Friday night's first episode of Caprica, "Rebirth," was fast-paced and thoughtful - a combination that's difficult to pull off. The best part was glimpsing the psychology of a freshly-born cylon, followed closely by watching gangster Sam Adama in action.
A lot happened in this episode, so I'll fill you in quickly and then get to the important part: The cylon.
Life In Little Tauron
We got more background on the Adamas as we watched little Willie Adama hanging out with his gangster uncle Sam in "Little Tauron," which is partly controlled by the Tauron mafia, called the H'la'tha. Even when Sam gets a call from his boss and has to smash the window of a shop, it's somehow obvious that he's secretly a nice guy. Though his idea of being a good uncle is to teach Willie how to get out of being arrested. Meanwhile, Joseph Adama is becoming more anxious about the idea of his daughter's avatar being lost in virtual reality, and he keep trying to call Daniel Graystone - who isn't picking up the phone.
We also learn that there's something seriously creepy happening with Lacy and Zoe's teacher Clarice, who secretly schemed with the monotheistic students and in the pilot expressed sympathy for Ben's deadly tactics. In Friday's episode, she invited Lacy for lunch with her family, which turns out to be a giant, friendly group marriage. Except for one of the husbands, a young hunky guy who seems like he's hitting on Lacy the whole time. We know something is up when Lacy leaves and Clarice's husbands and wife start bugging Clarice about her "history" - and then Clarice storms out and smokes a ton of drugs in a bar.
Amanda The Clueless
And Amanda, Zoe's realistically clueless mom, gets a shock when the police tell her that Zoe had a boyfriend she didn't know about. She learns more and more about Zoe's secret life, and unfortunately connects the dot right when she's at a giant public memorial for victims of the terrorist bombing. Amanda gets on stage in front of all the TV cameras and starts babbling about how she thinks Zoe might have been a terrorist. Of course the crowd practically kills her - she and Daniel have to race away in their fancy car before things get really ugly.
So that's where we are with everybody except Zoe, who represents the most fascinating part of the episode. The virtual version of Zoe is now on a chip inside Graystone's prototype cylon soldier, and she's having major body issues. Throughout the episode I was impressed with the way the writers tackled Zoe's identity, which is after all that of a teenage girl trapped inside the body of a giant, ugly war machine. Her weird predicament allows for some deeply disturbing scenes, like the ones in the top clip, where people argue over her gender identity and her mother stares right into her face and calls her a "monster." Not only is this a persuasive depiction of what it might be like to wake up as a cyborg, but it is also (oddly) not unlike what many teenage girls feel anyway - awkward, disconnected from their bodies, and constantly judged by peers and parents.
But the best scene with Zoe in her new body is this one, where she finally sees Lacy again. She's been relocated to her father's lab, where Daniel is trying to figure out why this particular cylon is the only one that seems to work. She's secretly called Lacy by mobile phone so that she can see her friend again at last. And one of her first questions for Lacy underscores the way Zoe's problems are both world-changing (she's the first AI) and utterly mundane (she has body image issues). Gesturing at her armored body, she asks, "Do I look male to you?"
I am completely in love with this portrait of a young cylon, plagued by gender issues and body dysmorphia, and facing an uncertain future that involves her family fortune (her father's company is depending on the success of the cylons to survive financially), her planet's politico-religious system, and the fact that she is completely unique. There is also that weird, clumsy moment where Lacy suggests that Zoe is "a trinity," which came off as incredibly glib and wrong. I wish the writers wouldn't try to shoehorn so many direct references to Christianity into this show - it's just too pat, too easy.
And yet that hug between Zoe and Lacy, where we switch perspective between Zoe's image of herself and the crude soldier bot that Lacy sees, is simply incredible. It seems to sum up both the horror and the hope embedded in their situation.
A few issues remain unresolved. I'm still not sure why Zoe is hiding her identity from everyone except Lacy. Obviously she can't trust Daniel, since the last time she did that he downloaded her onto that crappy chip that Joseph stole. And her mother is somebody she never trusted. But why not tell her other friends in the monotheistic group Soldiers of the One? Why not contact that "other family" on Geminon that she mentioned a few times? Obviously this is something we'll learn more about in future episodes, along with the backstory on shady teacher Clarice.
I'm also excited to see more of the Tauron immigrant culture, though I still feel like the show hasn't drawn a very convincing connection between the Adamas and the Graystones. Maybe that issue will be resolved too.
Regardless, I'm completely riveted by Zoe's story. I think she may be one of the most interesting robots I've ever seen represented on television or in film.