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Caprica Recap: Unarmed and Dangerous

Have you guys seen The Thirteenth Floor? It’s a 1999 Craig Bierko vehicle centered around a portal to a virtual world where all the characters think they’re in 1937. The amount of space this movie occupies in our subconscious is disproportionate to its status in the sci-fi cannon. But someone at Caprica has clearly been watching it, too. Along with The Matrix, Sin City, eXistenZ, Mad Max, and more. You’ll recognize the references.

A few weeks ago, we accused the show of having an identity crisis for this same penchant: working in a mishmash of allusions to no discernible end. For the first half of the episode, it felt like Caprica had regressed. After last week’s heady twists, it fell back on melodrama, bad costuming, worse dialogue, and a caricature of a villainess. (Vesta, we’re looking at you.) But then came the boardroom scene, and we were back to being hooked.

This is the show’s bargain: Don’t pretend it’s ever going stop being cheesy, and it will deliver glimpses of bizarro genius you won’t see anywhere else.

Back to our regularly scheduled recapping!

The last time we saw Tamara, Adama’s avatar (created posthumously by one Daniel Graystone), she had no idea she was dead. She just wanted to find a way out of V world and feel the sunshine on her simulated skin. Now she’s tracked down a woman named Vesta who can help her get out, but Vesta’s in the middle of her shabby-chic Thunderdome playing Russian roulette. She shoots Tamara — which, in the V world, would normally de-res you back to the real one, but instead Tamara’s avatar starts bleeding. Intrigued, particularly when Tamara’s wound heals, Vesta, (who looks sort of like a creepy, aging Tinkerbell) says she and her Lost Boys will help.

But first, Tamara has to help them win a V-world game no one’s ever mastered. Welcome to New Cap City; it’s just like Caprica City, and updated in real time, only it looks like 1937, complete with its own Hindenburg-carrying shark-nosed P-40s. The goal of the game is unclear, but they think it's accumulating points, and plan on using Tamara’s in-world immortality to pull off a bank heist of the game’s resident fat cat, a late-stage Marlon Brando type with a pin curl. Yes, they actually use the phrase “fat cat.”

Tamara and Heracles, one of Vesta’s minions, manage to break into the vault and nab the loot. There, like Neo, Tamara discovers she has the power to change the rules of the game, de-resing two security guards with her mind. Vesta finds a newspaper about the MagLev bombing and enlightens the group. When Tamara realizes that her human body is dead and Vesta only wants to use her, she shoots everyone in the room but Heracles. She then tells him to relay a message to her Dad that she’s stuck in V world.

At the end of last week, Daniel Graystone was high on philanthropy and approval ratings, but his pledge to license the holobands for free just killed Graystone Industries’ primary revenue generator. Cyrus warns him that the board has called an emergency meeting. If he can’t come up with a solution, they’ll vote him out.

Daniel crashes the meeting with the Zoebot in tow and a plan: forget holobands. The hack sites are eating into the company’s margins anyway. Everyone goes to them because they’re free, “and the next generation coming up, they’ll expect it all to be free. We can’t own it forever.” The purpose of sci-fi is to create a fantasy of the future in which you can critique the present. BSG took aim at religion and war. Caprica’s references to the inability to control content online and the difficulty of monetizing technologies (hey there, Twitter!) are unexpected, but welcome.

Instead, Daniel proposes an innovation that will change the worlds: the Cylon. “This Cylon will become a tireless worker who won’t need to be paid, it won’t retire, it won’t get sick, it won’t have rights or objections or complaints ... ” Brand extension! Outsourcing! A robot servant class! The board still isn’t convinced about a fancy hunk o’ metal that costs millions of cubits. Daniel’s incredulous. “Are you seriously asking me the practical applications of creating another race that will walk beside us?” Um, maybe?

As a show of his dominance over this new race, Daniel orders the Cylon to rip off its arm. For split second, you actually empathize with the killer bot. Will Zoe’s avatar choose this moment to disobey its master, foreshadowing the holocaust to come? No, she wrenches her arm free of its socket and flings it on the boardroom table, oil spurting like blood from its shoulder. Quality. Television.

This episode pared things down to just three story lines. The third, Joseph Adama’s deteriorating relationship with his son, was by far the weakest link. The underlying issues — grief, assimilation, parenting — are inherently interesting. It’s just that we still don’t believe Esai Morales. He plays Joseph as either maudlin or distracted, which sounds like someone in mourning, except it doesn’t quite seem like it’s done on purpose.

Joseph tries to reconnect on a father-son fishing trip, but that ends when some kid spits out racial slurs and Willie pummels his face into a rock. Apparently what the kid really needs is some old-world Tauron last rites for his mom and sister. After the wake (some clapping, an old lady with neck tats sings), the priest administers tattoos.

Heracles knocks on the door in the middle of all the ethnic healing to give Joseph Tamara’s message. The last shot of the show is daddy’s girl turned gun moll walking through the desolate streets of New Cap City in stacked heels with a tommy gun on her hip — the best walking dead girl since Willow resurrected Buffy.

More Recaps:
MTV Movies Blog points out that the episode's title, "There Is Another Sky," comes from an Emily Dickinson poem of the same name.
PopWatch thought Tamara's metamorphosis into a "gun-blazing mega-femme" was too quick.
Like @CHAILATTEGEEK, TV Fanatic disagreed with us about Joseph Adama, but thought this episode marked the Caprica's real coming out party.

Photo: Courtesy of Syfy