly fascinating (with her references to avatars as a means of life after death) to thoroughly implausible; I understand that the writers are acknowledging the strangeness of her opinions by having her black husband express the same skepticism, but such ideas just make her character seem silly. According to Clarice, Zoe was a prophet, basically? Did Sister Clarice have any reason to believe this when she was alive and did she treat Zoe as such? It's all very hokey and without being dramatically realistic or remarkable.
To her credit, Paula Malcolmson acts very well, but it's painful to watch her character's unchanging and unappealing arc over so many episodes. Her disclosure to Clarice that she had a mental breakdown years after her brother's death from a car crash wasn't all that interesting or perhaps it just wasn't presented well. It felt extreme and a bit surprising, to be sure, but this was ruined by a hunch that it was also contrived for melodramatic effect. Time will tell whether this back story will be given due attention and will show respect for the details of such a psychological condition; I really hope Amanda's past and present mental state will be carefully explored to ground things realistically. There's a danger of this development coming off as a convenient means of having her relapse now due to Zoe's death without explaining exactly why – beyond the fact that Daniel isn't around as much as he should be to comfort her. It would show contempt for the viewers to do so.
From the pilot this far into the series, Amanda's mourning could have been as deep and innovative a meditation on death and loss as the first couple of seasons of "Six Feet Under." Yet the show hasn't really dealt with the loss of a loved one very well, either. While there are occasionally remarkable moments that make her pain relatable, most of the grieving feels like the formula I've seen before on other TV shows and movies.
I particularly hated the scenes of Clarice and Amanda partaking in drugs. Maybe that makes me seem conservative, but I find this plot device both cliché and a cheap and false way to make Amanda seem cool, as she recalls having done this before. It's disgusting. There's nothing down to earth about taking drugs, and it often impedes – rather than helps – emotional growth from tragedy. I would be more sympathetic for Amanda's weakness here, if it weren't framed by the writers as no big deal – as though she were simply relaxing and that this were an acceptable coping mechanism. It's sad that, for all this program's failure to comment on controversial political issues with real moral ambiguity, it has had no trouble taking a one-sided approach on drug usage.
It was nice to see Clarice and Zoe both express ruthlessness about using Amanda and Philomon, respectively – that they were leading on their targets without regard to the consequences to them. Still, it's obvious that they'll come to care about them and develop emotional attachments. It's all happening within the scope of a very predictable dialectic. Indeed, since the pilot, this is a drama that, unlike Battlestar Galactica, doesn't really take chances to break new ground in storytelling.
Some critics have said that the show's problem is one of slow pacing; executive producer David Eick and some of the actors have implied as much by hinting that the second half of the season picks up the pace and is when the program finds itself. Yet the problem is more complex than that. There were many instances, during Battlestar Galactica's third and especially fourth seasons, when I wished that the pace of events were slowed down to allow for more texture and exploration of a given character's emotional place. In Caprica's case, it's the reverse. There is a lot of texture, but it feels empty because it's mostly focused on food and characters' movements and gestures (despite the fact that watching Daniel Graystone dice fruits is a pleasure). None of this slowed pace results in improving the dialogue, which often doesn't feel realistic or engaging enough. The slower pace hasn't allowed for the insertion of more dramatic diversity or for elaboration on interesting ideas. Instead, it has led to the same types of dramatic points being made over and over about our characters. Again and again we see Joseph seeking Tamara, wanting to believe she's alive; we hear Amanda repeatedly mourn over Zoe's loss and the insensitivity of the GDD; we observe Daniel, Xander, and Philomon continually ponder why the seeming functionality of the processor isn't transferable to other cylon bodies; we see Lacey beg to move a package to Gemenon in far too many scenes; we glimpse Sister Clarice struggle with the other STO members to trust in her mission and, even though it's only been 2 episodes now, attempt to bond with Amanda over Zoe's death in ways that never feel fresh; and we witness Zoe engage far too often in silly or flirtatious moments meant to bring the viewer levity. The show's mistaken approach has been to constantly drive home to viewers the same dramatic points far too frequently, and it has been tedious specifically because these points weren't very original or interesting in the first place.
I'm saddened that much of the season's budget was wasted on special effects to give life to shockingly perfunctory V-World scenes. These included the flight simulator Zoe and Philomon played as well as the game "New Cap City," into which Joseph Adama and the teenager sent by Tamara ventured. They were the most boring of all the episode's scenes because the story's emphasis was on superficial effects that barely drove home any of the drama or were simply used to heighten already very weak story elements. Watching Zoe and Philomon engage in romantic foreplay was as dull as can be expected; I was rarely a fan of action sequences on Battlestar Galactica unless they involved a major battle. Needless to say, there was no risk to Zoe when her plane was crashing, so why should anyone care? When I saw the two on a deserted island together, I knew they'd kiss. Somewhere in head writer Jane Espenson's office is a box containing formulaic plot devices scribbled on jumbled pieces of paper. Since these two's relationship was predictably heading in this direction for several episodes, I knew it was only a matter of time before this well-worn chestnut made its appearance.
There was at least some decent dialogue on the island. Writer Mathew Roberts, perhaps with Jane Espenson's help, did a great job of making the two's technological discussions comprehensible to the audience while sounding plausible. I enjoyed Zoe demonstrating her intelligence by suggesting ways to improve the flight simulator's background design by mathematically programming it to generate infinite variations of trees to appear more real. I also appreciated how her advice on improving the cylon's development gave Philomon a eureka moment. He, in turn, figured out that maybe the trouble Graystone Industries had encountered in replicating the microprocessor chip for other cylon bodies might have to do with the chip's physical structure, and not its digital content. However, the goofy tone in which she eagerly insisted that the solution was to let the cylon out in public (which would allow her to escape to Gemenon) felt like something out of Buffy and such influences are unwelcome.
In New Cap City, I suppose it was a bit thrilling seeing Joseph and the teen dodge being shot – which is to say, infinitely preferable to the blandness of Zoe and Philomon's date – but that was pretty much all that intrigued me, and just barely. The tension in Joseph's plot was constantly about not dying in the game. This is a misuse of such a fine actor. I didn't appreciate the Buffy-like attempt at humor when Joseph's request about whether they could fly in the game was met with the teen's false instructions; it was obvious that he was mocking Joseph 10 seconds before the joke was over. I was somewhat fond of how the teen sold Joseph on New Cap City's perks by telling him that one didn't need Viagra to have lots of sex there. Yet, similarly, it seemed out of context for a father to be amused while desperately searching for his lost daughter. The last minutes of this subplot presented themselves in a way that hinted at some surprise in store, but it was just some young woman stalking Joseph and offering to aid in his search for Tamara in exchange for money. Big deal. Moreover, having the teen killed in the game and unable to help Joseph any longer – and probably having him exit the show – was a waste of the actor who played him since he was far more talented than the guy who acts as Keon.
Speaking of our least interesting subplot, watching Keon and Lacey chilling out on some swings was another cliché. I would be far more stressed out than either character let on. This was another holdover from Joss Whedon's creative approach to Buffy, in which Espenson participated. He attempted to draw parallels between the concerns of regular, stereotypical teens and those of fantastical fictional characters facing life or death situations. The trouble was that this metaphorical storytelling always felt contrived on Buffy – like Joss and company were trying just a little too hard to make fantasy elements relatable to viewers by forcing them to fit the tone of high school melodrama. This overly metaphorical conception of how to construct a drama so that the audience can relate to it in the broadest sense is hurting Caprica just as much. The world that Ronald D. Moore set up in his pilot was exciting and realistically relatable because its characters could serve as means to seriously and innovatively examine the very real trends of terrorism and other pressing issues that face us. The natural path for the show – from which Espenson deviated – was to illustrate, among other themes, what could drive lost youth toward various political (perhaps even fundamentalist) beliefs and even toward violence to achieve those ends. Even the phenomenon of "going Columbine," which I think is very much emotionally connected to terrorism in terms of its subjects reacting to feeling betrayed by the world, could be probed in this way. Yet, do either of these characters – young and in love in the schoolyard – feel like portrayals of members of a religious cult? Do they even feel consistent emotionally with the characters established in the pilot? Do they bring viewers one step closer to understanding the minds of such people or even the real issues confronting our world, which the mainstream media constantly frames in the most destructively simplistic and nationalistic terms? No. That's not simply a creative failure on Jane Espenson's part, but a moral one, too, given that this show naturally lent itself to something more than formulaic teen drama in a science fiction setting.
The only moderately engaging scenes in the episode involved watching the great performances of John Piper-Ferguson as Tomas Virgis, Eric Stoltz as Daniel Graystone, and Hiro Kanagawa as Cyrus Xander. Kudos to Stoltz for insisting that Kanagawa be given prominence, according to the pilot DVD audio commentary. It was slightly exciting to hear Virgis explain that the stolen chip never worked, which led Daniel and Cyrus to puzzle over how they seemed to have enabled the cylon to work. This makes me wonder whether this chip was ever necessary to input Avatar Zoe into the cylon. Was the entire theft and the ensuing collateral damage all for nothing? Virgis' revelation led to a few scenes in which Daniel tried to make sense out of why the cylon was working. I enjoyed the way he woke Philomon from the V-World by playing the piano in his lab. In a later scene, I even liked the way cylon Zoe sought to distract the dog, which sensed something odd about her and started barking, from attracting Daniel's attention to her by kicking its ball away. However, I don't buy that the dog could detect anything unusual about the cylon, including that Zoe was inside it; there was no emanating odor or any other signs, and the dog had no reason to expect that it was anything other than a robot. Indeed, the dog's sixth sense detecting Zoe felt preposterous – like it was thrown in as another cliché, based on numerous other fictional works, in which the dog intuits something that he then tries to tell his human master.
The episode ended with Daniel realizing that Zoe may indeed be in the robot. The fact that it took this long for such a minor revelation is upsetting because these actors deserve far superior material with which to work. Similarly, Daniel angrily yelling at Cyrus that he would not sell his professional sports league to Virgis to fund the manufacture of the cylons seemed like it was meant to be more climactic than it actually was. Depressingly, that's how much of the drama has played out in the post-pilot series, with the exception of the episode "There Is Another Sky." Hopefully, Michael Taylor's next two episodes can rescue this show from the disastrous depths to which it has sunk.
6.7 out of 10
(I should emphasize that only the rarest of shows get 10 -- only the absolute best episodes of The X-Files ("Talitha Cumi", "Paper Hearts", "Redux II", etc.), Battlestar Galactica ("Pegasus","Lay Down Your Burdens", "Occupation"/"Precipice") and Deep Space Nine ("In the Pale Moonlight"). I would give the best story of The 4400 to date, "Terrible Swift Sword"/"Fifty Fifty," around 9.0, and I really loved that.)