Friday, February 5, 2010

By Your Command -- Part 1

"Rebirth" (102)

The biggest surprise Caprica’s first regular episode, written by Battlestar Galactica alumnus (and TimeCop scribe) Mark Verheiden, contains is not a plot twist or character beat or thematic complication – it’s structure, the most primordial of all narrative elements. “Rebirth,” very much like the two-hour pilot that precedes it, is the antithesis of BSG’s tightly paced, narrowly focused, action-adventure-rooted installments, opting instead for a decidedly more Sopranos feel (a series which co-creator and sometime-showrunner Ronald D. Moore is an avowed fan of); elliptical, slowly unraveling throughlines and character development are the name of the game in this opening chapter, and they will undoubtedly prove to be the hallmark of the show proper in the years (Neilson willing) to come.

Case in point: the sub-plot in which two lab assistants are instructed by Dr. Graystone to transport the Cylon prototype, officially dubbed the U-87, to his house. Getting the robot strapped into its carrier, put into a truck, driven over to Graystone Manor, and then unloaded in the good doctor’s basement takes roughly half the episode – which is of particular note given that the entire progression of scenes would have been played mostly, if not entirely, off-screen in a BSG installment. Other sequences – young Willie Adama roaming the streets of Little Tauron with his Uncle Sam, Sister Clarice Willow’s troubles with her group marriage, Graystone’s musings on his U-87 difficulties – march to a similar (funeral dirge) cadence, giving the episode a decidedly anthologized feel as opposed to a clearly delineated story with precisely defined A-, B-, and C-plots that distinctly resonate with one another on either a narrative or thematic level.

Still, there is thematic footwork to be had, and it is substantive, albeit in its own (mostly) subtle, quiet way. The two technicians who attempt to coral the Zoe-Cylon into Daniel’s house approach the hulking mechanical being in two distinct and completely opposite extremes: Philomon looks at her with awe and appreciation, holding her to be a work of art that thus deserves to be treated with respect and, perhaps, even reverence; his colleague thinks it is merely a tool and manhandles it as such. Their vagaries in acuity presage how the greater Colonial society will respond to the burgeoning Cylon race – and lay out the basis for both Caprica and Battlestar Galactica.

All of which is not to mention that the loss of the latter tech’s finger proves to be the highlight of the ep, as well.

* * * * *

Prowling the streets of his ghetto, learning that his uncle is an enforcer for the Tauron crime organization, picking up lessons on the application of and abuses within the law, getting arrested, acquiring inchoate perspectives of respect, authority, and obedience – is this how William Adama becomes the stern, repressed, unflinchingly utilitarian command figure that we see in Battlestar Galactica?

Of all the possible narrative links to explore (and continuity minefields to navigate) between this series and its progenitor, few are as fascinating or as visceral as the transformation of 11-year-old Willie Adams into 69-year-old William Adama. While it is not expected that every installment will somehow deal with this metamorphosis, those that do shall garner some of the most intense and intensive analysis.

Strolling down Sopranos flashback avenue, we go.

* * * * *

It is a small, but nonetheless important and narratively resonant, beat that Joseph Adama, after swearing off the evil scientific genius of Daniel Graystone and stomping angrily out of his mansion, has a change of heart regarding the digital avatar of his deceased daughter: whereas, two weeks ago, Adama dismisses her as a technological monstrosity, he now clamors to see her once again, to reassure her that he hasn’t abandoned her like her real-world version of flesh and bone has abandoned him. When obsessed, particularly with a subject that is already emotionally charged, man has the uncanny ability to waver, to jump from one extreme to the other and then back again, oftentimes obsessively. To have Adama go out of his way, and to do so on more than one occasion, to try and reach out to Graystone is a nice touch of verisimilitude – and a nice hint of what to expect (if not demand) from the remainder of the series.

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