Friday's Caprica episode, "Ghost In The Machine," focused entirely on the twisted things that men will do for their cyber-daughters - and to them. It was probably the most disturbing episode yet. And those surreal videogame sequences were completely insane.
This episode did something that most TV SF does badly: It went deep into the psychology of two main characters, Joseph Adama and Daniel Graystone, and even used the holodeck-like properties of V-World to do it. Though there were a few over-the-top moments, the episode managed to offer a compelling and harrowing glimpse into the minds of our anti-heroes. Yes: anti-heroes is all they will ever be after this episode.
First, the Graystone action. Last week, Daniel finally connected the dot and realized that Zoe is most likely still lurking inside his one working cylon model. So he decides, in full psycho fashion, to make her show herself by psychologically torturing her. At first he begs and pleads for her to show herself. But when she refuses, he forces her robotic side to execute commands while he tells her extremely creepy stories about her childhood traumas - such as the time when she was trapped in a burning house and almost didn't survive. Then he reenacts that trauma by taking her outside, dousing the ground around her with gasoline, and lighting it on fire. And all the while, he's telling Zoe that she's always been a scared little girl and that she basically didn't live up to his expectations of her.
At that point, you can tell Zoe is reciting that Sylvia Plath poem in her head, the one that goes, "Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I'm through." She is pretty much ready to murder Daniel, and as she confesses later to Lacy, she almost does when Daniel asks her to shoot her fluffy dog. Daniel's idea is that if she's pure cylon she will kill the dog unquestioningly; but if she's Zoe she won't be able to. Luckily Zoe's cyber-senses tell her that the gun isn't loaded, so she shoots the dog without killing him. (Why Daniel doesn't realize his cylon has been programmed to sense minute differences in weight between loaded and unloaded guns is beyond me.)
So basically Daniel has revealed that Zoe has good reason to hate him. He knows exactly what her weaknesses and fears are, and decides that the best way to get a reaction out of her is to use them against her. What kind of father does that? The kind who thinks cyber-slaves make an awesome business model.
While Daniel busily tortures his daughter, Joseph goes the other way and tortures himself to find his daughter. He's gotten deeply into New Cap City, the V-World equivalent of Grand Theft Auto, and his new guide has introduced him to a meth-like drug you can take while in V-World that allows the game to bypass safety controls and send bursts of pleasure and hyperfocused speediness straight into your brain. The V-World meth is awesome, and there's a great gunfight when Joseph tracks his daughter Tamara's trail back to the New Cap City version of their apartment.
We start to realize that Tamara has created a home for herself in New Cap City, as the superpowered "dead girl" who leaves her flowery "T" mark on walls and awes audiences at nightclubs with her uncanny ability to remain alive after being derezzed. Everybody has heard rumors of the "dead girl," but Joseph can't find her anywhere.
And that's when things go all surreal and spangly, like you just walked into a 1970s movie by the famous Italian director Fellini. Joseph follows Tamara's trail to a nightclub where the cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show seems to have merged with the cast of Behind the Green Door. Everybody is making fun of Joseph, who confusedly keeps calling Tamara's name. Eventually he shoots some drugs into his eyes and murders everybody, and then one of the spangly nightclub people tells him that Tamara was there recently but now is gone again.
Though I could have done with less of the spangly, I absolutely loved a scene where Joseph leaves V-World and gets advice from his brother Sam about killing people. Joseph is having a hard time derezzing players in New Cap City - he just freezes when he needs to shoot. So he asks Sam what he thinks about in order to murder people. At first Sam is pissed off at the question, but then he realizes that Joseph might have good reason to need that information. "You pretend it isn't real," Sam says. "You pretend the people are targets and that you're in a game." I love the quiet, well-played irony in this scene, with the gangster who kills people in real life helping a man to kill people in a game by reminding him that there is a thin line between how it feels to kill in real life versus in a videogame.
This is what I love about Caprica, and why I hope it gets renewed after this Friday's season finale. This is a series that always provides thoughtful scenes that are entirely without cliches, week after week. Sure it can be uneven - what show isn't? - but I'm always glad I tuned in.