NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Unvanquished”

Imagine a world in which death has been conquered.

Air Date: 5/10/2010

Director: Eric Stoltz

Writer: Ryan Mottesheard

Synopsis: After losing his company to Tomas Vergis, Daniel attempts to craft an alliance with the ha’la’tha to get it back. Clarice attempts to convince the Conclave to back her vision of a virtual heaven.


We start off the second half of Caprica with a good old fashioned “X Weeks Later” story, with plenty left unresolved after the cliff-hanger ending of “End Of Line”. It’s a bit of a cliché to do that I suppose, but Caprica has had issues with narrative momentum before this, so a time jump isn’t actually the worst idea. It gives the show the opportunity to advance several important sub-plots in a way I would have thought it would waste a few episodes on otherwise, and pitch the viewer into some slightly changed circumstances. Of course the other side of the coin is that some sub-plots essentially undergo a soft reboot of sorts, at least within this episode, so it’s fair to say that “Unvanquished” is a bit of a mixed bag.

The main focus for “Unvanquished” is a dishevelled Daniel, not unlike Joseph in previous episodes, whose life seems to have further fallen apart since “End Of Line”. He has lost his company, has become something of a wreck at home and Amanda is “gone”. The unstated fate of Amanda helps to keep “Unvanquished” ticking over, but it’s never really easy to credit the idea that she is actually dead, especially when no one is able to come out and say so when they have the opportunity to. Instead I approached “Unvanquished” from the perspective of Daniel just being left alone – no company, no daughter, no wife – and needing to start battling back. This is not a guy who is liable to just lay down and give up.

The Centurion idea is toast, at least for the moment, so his next big pitch is on the possibility of monetising a fight against grief, an amazing concept. His pitch to the head of the ha’la’tha – a very different environment to the boardroom we saw in “There Is Another Sky” – is another impressive piece of theatre, but it all belies how desperate Daniel has become. Going to the ha’la’tha in “Pilot” was one thing, that was intended to be one and done. This is a more substantial partnership. And it’s one that Daniel is not fully prepared for, as he fails the ha’la’tha test that is presented to him, in terms of the kind of nerve he has and what he is willing to sacrifice.

That test is a bit silly in its drama, not unlike that which Daniel presented to the Centurion in “Ghosts In The Machine”, but it does show us some more interesting things about Daniel. He appears to have his limits in terms of the lines that he is willing to cross, but that sentiment itself only goes so far. In his talk with Cyrus, when it becomes clear that Vergis is going to throw away the Centurion and essentially negate all of Daniel’s work, then suddenly those same lines don’t seem so absolute anymore. We’ve seen this kind of slipshod moral compass before: we might recall the praise that Amanda heaped on her husband in “There Is Another Sky” before we saw Daniel consciously torturing Zoe-A a few episodes later. At this stage I think that Daniel is a man good at putting on the front of being morally righteous, but one who is all too easily convinced to give in to baser instincts when it is convenient to do so. And it still seems primarily about his own personal enrichment: getting his still breathing wife back is only a secondary objective.

On the other side of the ha’la’tha table is Joseph. When talking about soft reboots it was this character that I had in mind, with the effects of the holoband addiction that were so acute in “End Of Line” not to be seen here. Not just that, but Adama is suddenly taking steps to increase his position within the ha’la’tha, a marked change from some of his previous positions on the organisation. I found all of this a bit odd: it isn’t that the V-World subplot has been dropped exactly, Joseph is asked to basically outline what it is that Daniel is proposing and draws on that experience in doing so, but we’ve moved from point A to B in an instant and neither looks very much like the other. Joseph as a gangster rising in the ranks will be a very different story for Caprica to tell, and it tells that kind of story well enough in “Unvanquished”. As long as Caprica settles on a role for Joseph going forward, and doesn’t just bounce him back into the search for Tamara-A, it’ll be fine, but I have my doubts.

The other big part of the episode, maybe the biggest really, is for Clarice and her efforts to basically take over the STO. She starts off using words to try and get what she wants, pitching the Conclave the idea of a virtual heaven as an answer to the normal doubts of the religious and a way to make manifest what the monotheistic faith offers. That she does this through a simulated bombing of a pyramid stadium makes clear that while she is willing to play nice to an extent, the larger threat has not diminished. This follows through in the rest of the episode, where Clarice showcases a canny ability to play by the rules and go through the right channels, even while she makes sure that she has a very sharp knife ready to go if that fails. Even her proffered paradise has that dark side, a place where the unworthy are not to be welcomed, and where the person designing the system – presumably her – will have a Godlike power over its denizens. Other members of this faith see that truth becoming manifest, and end up silenced.

We get an interesting glimpse of the STO/Church of the One in “Unvanquished”, the two entities portrayed as intrinsically tied, yet nominally separate. It was hard not to think of an IRA/Sinn Fein style arrangement, where the political side of things has at least partial plausible deniability of what the militant side is doing. Clarice can’t get what she wants without handling both sides of the equation, hence her soft coup against her opponents in the religious side that automatically puts her into a position of power on the military side. I hope we get a chance to spend more time with the Diego character, a kingmaker who seems to be a true believer in the Clarice model of how the STO should operate in future. And, still, there is Clarice’s efforts to wrap a vulnerable Amanda around her little finger. In essence, we get a showcase here of Clarice as a woman with a lot of spinning plates she is trying to keep steady, with every scheme interesting in its own right. This part of “Unvanquished” was a great success in my view, showcasing a well-told self-contained story about Clarice’s sudden takeover of things within the show’s monotheism, and a promise of more interesting stuff still to come.

“Unvanquished” is a fairly focused episode, Caprica leaning into the idea that less is more when it comes to its many sub-plots albeit some of those – like anything to do with Willy Adama, last seen in “There Is Another Sky” – seem to have been dropped entirely. There is room for some small attention to two others. The first is Lacy, who in the weeks between “End Of Line” and now seems to have become a more permanent fixture in Barnabas’ cell, though without an enormous amount of enthusiasm. Her ignoring of Barnabas’ ritualistic musings and her nonchalant effort to keep onside by slicing her own hand open speak to a woman who is all-in on this membership of the STO, but certainly not all in on Barnabas himself. When the war comes Lacy is presumably going to be on the side of Clarice, and this fifth columnist in the Barnabas faction promises some interesting drama to come. It’s only one scene, but this is one brief check-in I can get behind.

Last but not least is the fate of Zoe-A. Of course there was always going to be the option of an escape to the virtual world, one where Zoe-A would actually have a lot of options that she doesn’t have in the real one. Not least the freaky powers she is able to exhibit, that mark her out as a “dead walker” similar to Tamara-A. “Unvanquished” has time for only one scene regarding Zoe-A at the conclusion and it is an awkward affair, a take on The Matrix done on a shoestring, and very different from anything else we have seen in New Cap City. But it is a step in another interesting direction as we ponder the question as to whether Zoe-A is going to be treating Tamara-A as a rival, or as a potential ally.

And the nature of this exciting windfall? – A cure for human grief.


-The title presumably refers to the idea of people on the apparent outs, like Daniel and Amanda, not being beaten just yet.

-“Unvanquished” is the beginning of a steep ratings drop for Caprica at the time, substantially under a million viewers. The writing was on the wall, though it would take a few weeks for the axe to be wielded.

-Stoltz steps behind the camera for the first and only time in the run of Caprica, and does a good job.

-Our opening shot is of Tomas Vergis firmly in charge, making robots and wowing the press. It’s a good introduction to the changed circumstances.

-Duram makes a brief, TV screen, appearance in the opening, reminding us all that he still exists.

-In what must be a fairly galling reality for Daniel, it appears that the “C-Bucs” are doing very well under their new owner. Vergis appears to have decided to win that championship after all.

-This stadium bombing is very much like that of the maglev in “Pilot”, in perpetrator and cinematography, enough that I assume it is intentional.

-Big emphasis on the number of children in this stadium, which should have been a hint I suppose.

-The stadium bombing seems a very big hot for the STO to be making, so of course it turns out to be a virtual fake-out. But it is where we might well be heading.

-The Conclave is a fairly Catholic/Orthodox looking bunch, not unlike ecumenical councils I have seen from time to time.

-Clarice’s pitch to the Conclave revolves around a curious plea to remove “the need for faith” and instead move towards “a religion of certainty”. It’s a plea to merge the scientific and the religious that matches Zoe-A as a messiah within the virtual space.

-Diego is played by Ryan Robbins, previously Conor in BSG. Like others earlier, it’s still bizarre to me that actors who were so prominent in the previous show are in this as new characters.

-Nice spinning shot as we see Daniel waking up from his couch after a night of drinking. That’s a rare one for this property, but I like it.

-The ha’la’tha that we see here is a much more formal-looking affair than the Tauron club that was a location earlier in the season. The mafioso elements are even more obvious.

-I love how Daniel mentions the ha’la’tha’s leaders deceased son and everyone in the room is suddenly standing up ready to do violence. Even talking about this stuff is an apparent affront.

-Our first proper look at Gemenon here, and what we see is a mountainous land that, in the repeated use of “holy land” as a descriptor, naturally makes one think of Israel and Palestine.

-Some down to Earth priests anyway, with one’s response to Clarice’s vision of a virtual utopia being “It’s tacky for one thing”

-Joseph’s opinion of Daniel leaves out his own descent into obsession over Graystone’s creations, instead focusing on what he saw of Tamara-A all the way back in “Pilot”. It’s a dishonest approach from an increasingly dishonest man.

-A little bit of a cliché line, but I did like Joseph informing a curious Daniel that he will not get in contact with them, “The ha’la’tha finds you”.

-The “Blessed Mother” has vibes of the Virgin Mary crossed with Mother Theresa, and appears to serve as a sort of Papal role within this Church.

-The ha’la’tha’s terms are fairly brutal for Daniel, essentially a long-running interest in his company. It’s a measure of how desperate Daniel is that he’s content to contemplate all this.

-The test that the Adama brothers place in front of Daniel is a bit ridiculous all the same. He’s hardly going to murder his own mother, is he?

-Love the Adama brothers telling Daniel to think about their arrangement, to “take the afternoon”. The contrast between the reality of what they do an the façade is just great.

-We’ve already seen indications that Barnabas was something of a flagellant, and that goes into over drive in “Unvanquished”. Incorporating self-harm into the worship of the one God indicates a very particular mindset.

-Lacy draws the infinity symbol in her blood, with enough that she should probably be feeling a little woozy honestly.

-Diego mentions that the monotheists are sharing a building with the “Hephaistons”. These are presumably devotees of the Greek God Hephaestus, the God of Fire and Craft.

-Vergis comes up with a potent moniker for Daniel’s wrecked Centurion: “toaster”.

-Vergis can also go down as the first character, chronologically anyway, to use the term “boxed” in the manner we have come to be used to it.

-Did we need this short flashback where Zoe starts telling Clarice about the world she is trying to construct in the virtual space? It added nothing.

-Daniel does not want to hear “That’s enough for the military” in terms of the Centurion project. It’s a marked contrast from his attitude in “End Of Line” when he just wanted ” a cell phone that works”.

-Not sure I like the “Well played” line from the senior Conclave member about to be murdered. Given that Clarice looks fairly ignorant of the circumstances it doesn’t quite fit.

-The murder of that guy has to be seen as a take on the assassination of Caesar, what with all of the assailants and knives. No “Et tu, Clarice?” though.

-The Blessed Mother comes to a rather soft spoken agreement with Clarice, readily agreeing that she can take over the STO. For such a seemingly important character she feels very powerless in this moment.

-Daniel’s pact with the ha’la’tha is sealed with a handshake, one that is a marked difference to how he was treated earlier in the episode.

-Surprise, kind of. Zoe-A is “alive” and well, having jumped into New Cap City before her physical destruction. Her new narrative seemingly involves a hunt for Tamara-A.

-It’s an awkward enough fight scene that concludes the episode isn’t it? Caprica is going for The Matrix, and ends up with something decidedly less impressive.

-Like Tamara-A, Zoe A exhibits powers within the virtual space that seem a nod to Neo in The Matrix, wherein she can exert control over her environment.

-The episode might have been better off not really delaying the “revelation” that Amanda is still alive and well, as a finale moment surprise it falls fairly flat. And it’s actually the second fake-out of the 44 minutes, following the simulated stadium bombing.

Overall Verdict: “Unvanquished” does a good few things well, and a few things not so well. I can forgive it its flaws though because I think it serves well as a set-up episode, establishing new plotlines and advancing others ahead of greater stuff to come. The Daniel and Clarice stories especially have a lot of promise, if Caprica has the mind to actually make the very best of them.

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4 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Unvanquished”

  1. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Retribution” | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “Blowback” | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “The Dirteaters” | Never Felt Better

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