Actor Eric Stoltz, as director of this episode, refreshes the program's visual style with unusual dynamism and constant camera movement. He uses these beautiful montages over which conversation of an upcoming scene has already begun, which provides a nice sense of mystery as to whom a person is speaking. I love the choice of holding the camera's perspective at unusual points such as the door entrance when Joseph (Esai Morales) and Sam Adams (Sasha Roiz) arrived at and entered the Graystone home, or from the back of a departing Sister Clarice's gown aimed toward Mother. I hope he directs again.
Congratulations to all involved in the episode's writing, including official writer Ryan Motteshead, new show runner Kevin Murphy, and likely hidden hands rewriting the script to ensure improved storytelling. This was the first episode since the pilot to feature no bad dialogue and that's quite an accomplishment, even if certain subplots revolving around Lacey (Magda Apanowicz), Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), and Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcolmson) still leave much to be desired.
What I appreciate most is Sister Clarice (Polly Walker) returning to her terrorist leanings hinted upon in the pilot and unfortunately forgotten in the episodes since. Prior to this episode, the pilot featured her most exciting and thought-provoking moment; in it, she tells Lacey that she regrets Ben's act of terrorism, but hints that she agrees with employing terrorism in general to further the goals of the Soldiers of the One (STO), of which she reveals she is a member; a deleted scene even suggested that she was, in fact, close to Ben and, therefore, perhaps influenced his actions. In subsequent episodes, she came across as a religious zealot – but one who found terrorism distasteful, as she bemoaned other STO cells for taking things too far. This, in turn, limited her moral ambiguity, as she spent most of her time scheming or, worst of all, engaging in drug binges.
Now, her character seems to have left that kind of dull behavior behind. I'm happy to watch her really delve into her political and religious goals within the STO and what turns out to be a larger religious order based on Geminon. The teaser illustrates that she intends to carry out a massive terrorist attack to further her zealous aims; I'm baffled by the ramifications of her plans to kill off everyone and only grant believers in the One True God virtual afterlives as avatars; if everyone is dead, would a few million, at best, monotheists suffice to operate and provide endless energy to run such a virtual world? In any case, she expresses to Diego (Ryan Robbins) her disgust with the compromises that the Church seems to be conceding to polytheistic faiths on the planet and among the larger colonial system. She comes off as quite the extremist – and certainly ready to aggressively pursue her goals, rather than settle for the peace the Church is trying to consolidate. Of all the developments in this installment, I'm most thrilled about this for the humanizing exploration of the terrorist mentality it affords.
Discussing the nature and causes of terrorism truthfully through "Caprica" is essential not only for quality drama, but to serve a humanitarian mission of creating understanding. It is only by truly comprehending what drives terrorists – whether Osama bin Laden or David Koresh, as James Marsters rightly stated at a convention this summer, or, to echo more current media headlines, Joseph Stack, III, who flew his plane into an IRS building and was humanized by rightist politicians, or Faisal Shazad, who did not receive the same treatment because he was Muslim – that we can stop them. Most fiction paints terrorists as caricatures and most of the mainstream media only focuses on foreigners who defy American nationalist goals. Yet terrorism is a tactic that is just as morally ambiguous as state tools of bringing overwhelming force to execute war and oppression via unjust laws. The new "Battlestar Galactica" was one of the very few shows to ever examine the issue honestly and, as its successor, "Caprica" is the only show capable of doing so now. This is why it's so important to me that "Caprica" return to the serious examination of terrorism begun in Ronald D. Moore's pilot and whose depth had been ignored until now.
I appreciated the portrayal of Church leaders as arrogant and manipulative of the STO as well as the bit of back-story that explains the relationship between the two institutions. Mother (Meg Tilly), the papal-like head of the religious order, was interestingly cast. One might expect someone dramatically showy, but the actress' restraint and unimpressive appearance is unusually realistic. However, I'm unsure if her understated tone is as captivating as it could be, and I was confused as to how to interpret Mother's behavior – whether it was to be taken as mysteriously ambivalent as it appeared, or whether there was some failure on my part as a viewer or on Ms. Tilly's part as an actress. More specifically, I'm puzzled by whether Mother wanted Obal killed and conspired against him or simply lost in her bid to eliminate Clarice and, by the end, was conceding to the latter a share of power in granting her control of Caprican STO cells. In connection, I wondered if Mother was the one perched on the balcony, watching Obal be murdered? If so, was her horrified look supposed to imply that she was caught off guard by the clergy and STO's betrayal or simply reacting emotionally in guilt-ridden disgust to the murder she had ordered of her close associate?
After writing down my thoughts on Tilly's performance, I searched imdb.com for the actress' profile and discovered she had acted with Mr. Stoltz. So, she's not some cheaply hired day-player, and was surely selected for her talents at his recommendation. Consequently, I must snobbishly conclude that my confusion over the intent of her performance was likely my fault.
Regardless, not all day-players are bad. I'm glad that Canadian actor Winston Rekert, whom I watched years ago on a Canadian show called "Neon Rider" was cast as Obal Ferras; he also portrayed a priest who swore in Baltar as President on "Battlestar Galactica." My one regret is that he didn't have a longer guest-starring role. Yet a lesser actor – and Caprica has had plenty – would have lent this important role inadequate gravitas and believability for the task at hand. Nevertheless, the series needs to hire more guest actors of his caliber instead of those like Liam Sproule (Keon Gatwick) and Avan Jogia (Ben Stark) or miscasting actors – as producers did Luciana Carro for the role of Priyah Magnus, when it should have gone to someone at least in her 40s to convey the necessary professional experience.
What made Obal so fascinating was that he embodied the Church's moral ambiguity. He expressed both an inappropriate condescension toward the STO as well as a rational and spiritual humility about the nature of God. Both attitudes help define for viewers the STO by explaining the context surrounding its existence, including its history in defending a dependent Church during what Clarice termed "the lean years." Other similarly well-told information provided what had been missing in communicating precisely to viewers the stakes within the STO and for Clarice herself. Before this episode, the lack of definition in these areas weakened the drama surrounding them.
In a way, I found persuasive Clarice's argument that artificial heaven, over which the Church would have control, would eliminate the need for faith. Yet, I agreed with Obal's derision of Clarice's designs for artificial heaven as "tacky." Both he and Mother considered the proposal as sidestepping God's will, rather than serving it. They preferred to allow faith in the mystery of God, whose will for human kind is said to play out in the real world. In this sense, Clarice's aims to remove from all humanity the possibility of living real lives, let alone knowing God, is frightening. Moreover, I appreciated Obal's psychological analysis of Clarice, whose ambition and devotion verges on egocentric self-promotion. "Do you want to serve God or be God," he pointed asked Clarice. These seemingly conflicting personality traits can be attributed to any activist, revolutionary, or political leader, including, of course, both those who govern us and those who would lead us in opposition.
Another welcome addition is Canadian Ryan Robbins, playing a convincing STO member in Diego. He is won over by Clarice both on an ideological and religious level – believing her fundamentalist proclamations as God's will – and on a more basic, sexual level. Indeed, I rather liked the awkward creepiness of the two admitting no contradiction between professing supposedly high-minded ideals and giving into temptation. Yet Obal and Diego's disparate reactions beg the question of what makes one person listen to Clarice and hear the word of God and another hear someone with delusions of grandeur.
One major flaw in the Clarice plot is that the outcome of the threat over her life wasn't truly shocking, since Diego seemed biased toward her. Additionally, it was unclear as to why a clergyman such as Obal would have the STO, rather than one of his ilk, carry out the assassination of Clarice. Although, perhaps those robed figures taking turns at stabbing Obal after Diego's initial blow were fellow clergy.
I liked Daniel having to negotiate to have a greater role in any potential takeover by the Ha'la'tha (a Tauron mafia) of Graystone Industries. Sam and Joseph acknowledge as justified Daniel's fear that the Ha'la'tha normally does business not by treating someone like him as an equal, but by exploiting that person and his company to obtain immediate financial gain. Consequently, Daniel seeks an agreement with the Guatrau, the head of the Ha'la'tha, that allows him to be a full partner, free to make decisions. Despite realizing the high price such an arrangement may bring, he feels he has no other option if he is to regain control over his life.
I loved Cyrus Xander's (Hiro Kanagawa) emotional arc in this story. Despite putting on airs to the contrary in front of Tomas Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson), he demonstrates loyalty to Daniel in leaking information about Vergis' actions as well as saving the damaged cylon carcass Daniel had created. It was great to see Daniel react with disappointment that Cyrus seemed satisfied with the less ambitious pursuit of Vergis' success in using Graystone Industries to mass produce less sentient cylons. I liked how Cyrus tried to defend his contentment by telling his former boss, "You never let me in, Daniel," hinting that their relationship working together hadn't been as ideal as Daniel chooses to recall it. Mr. Kanagawa is another local Canadian actor who does great work and I'm thankful Stoltz pushed for him to have a larger role in the series.
For his part, Joseph Adams has taken some unforeseen changes in course. It was quite startling to find that, however difficultly, he had moved past Tamara's death and stopped searching for her avatar. It is also shocking that, rather than extricating himself from his brother's nefarious world, he is channeling his ambitions toward being promoted within the Ha'la'tha. In response to Daniel's demands for full control over Graystone Industries, Joseph emphasizes that such a deal brings with it a level of involvement and indebtedness to the mafia, including a need to sacrifice loved ones, that is likely too much for him. Still, I'm not sure I believe Joseph Adams' implication that any Ha'la'tha member would sacrifice a family member to serve this criminal organization; it seems a bit much. Nevertheless, the palpable dislike Joseph has for Daniel makes their fraught relationship unpredictable and that much more exciting.
As an aside, it was nice to see Sam Adams' light-hearted remarks made in pride at his younger brother's potential promotion within the mafia and at Daniel Graystone's robot butler, Serge. ("Will you look at this guy? Hey, little man.")
The least enjoyable subplot was of Zoe battling thugs in New Cap City; it didn't astonish me that she eliminated them from the game. However, it was somewhat remarkable to find out that Tamara had sent them to do the same to her. One wonders why Tamara would do that, since she'd probably remember Zoe helping her in the first place. The only fascinating aspect of the fight scene was the unusually calm music. Composer Bear McCreary writes on his blog that Stoltz wisely sought the more intriguing texture of piano music, rather than the predictable pounding taiko drums that he rightly felt would add no tension to the scene.
Another less than captivating scene displayed Lacy's reluctant membership in the STO. She castigates Keon for defending her momentary apathy when challenged by Barnabus Greeley (James Marsters), demonstrating a welcome end to their burgeoning romance. She then proceeds to defiantly demonstrate her loyalty to Barnabus by bleeding herself as part of a ritual about which she obviously cares little. In this sense, she goes through the motions of showing devotion, but her heart isn't in it. I suppose it was meant to show how resentful she was of her situation, perhaps feeling trapped, but the scene held little dramatic interest. Besides, it was upsetting for being a waste of James Marsters' abilities.
Last of the subpar subplots involved the revelation that Amanda was still alive. Now, in some reclusive cabin in the woods that ends up belonging to Sister Clarice, it's fair to assume that she's the unwitting victim of Clarice's pretense to care for her, while actually exploiting her pain and feeble condition to obtain, through her, Zoe's avatar program. Yet this subplot was poorly written in prior episodes and I hope it will improve and take on a more engaging dialectic than manipulator/victim; as I I've written before, I hope for a bigger surprise than simply having Clarice end up sympathizing with Amanda. I do wonder how Amanda was fished her out of the river in time to survive. Though maybe it's best that the melodramatic moments of the previous episode are glossed over, as we move ahead to what are said to be, and what I have faith will prove to be, superior episodes.
8.8 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.)