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Caprica - Season 1 - Episode 09

Caprica - 1x09 - Ghost in the Machine - Originally Aired: 2010-3-19

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5.14

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Synopsis
Attempting to find his daughter, Joseph Adama re-enters New Cap City. His guide, Emanuelle. prepares Joseph for the ugly truths of the game, and equips him with a gun and a digital performance enhancement drug - amp - to improve his reaction time and increase his brutality.

Daniel Graystone, also seeking his daughter, is pursuing his breakthrough discovery that Zoe's avatar exists within the U-87. In a desperate attempt to communicate with her, Daniel presses her with a story of their burning home, and the fire that almost killed her - but to no avail.

Joseph and Emanuelle seek Tamara at the New Cap equivalent of the Adama home, but the apartment is inhabited by a drug addict - an "amphead." As the druggie yields the information that Joseph's daughter is at a club called "Mysteries," a gang of drug dealers bust in on the scene and threaten to end Adama's New Cap life. Feigning innocence, Emanuelle claims not to know Adama, and as the gangsters are focused on Joseph, deftly takes out the whole team with her pistol. Joseph is relieved, but she berates him for freezing up - if he can't pull the trigger when he needs to, he'll never be able to help his daughter.

Amanda, still troubled by visions of her long-dead brother, returns to the scene of the fatal crash in an attempt to unravel the mystery, only to see an even more vivid apparition of her brother driving away. Later, as Amanda unburdens her heart to Clarice, the teacher deepens her plot to find Zoe's avatar by manipulating Amanda to fixate on her dead daughter.

As Daniel's desperation increases, so do his methods. Playing on Zoe's traumatic fear of fire, he commands the U-87 to stand still as he constructs a blazing pyre around her. She can end the torture and reveal her presence by simply walking out. Although Zoe is agonized by her terrifying memories and the current distress her father is inflicting, she does not reveal herself.

Joseph is visited by his brother, Sam, who reprimands him for the sad state he's fallen into. Joseph merely responds by pressing his brother about how he's able to convince himself to murder, which Sam reveals: You have to think of it as a game. Reinvigorated, Joseph ventures to Mysteries, where he sees a sign: His daughter's initials in her own handwriting. He doses himself with more amp and goes on a killing spree, only to learn that his daughter has come and gone. He and Emanuelle leave the club and find the streets covered with Tamara's symbol. Emanuelle nudges Joseph to abandon the quest.

In a surprise visit to the Graystone house, Tomas Vergis relates to Amanda the gruesome tale of the death of his employees and the theft of the MCP. Amanda stands with her husband, but the news troubles her.

Meanwhile, Daniel presents a final test: Placing a loaded gun in the U-87's hand, he orders it to shoot his dog. Zoe masters her revulsion and carries out the orders. Frustrated and tearful, Daniel cedes the game, and reveals that the gun was loaded with blanks. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Joseph taking the "amp" drug in New Cap City to heighten his reflexes.
- Joseph regarding the dirigible: "I hate that thing!"
- Daniel retelling Zoe the story of when their first house burned down, forcing her to flinch and reveal evidence that she's in there.
- Emanuelle taking out the thugs who cornered her and Joseph.
- Emanuelle: "Get your pink newbie cheeks out of this game and don't come back in until you've got your frakkin' head on straight!"
- Daniel setting fire to the ground the U-87 is standing on in a fruitless attempt to get Zoe to move away from it in fear.
- Joseph asking Sam to explain to him how he can motivate himself to kill someone in cold blood.
- The host of the Mysteries burlesque house: "As the gods overthrew the titans, so has man overthrown the gods. But when man visits his sins upon his children, how shall he be repaid?"
- Vergis telling Amanda about Daniel stealing his MCP and getting two of his men killed.
- Daniel ordering the U-87 to shoot the dog.

My Review
Ghost in the Machine is a story with a lot of potential that fizzles out quite hard at the end. We have a story that easily could have been Caprica's first perfect score ruined by the writing's inability to retain a proper narrative focus or to be sufficiently daring. All the pieces for an excellent story are laid down by the last episode's cliffhanger. Daniel and Joseph have firm leads on their daughters and Clarice outed herself to Amanda. Much like BSG: Exodus, Part 1, the last episode seemed to almost take a dive, drudging through buildup for the sake of making it so this episode could be a real thriller.

But instead the sacrifices of the previous episode's pacing are largely in vain because Ghost in the Machine fails to deliver on its exceptional premise on many levels. Firstly, we've got the glaring omission of any kind of followup whatsoever to the Amanda and Clarice cliffhanger from the last episode. What happened at the dive bar? Did Amanda react to Clarice by saying, "oh, you're a monotheist? How quaint!" and then move onto other topics as if Clarice had revealed something as mundane as her favorite color? This episode very clearly implied nothing ever came of that conversation, so why the suspenseful buildup?

Secondly, once again we've got a story about Joseph wandering aimlessly through New Cap City. I certainly do enjoy this ongoing story as a sort of aside; an interlude. I especially enjoyed Joseph's willingness to take addictive drugs to improve his game performance and the drag queen's riddle was a downright profound piece of foreshadowing about the eventual demise of the twelve colonies. But as much as I enjoy this ongoing interlude of a story, I felt that the real drama in the story centered around Daniel trying to force Zoe into emergence and ultimately Joseph's asides were distracting from this far more gripping plot thread.

But this is perhaps where the episode falters most. The buildup of suspense throughout the episode with regards to Daniel and Zoe is masterful to be sure, but there are several critical missteps along the way. The first misstep is when Zoe is confiding in Lacy about her father's obnoxious behavior. While retelling the events to Lacy, she suddenly realizes that her father's trying to "trick" her into revealing herself. This scene only makes Zoe seem incredibly stupid. She should have been well aware of that fact since the very moment Daniel started talking about the old house fire and especially after she accidentally flinched and winced for doing so when Daniel burned himself with the match. Clearly Zoe's a bit slow on the uptake today.

The second and far more critical misstep is the writing's failure to take the daring step of having Zoe shoot the dog for real. Now I'm no fan of animal cruelty, but let's recall the BSG Miniseries. In one of the very first scenes featuring Caprica Six, she snaps a baby's neck. Toward the middle of the miniseries, we watch a little girl (Cami) be shot dead with missiles by the Cylons. And so on. BSG was a dark, gritty drama that (usually) was not afraid to take you to uncomfortable places to ratchet up the intensity levels for the sake of delivering a more powerful and compelling drama.

But this lack of daring in the writing doesn't just damage audience shock value, it damages Daniel's character too. A better story would have had Daniel so convinced his daughter was in the robot that he really does give her a loaded gun, knowing she couldn't shoot Caesar. In this better story, Daniel would rule out giving Zoe a gun with fake bullets because he'd be smart enough to know that she'd be able to tell. Thus, a better story would have resulted in Zoe really shooting Caesar dead because it would have been the only way for her to really get Daniel to doubt his conclusion that she's still in the robot. Daniel would think that since he knows Zoe is really in there, she wouldn't do it, so that's exactly why she would; to create doubt that she's really in there.

Thus if Zoe shot Caesar dead for real, Daniel would think he'd made a horrible mistake concluding Zoe was still in there. What's more, he'd have to explain his actions to Amanda. That would have been some fantastic drama there. But instead of a tragic and gut-wrenching ending, the story closes on a whimper. We get a cliffhanger that boils down to little more than petty teenage angst when Zoe says she may have fired the gun at Daniel had it been loaded with real bullets. I don't buy that for a second. Avatar Zoe's experiences with Daniel since the pilot amount to little more than minor annoyances with the things she's been forced to do. Not enough to substantiate a motive for murder.

But for all that I complain, what we have in the end is still a fairly solid piece of storytelling. Sure, it could have been a perfect score with some tweaks, but without a doubt, Daniel's scenes with Zoe were quite riveting, Joseph's jaunts into New Cap City were quite amusing, and Vergis' little meeting with Amanda was quite interesting in its possible implications. The story is weaker than I'd have liked, but certainly far from the worst the season has had to offer so far. Perhaps even slightly above average.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Giuseppe on 2012-01-07 at 9:24pm:
    You're right, this could have been a great episode had it been treated better. Unfortunately it ended up being only decent.

    Other than that I'm happy at least some of my previous issues with the show have been alleviated a bit, but I still find it annoying that for someone who's supposed to be brilliant Zoe too often comes across like a spoiled and occasionally quite dimwitted brat. However the fact geniuses tend to be quite slow to pick up on things seems to be the norm in Caprica. Or at least in the Greystone family.

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