NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Rebirth”

Three faces of one thing. Sort of.

Air Date: 29/01/10

Director: Jonas Pate

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Synopsis: Zoe-A struggles with her new physical body as Daniel tries to understand why the model’s abilities can’t be replicated. Amanda comes to realise there was a lot about her daughter that she didn’t know. Clarice introduces Lacy to her unfamiliar home life.

Review

“Rebirth” is a bit of an iffy continuation for Caprica, after the more than solid opening of “Pilot”. Looking back after my viewing, I think it comes down to a certain disjointed feel: there are six separate character-centric plots going on in this episode, with none of them out-and-out in the ascendency. Without an over-riding focus to drive the narrative, “Rebirth” instead comes off like a hodge-podge, an episode of sub-plots that might have been better served being split up among other episodes.

For no other reason than it ends the episode, let’s look at Amanda Graystone first. She was short-changed in “Pilot” but has a stronger showing here, as the grieving mother beginning an investigation into all of the things she didn’t know about her daughter. Daniel’s reaction to discovering that Zoe was a programming genius was fascination and then appropriation, but Amanda’s reaction to the secret life of her daughter is to first deny, and then to flame out. One must have sympathy for her: any mother struggles with the concept of their daughter growing up into a young woman who will have their own ideas, own way of thinking and suddenly be an object of romance and sexual attraction, but to combine this with a grieving process is just too much for anyone. When Amanda watches back the old videos of Zoe, she’s not just mourning what she has lost, but trying to discover just what it was that she lost.

The end result of this is her breakdown at the memorial ceremony, where the understandable guilt and self-flagellation that comes with such grief goes into overdrive, and Amanda essentially outs her daughter as a terrorist in front of her apparent victims. While this happens a little suddenly, I thought that “Rebirth” did just enough to build up to it, with the final confirmation of her relationship with Ben the last straw. In openly declaring her daughter a terrorist and a murderer in front of the victims families, Amanda seems to be looking for the kind of punishment she can no longer get from Zoe. That sort of self-destruction will be interesting to see parsed out as we go forward.

It’s Daniel who gets a little short-changed in this episode, though we do learn a few important things about him. In the aftermath of “Pilot” he has decisively replaced grieving with work, taking the Zoe-A Centurion home and initially refusing to go to the memorial for the bombing victims. It’s a very slow march to acceptance for him, and even when he deigns to go to the memorial, it’s clear that he doesn’t really want to be there, balking at the idea of his wife actually talking to other people. He’s a cold, distant figure for the most part, one far more at home amid lines of code than in a family house, even if in that bedroom scene with his wife we do see glimpses of a sense of humour that the character really needs to showcase if we are to think better of him.

Perhaps more interesting is our look at Clarice and Lacy, with the former perhaps, or perhaps not, engaged in an elaborate bit of physical and ideological seduction of the latter. From the outset it certainly seems like a sexually tinged recruitment pitch, in presenting Lacy with a bare-chested young man to flirt with her, before a family dinner that is alien to her own upbringing, all within the exotic confines of a polyamorous marriage containing what looks like half-a-dozen people. But when called out on this by some of her spouses Clarice is depicted as genuinely fraught, to the point of losing herself in drugs for a little while. I’m happy enough to be patient with this sub-plot and the way it is slowly drawing a picture of Clarice, that seems to have the potential to be more complicated than that which we saw in “Pilot”: “Rebirth” leans in a bit on some titillation with her and the monotheistic movement, but there is some solid character work being done at the same time.

Over on the other side of things, the newly re-christened Joseph Adama is having his own struggles. In a really desperate sign of his mental state, he goes to collect his deceased daughter from her school, and later appears to be hallucinating her (in a manner that will have long-term BSG fans raising their eyebrows). Unable to deal with Tamara’s passing with the reality that a version of her still exists, Joseph can’t undertake the healing that he needs to undertake. The family unit suffers as a consequence: he’s distant with his son, his mother’s efforts to bring Tauron culture into their home are rebuffed and Joseph is left feeling as if things are irrevocably broken. In such circumstances it is perfectly natural that he would start clutching at straws, hence why he attempts to make some kind of reconciliation with Daniel. It’s a dangerous path to walk down, and one can’t help but think in creating Tamara-A and essentially leaving her locked inside a void, Daniel has contrived an exquisite form of emotional control over Joseph, even if this was not his intention.

Young Willy Adama also gets his first bit of individual attention plot-wise, as he gets taken under the temporary wing of his criminal uncle. A young teenage boy acting out in the aftermath of a loss is a more-than-expected plot point, but I think that “Rebirth” does a decent job in tying this into a certain quest for identity in Willy. He has no time for Tauron food, but certainly seems to have time for other aspects of Tauron culture and society, seeming impressed with how his uncle lives and deals with his problems. It gets him arrested on this occasion, but that kind of shared experience, and the imparted wisdom on how to handle it, seems fairly intoxicating. With the family dynamic at home cut to ribbons and his father stand-offish in response, it seems likely we will be seeing more of Willy taking steps into the ha’la’tha. This is nothing we haven’t seen in a million mafia narratives down the years, not least Goodfellas – we can almost imagine a future scene where Willy’s grandmother admonishes him for looking like a gangster – but I’m interested to see where this canon will go with it. So far it teaches Willy that he can manipulate people, as he does with his father at the conclusion.

The last sub-plot of consequence is that involving Zoe-A of course, though there really isn’t too much in the way of progression if I am being honest. She’s getting used to her new physical body and what it can do, which comes out in a number of well-put together horror-scenes as she is man-handled by unsuspecting lab staff. But that’s just window dressing really, and I was far more interested in the way that Zoe-A reacts to being dubbed “male” by the same people, and of how she perceives her physical body as looking male. That this is a source of some pain to her is clear enough, and speaks to her sense of self as Zoe, and not just a sexless computer programme stuffed into a robot body. Late on Lacy attempts to put some very religious sounding terminology in play for Zoe-A, in what was a bit of a clumsy insert, which for me took away what could have been a more fascinating discussion into perceptions of gender in such circumstances.

“Rebirth” jumps between these six plot-lines from minute-to-minute, and in never settling on one to be a main focus does itself something of a disservice. The result is that all six feel under-baked, when pushing a couple of them back to another episode may have allowed the remainder the necessary breathing room. I can put it no better than to say that “Rebirth” feels almost like a clip-show of B plots waiting for A plots to be attached to: it doesn’t flow properly, has little urgency, and I suspect if I look back kindly it may be because it filled in some gaps ahead of better episodes to come.

I just feel awful, and angry, and numb.

Notes

-Pate previously directed “Colonial Day” and will be back on Caprica again later.

-For some reason the “Previously On” section continues name plates for characters, which just seems unnecessary to me.

-“Rebirth” begins with what I will call “Zoevision”, as she sees this kaleidoscope of the present and memory through a digital red haze.

-Within the fandom, “Zoe-A” is used to describe the digital Zoe, while “Zoe-R” is the robot version. Going forward I might just go with “Zoe-A”.

-I do really like the choice to go from showing Zoe-A as her robotic and “human” form in the real-world. It adds to the weirdness of the tone, and the feeling of blurred lines between the technological and the biological.

-It’s just a bit much for the designated bad laboratory mook to refer to the Centurion as “just a tool”. His disdain for the machine doesn’t really make much sense.

-“Rebirth” is the first episode with a main title sequence, which is stylistic in the extreme. I’ve always struggled with it: the shot of Joseph praying over a gravestone just marked “Adama” with a glazed look on his face always looks ridiculous to me, though the section with a seductive Clarice and Lazy works better.

-Don’t really have a high regard for the stadium CGI that we see early on, looks very “PS2 Pre-Render” to me.

-Caprica has a national anthem it seems, that mostly involves the repeated lyric of “So say we all”. It’s no “Colonial Anthem”.

-We don’t really get a good glimpse at whatever it is that Joseph’s mother is trying to get her son and grandson to eat, but I assume it is some kind of organ meat.

-A “doron” is a unit of measurement in the Colonial world.

-Amanda watches home movies on a screen covering the windows of her home, and with the bars you can’t really say that it is the best viewing experience

-Zoe-A’s frantic escape attempt from the lorry briefly turns “Rebirth” into a horror episode, and again the Frankenstein allusions are pretty obvious.

-And the horror really is emphasised when one of the mooks comes at Zoe A’s face with a drill. Is Zoe-A capable of feeling pain in this body? You can’t really see how.

-Nestor is played by Scott Porter, whom I know best as Jason from the excellent Friday Night Lights. Presumably there is a connection with the two directors thus far in his casting.

-Lacy indicates that these kinds of group marriages are not unknown in Colonial society, and it does tie into the free love aspects of Baltar’s Cult. Strange it never came up before then though, if it is accepted practise.

-Sam appears to be an out homosexual, with the casualness of this reality contrasted sharply with how he is treated as a Tauron: Caprican society has no problem with sexual orientation it seems, but birthplace still counts for a lot.

-Clarice’s spouses mention her “track record” as they air their concerns about what she is doing with Lacy. Is this an indication that she had unethically seduced others, maybe people too young, into this lifestyle before?

-Sam really does just carry out some very casual mafia activity right in public view and with his nephew. The idea is presumably that the “ha’la’tha” has the power to operate as such, but I think it looks a little silly.

-Sam advises his nephew that if they “give in on the little things, they miss the big things”. Some early lessons on subterfuge for the future Admiral Adama.

-Daniel sums up his approach to grief by admitting to his wife that “I don’t want to think about her”. Even two episodes in we can see that a denial of pain goes hand-in-hand with the other denials of Daniel’s life.

-I do like that he can share a joke with Amanda at the end of this conversation though, suggesting they go to the memorial so their butler-robot can have some time alone with another machine. He’s not all cold science.

-Like the performance of young Willy avoiding eye contact with his unhappy father. It’s very relatable.

-Clarice ask for “two crumbs of coke”, indicating that cocaine is a legal intoxicant in Caprica.

-A sudden comedy moment, or so I saw it, as Zoe-A sits on her bed and it promptly collapses under the weight.

-“Do I look male to you?” Zoe-A asks Lacy. It feels like a strange thing to be worried about in the circumstances, but of course this Zoe will have a very understandable fixation on identity.

-Lacy declaration that Zoe-A is a “trinity” is fairly weighty as a descriptor, if a bit blunt. She means it to reflect how she is human, code and robot all at once, but we are presumably meant to infer a nod to the idea of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit of Christianity.

-A very awkward hug between Lacy and the Centurion occurs, which honestly had me considering it a comedy moment first and foremost.

-The memorial set-up seems a little off to me if I am being honest. This sort of open mike night approach doesn’t seem very realistic.

-We really don’t need the flashbacks to “Pilot” that crop up as Amanda realises that Zoe was involved with the STO. Caprica is already exhibiting serious issues with trusting its audiences’ attention span.

-Joseph outlines what seems to be an awful fate for Tamara-A, caught between dead or alive and left alone in some dark digital environment. It’s positively Black Mirror-esque.

-It’s very pointed you feel, Amanda’s comments on how mothers “create life”. She still doesn’t know that her daughter essentially did that too.

-“My daughter was a terrorist!” I think I can forgive the bombast of this because it’s coming from a woman who is just fundamentally not OK, but it still rankles a bit.

Overall Verdict: “Rebirth” demonstrates an unfortunate inability to pick a main plot and stick with it for the required time. I wouldn’t say that any of the six strands that it showcases are bad by any means, but they are unfortunately diluted in being stuffed together. After a strong start, Caprica seems to just be shuffling along with “Rebirth”, but there is hopefully better to come.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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5 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Rebirth”

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