NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “The Dirteaters”

Send me to the soil. Make me proud.

Air Date: 09/11/2010

Director: John Dahl

Writer: Matthew B. Roberts

Synopsis: As they take further steps in the ha’la’tha, the Adama brothers remember their childhood on a war-torn Tauron. Daniel begins to suspect he will soon be a target for the Guatrau. Zoe-A and Tamara-A make a name for themselves in New Cap City.


OK, so, “The Dirteaters”. Honestly I am a bit baffled by this episode, which isn’t really a bad instalment of Caprica per say, but whose point in its main plot is something I feel like I have missed. We spend a large portion of what limited time Caprica has left exploring the childhood of the Adama brothers, fleshing out the reason why they seem to be so bonded, but I generally didn’t feel like any of it was necessary. Interesting yes, well-portrayed certainly, but we’re deep in the endgame of Caprica now: do we really have time for all of this?

You inevitably think of the flashbacks of “Daybreak (Part One)” and “Daybreak (Part Two)” of course, but there I felt there was a lot of very important things established in those flashbacks that had a great relevance to the action in the “present”. Here, I don’t really get that. “The Dirteaters” appears to want us to fully contemplate the trauma that the Adama brothers have been through to fully explain why there are as close as they are in the “present”, but it’s a case of dissection gone too far for me: it can’t be enough that they are brothers in a society where family bonds are intensely important, as previously outlined? Other than that it’s just re-iteration of what we already know, namely that Sam’s skills and attitude are more towards the pro-active and occasionally reckless, while Joseph is more prone to thoughtful consideration of outcomes, something that makes him surprisingly capable, even cold-blooded, at certain moments, But we knew all that beforehand.

I suppose “The Dirteaters” just really wants to try and shock you by its presentation of the Tauron situation – a brutal insurgency war where parents made arrangements for their children to kill themselves if captured – and by the “revelation” that it was Yosef who undertook the mercy killing of his father, when you presumably would have assumed that Sam would be the one to step up. It’s certainly an interesting wrinkle, but again I just don’t see the point at this point: we’ve already seen Joseph be a bit ruthless in the course of Caprica, such as in “Ghosts In The Machine”, the reveal that he killed his father as a boy doesn’t really add anything (it also makes Sam’s treatment of his brother in “Gravedancing”, lecturing him about what killing really means, or Joseph’s questions to his brother about killing in “Ghosts In The Machine” make significantly less sense).

I suppose we should try and look at the flashbacks in the context of what’s happening in the modern day as best we can, to try and get as much use out of them. On Tauron we are given a picture of Joseph as a keen observer of events, quiet but with the wheels turning in his head: he spots the danger of bringing a gun into the household before Sam does, and later understands more fully what needs to be done to save his father. I’m not sure this readily follows through into the present though, leaving aside the Guatrau’s framing comments on Joseph as a schemer: Joseph has less of an impact in the main narrative of Caprica in “The Dirteaters” with a single pillow-talk scene with Evelyn there to mark him out. If “The Dirteaters” really wanted to make an impression with Joseph we would have seen more of that cunning mind in use, and the firmer formulation of plans to move against the Guatrau.

Things are probably more interesting as it pertains to Sam I suppose, but only just. Joseph is entering the ha’la’tha with his eyes open to what it is, but Sam is a former true believer who has only just realised that it isn’t the heroic Tauron secret society that he thought it was. Now he’s being pushed to murder an ally, and facing the quandary of what to do when that ally offers an alternative course, one that probably sets him and his brother on a road where it will be them or the Guatrau. The flashbacks don’t really serve this narrative too much though, since it sort of retcons the brotherly dynamic from one where Sam is the brother comfortable with murder dictating such things to Joseph. Instead I suppose that we have to see it as a case where, in the past, Joseph took the lead in making hard choices that Sam was not capable of making, and that reflects where the two Adama brothers find themselves in the present. But honestly it feels like a pretty weak connection to me.

The other main focus of “The Dirteaters” and, frankly, the much more interesting part, revolves around Daniel. His alliance with the ha’la’tha was a desperate move since it first became real in “Unvanquished” but it’s only now, five or so episodes later, that he’s really starting to twig what it all means. The ha’la’tha plays for keeps, and the companies that they take over tend to see their former leaders suffering some unfortunate accidents. Parts of this I struggle to accept, since surely a man as intelligent as Daniel would have done some research on all of this before making the deal with the Guatrau. But at least it adds an element of threat and danger to the remainder of Caprica, and provides a reason for Daniel to seek allies who might be able to save him. The approach to Sam is great in that regard, with Daniel treating the mob hitman with the same logical kind of offer that he gave the Guatrau in “Blowback”, and at the same time tapping into Sam’s innate desire to find a means to help the rebels on Tauron.

From there though there is a sudden and jarring switch in focus, as Daniel goes from taking steps to protect his own life to suddenly blundering into the Zoe-A narrative. It was real tonal dissonance in action, and evidence perhaps that the final act of Caprica is going to suffer from some writing issues, as the people behind the show rush to get everything lined up ahead of the finale. This stuff, while not unworthy, probably deserved the space to be its own episode, though maybe it’s a blessing that we don’t get 40 minutes of Daniel searching New Cap City for Zoe-A since we already had similar with Joseph and Tamara-A.

The last major thread in “The Dirteaters” belongs to the “avenging angels” of Zoe-A and Tamara-A, now united as the ultimate tag team after the events of “Things We Lock Away”. They only get a few scenes, but I admit that this sub-plot was decent for the episode: the two women are portrayed as indulging themselves in the violent world of New Cap City in a gratifying way, dealing out death as they see fit, but the weakness of their position is there too. They are free, but not free: judging the denizens of New Cap City is all well and good, but it’s all still largely the same thing that Zoe-A was criticising Tamara-A for previously, just with a religious sheen to it. The sight of Daniel in New Cap City seems to shake Zoe-A loose of the mania, and from there we get a fascinating look at just how much power the two have in this world, not just to “de-rez” people and stay “alive”, but to remake the fundamental reality of New Cap City. There’s a joining of sub-plots in all of that, as it becomes clear that the virtual heaven of Clarice’s imagination is already coming into being: one suspects that she won’t be too happy at being supplanted.

That leaves, well, everyone else. I’ve used the term “wheelspinning” before to describe how too much of Caprica has been dedicated to just showing various sub-plots as being in a state of general non-specific progression, and that really seems the case for what we see of Amanda, Clarice and Duram in “The Dirteaters”. Clarice bitches and moans to her husbands, while displaying signs of megalomania. Amanda worries about her CI role ending badly. Duram is faced with internal GDD blocks on his investigation. That’s the state of things at the start of “The Dirteaters” and it’s the state of things at the end of it. There’s very little of critical interest with these characters in this episode and, in line with the similar criticism we could level at the Adama brothers, it seems plain that “The Dirteaters” must go down as one of the weaker episodes of Caprica.

Whoever programmed you was a hack.


-The title is pretty self-evident I suppose, though we don’t get as far as seeing any actual dirt eating.

-Some needless dialogue between the two Adama brothers at the start, as Joseph essentially recaps their plot for Sam for some reason.

-I assume the lighter that Joseph is seen using here is the same one that will be handed down to his son, and then briefly to Lee Adama in “The Hand Of God”.

-The Guatrau has a very interesting description for a young Joseph: “always with the eyes, always calculating something”. Will the Guatrau see it coming?

-Just like the mafia, the ha’la’tha has a somewhat formal system of ranks. Sam looks like he’s being made something like a “caporegieme” here, while the more junior Joseph is a “soldato”.

-What we see of the Tauron struggle indicates a fairly understandable story of attack and reprisal, regular military vs guerrilla fighters in an asymmetrical conflict.

-Things get extreme very fast, with the Adama father explaining to his children what suicide pills are and what the circumstances will be for using them: “This will keep our secret safe”.

-What a name for the bar that the “avenging angels” make an appearance in: “Sinny McNutts”.

-Zoe-A and Tamara-A are certainly dressing to impress as they walk into, sigh, Sinny McNutts. Those dresses are something else.

-I’m not really sure what Nestor and the other husband really think they are going to do the “avenging angels” with those swords. It’s a real “You brought a knife to a gun fight” situation.

-Clarice’s amazing comment on how they will tell Amanda that Mar-Beth ran away from the stress of children is “Some people aren’t cut out to be parents”. I’ll say.

-Their last serious interaction in “False Labor” didn’t really indicate any kind of genuine friendship so I have to ask, why are Daniel and Joseph boxing?

-I found it a bit hilarious that Joseph tells his boxing opponent “Come on Daniel, fight!” and then promptly lands a haymaker that knocks Daniel out.

-The black and white footage of the atrocities being visited on Tauron – and what, they had the means for interplanetary travel but not colour recording? – is archive footage of Nazi war crimes/crimes against humanity during the Second World War.

-Daniel’s video system dramatically flashes “Deceased” over the other ha’la’tha aligned company leaders one at a time, and then just as dramatically brings attention to the odd one out: Daniel himself. A real “gulp” moment.

-Interesting bit from the Caprican news broadcast, whereby Caprica military figures insist they will not be undertaking “peacekeeping” on Tauron. That such an idea exists might indicate that Caprica is known as a somewhat interventionist power.

-I had to laugh at Daniel’s “Tauron’s have always intrigued me” line, it just comes off as so fundamentally false.

-Nice new swear word for us all: “caprifraks”.

-Another translated Tauron phrase is in this exchange too, this one “time to trim from the top down”. Daniel is finally understanding of what he has gotten himself into.

-Daniel uses the term “quid pro quo” here. It’s not the first time that the canon has used Latin – just look at “Sine Qua Non” – but it still feels weird. Given what we know about the universe this doesn’t make any sense.

Caprica doesn’t really go in for the pillow talk, and neither did BSG for the most part, which makes the Joseph/Evelyn scene all the more remarkable.

-The show doesn’t hold back in its depiction of Tauron’s fascistic military in the flashbacks, who it’s strongly implied rape/torture the Adama mother before shooting her dead.

-The “dirteater” slur appears to have initially been about a subset of the Tauron population, as opposed to Taurons in general.

-Duram really does not help his case by confronting the Internal Affairs guy with the words “What’s the IA rattail doing here?”.

-Gotta ask why Duram would even try and confront his boss like this. He’s got literally no evidence!

-Jeez, these scenes in the Tauron past. Caprica has a trend going recently of pushing the envelope, and here’s a big example. Torture, rape, child murder, it has it all.

-Bit of a weird moment when we encounter Daniel’s “biggest fan”. Seemingly Daniel has something of a Steve Jobs-esque reputation in this world?

-Zoe-A “can’t believe” Daniel found her and Tamara-A, which seems like a very strange thing to say. They’ve become the most talked abut aspect of one of the most popular video games in the universe!

-Not Alessandra Torresani’s best delivery of what should be a very important line: “Let’s forsake these motherfrakkers”.

-Like this transformation scene, as Zoe-A essentially reverses New Cap City’s grimdark noir ambiance into something more resembling an Elysium. Was it always Zoe’s intention for her to have this kind of power?

-Clarice suggests that the virtual heaven should include statues, prompting an angry question from Nestor: “Statues of who?”. She stutters a bit in response, eventually saying they will be of a general group of people there “from the start”. He’s twigging the power trip she’s on.

-The first time Willy Adama has gotten to do anything of note in a while is a reminder that he has learned how to lie to his father, something we first picked up on in “Gravedancing”. It’s a cruel lie all the same, trying to make lemonade out of the sour experience in “There Is Another Sky”.

-I’m not sure I like that young Yosef barely hesitates when given the order to shoot his father, but I suppose the idea is that a Tauron upbringing steels you for such things?

-Amanda doesn’t understand what Daniel is talking about regards the Zoe-A avatar. Her ignorance on this topic has been a bugbear, but now it seems it’s finally going away.

Overall Verdict: I have to put “The Dirteaters” down as a missed opportunity. Delving into the pasts of characters is all well and good as long as it really means something, and I don’t think that this is the case for what we see of the young lives of the Adama brothers. In combination with the very limited involvement of so many major players in the ongoing plot, it comes off more as an episode meant to fill in a hole without too much narrative momentum being generated as a result. Three to go.

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

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2 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Caprica: “The Dirteaters”

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

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

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