Tuesday, October 12, 2010

By Your Command -- Part 9

“Unvanquished” (110)

After a nearly seven-month hiatus, Caprica is back.

And what luggage did it return with from its long vacation? Inner- and inter-personal dynamism, theological development, and martial arts fisticuffs – all fine presents met with a thankful “about time.”

And we still have nine more episodes to go.

* * * * *

“Unvanquished” marks the first time we get to see Sister Clarice Willow emerge from the shadows of secondary character status to take the spotlight as a leading and, indeed, formidable persona. And while her character is certainly the more interesting and dynamic for it, she still has a long way to go before attaining the nuance and shading that Daniel Graystone has had since day one and Lacy Rand is quickly attaining scene by scene, week by week.

Willow’s transformation is accomplished in no small part by the change of scenery, both literal and figurative. The monotheistic church is an infinitely more sophisticated structure than one would have originally thought, continuing to play up Battlestar Galactica’s penchant for drawing upon and reflecting back modern-day society through the prism that is Colonial life: the Church, with its conspiring leaders and religiously ordained Holy Crusades and the wavering grey line between its liturgical and militant members, bares more than a passing resemble to several European variations of Christianity throughout the past nine hundred years. (Perhaps the most striking – and compelling – element of the monotheists’ ecclesiastical composition is the inclusion of, ostensibly, a female pope, hitting chords of resonance with BSG’s gender equality and those of dissonance with the audience’s connotations of “Holy Mothers,” such as the venerable Mother Teresa.) And seeing Gemenon, even if just the slice that is the Caprican version of the Vatican, is an arresting and refreshing change of pace, playing up the theatrical melodrama that is too often evident in the inner circles of religious capitals and providing a vivid contrast to the all-too-familiar urban landscapes of Caprica.

Ultimately, however, the aspect of Willow’s character arc in this episode that packs the most potentiality is in its foreshadowing: an ascendant Sister Clarice, employing her sexuality and deploying back-room negotiations equally to serve her needs, is a thing to behold. The tipping of the balance of power on Gemenon is one (absorbing and dramatic) thing; its arrangement and alignment on Caprica is another, and this is where, one imagines, the bulk of Willow’s throughline will play out for the remainder of the season. While the particular theological interpretation of her general religious worldview may become dominant on Gemenon by virtue of the threat of force and its allure to outsiders, both within and without the Church, its assimilation amongst the various terrorist cells on Caprica – not to mention, quite possibly, mainstream Caprican society, in general – will only be had by the application of violence and terror in equal measures, something which Barnabus, proving to be something more of a Darth Maul than Clarice’s Darth Sidious, has excelled at. That there is to be a knock-down, drag-out slugfest is not to be in doubt; how long the character of Barnabus will stick around, whether in flesh-and-blood or Living Avatar status, is.

“Lord save me from the Capricans, indeed.”

* * * * *

The duet continues.

Caprica is, at its heart, a continual and continually adjusted pivot between the two axes of Daniel Graystone, on the one hand, and Joseph Adama, on the other. Continuing to find new and fresh ways to make one fall into the orbit of the other has already proven to occupy a major part of the series’s narrative focus, and it will continue to do so at an exponential rate the further the characters find themselves hurtling down fate’s path.

And falling into orbit is something these two characters certainly have done – but, surprisingly enough, it is Graystone who comes under the gravitational sway of Adama, instead of the other way around. This constitutes much more than a longer, louder echo of the pilot’s events, in which a grief-stricken Daniel comes looking for an industrial espionage favor from the Ha’la’tha that Joseph represents (in more ways than one); it is a reversal of major proportions, not the least of which because it signals – or, rather, [i]may[/i] signal – a fundamental shift in the character of Joseph. Long gone is the broken, addiction-riddled individual who never changed out of his boxers and bathrobe or, indeed, got up off of his couch, replaced by a man fully back in the groove of “professional” life. The reversal is made all the more striking due to its progressive rather than regressive nature: in the pilot, Joseph is attempting to break out of the Ha’la’tha’s sway, shrugging off the guatrau’s favors and angling towards something of a more normal, naturalized life; in “Unvanquished,” he is getting a “bump up,” climbing the gangster totem pole in terms of influence as well as privilege.

That his ascent is at the expense of Daniel’s descent is only to be expected. These two characters’ relationship, after all, is a thematic as well as a symbolic representation and condensation of Colonial-Cylon relations… only, if the past ten episodes (not to mention the previous 73 installments of Battlestar) are anything to go by, without the redemptive or restorative denouement of the latter.

* * * * *

Amongst all these complications and implications, there is one final element that has, finally, bubbled up to the surface: the show’s main theme. It originally appeared to be loss or any number of its variations – grief, nihilism, obsession – but it is something much more fundamental and, indeed, primal, something which loss or obsession is merely indicative of. Extremism is the name of the game on Caprica, and it dictates the pitch and course of each character’s actions, making Graystone come crawling back to the Ha’la’tha or Sister Willow seduce one man in order to assassinate another. And it is also the quality, of course, that will pit man versus machine and holocaust for holocaust until all that is left is a primitive, inchoate society on a far-flung planet that makes all and sundry jump to the extreme conclusion that they need to cast aside all of their technology and all their societal advancements in order to start anew.

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