Redemption revisited: In space!

Broadening TubaTV’s recent focus on themes of redemption, I’ll go ahead and muse publicly that Caprica may indeed offer Ronald D. Moore the opportunity to live up to the hype that surrounded his version of Battlestar Galactica.  My expectations are actually higher than one might think, given my unfavorable review of the BSG finale.  I have the sense that Moore didn’t really have a clear idea of what he was doing when he went about dragging BSG through four muddy seasons, but I’d hope he’s learned a thing or two from the experience.  Either that, or we’ll have Remi Aubuchon to thank for upping the Sci-Fi channel’s game.

The straight-to-DVD pilot shows some marked improvements in production value.  I watched it on my laptop, but (what looked to me like) the blue-heavy color palette suited the somberness of the story well enough.  The acting, too, struck me as much subtler than its predecessor’s.  (I’ve never been terribly convinced by Olmos the elder, chicano politics aside.  Olmos the younger was wise to have focused on improving his physical appeal for the final season of BSG, because nepotism can only get you so far.)  Eric Stoltz puts in a solid performance as a far more palatable preincarnation of Gaius Baltar, and this despite a truly unfortunate ginger-flavored soul patch.  Polly Walker may have ripened a bit since her stint as the ur-MILF Atia of the Julii on Rome, but her character seems infinitely more promising than Laura Roslin’s facile, conflicted-woman-in-power schtick, or Starbuck’s drunken tomboy antics.  And Deadwood‘s least attractive lady of the night, Trixie, finds a much more subdued character here.  (An improvement over her brief run on Lost, I might also add.)  Even the teens weren’t entirely unwatchable.  That Zöe’s gonna be a firecracker.

Polly Walker, through the ages.
Polly Walker, through the ages.

BSG‘s familiar themes find themselves more grounded this time around, since we’re no longer floating aimlessly through space.  The abstract poly- v. monotheism conflict has been planted firmly in a universe populated by distinct planetary cultures (ie, the body art and subtitled language of the ethnicized Taurons) and fundamentalist terrorism.  Most satisfying, however, is the show’s introduction of “holoband” technology (ie, the Internet) as the metaphorical terrain on which to explore the human/non-human conflict that made Boomer’s character so obliquely interesting for the first couple of seasons of BSG.

For my money, the sci-fi of BSG was too heavily reliant on bland, overcooked fantasies about technological progress: its allegorical conflicts only have traction in an imaginary future when artificial intelligence frighteningly palpates the limits of human subjectivity.  Caprica (so far) seems invested in relatively more mundane questions about the radical distinction between physis and techne, for instance, or about what constitutes human subjectivity, or the limits of the corporeal, perception, presence.  It also offers some fresh, accessible reflection on the re/production and fragmentation of identity in the age of digital reproduction.  Its fantasy of digitization carried to its limit — ie, the perfect reproducibility of bio-electric processes — poses some provocative questions about the structures of human subjectivity and affect.  (I’m thinking of the scenes between Stoltz and Zöe in the second half of the pilot.  The scene when Stoltz is testing the downloaded MCP doesn’t make much sense in this regard, though: digital transfer as we know it is never strictly transfer, but a process of copying.  If bro had been using a Mac, he wouldn’t have had any problems.)

So far my complaints are relatively few.  The refrain that “there is truth in the world, there is a right and there is a wrong” will get tiresome very quickly, and the Adama reveal didn’t feel especially necessary.  Otherwise, though, I think the Caprica pilot is very, very successful: the stale imagination that animated the human-robot conflict in BSG has been recontextualized and made much more relevant.  It strikes me that the pseudo-etymological link between Caprica and Capricorn offers us an organizing metaphor for the show: in its half-goat, half-fish version, Capricorn posits a fantastical hybrid in the evolutionary transition from water to land.  (Mythologically, I gather, it went the other way around.  Whatever.)  I hope the series doesn’t get lost in its more operatic elements, but continues developing the bridge between the technological movement of late capitalism and its potential for apocalypse.

– J.C. Freñán

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Boobs for Bauer

As the two-hour special prior to this season of 24 made totally clear, Day 7 is all about Bauer’s “Redemption.”  How, exactly, is Bauer to be redeemed, you ask?  By standing trial and serving jail time for violating the Geneva Convention on a daily basis?  By admitting his mistakes and dedicating his life to the peaceful resolution of international conflict?  By embarking on the twelve steps to recovery from violence addiction, confronting his countless victims or their families, and asking for their forgiveness?  Or maybe he’ll redeem himself by becoming even more intransigent and recruiting even more of the simple-minded to his one-dimensional vision of the world?

This season’s dupe is very obviously Renee Walker.  Was anyone fooled by her presence?  Is it not patently obvious that Renee’s femininity (which has been on prominent display ever since she changed into that translucent, V-neck sweater) is meant as an apology for or vindication of Bauer’s politics?  Just because a womanly woman serves as Bauer’s “hard won” ally-slash-mouthpiece, is his extremist patriotism now suddenly something other than the fulfillment of a conservative’s wet dream?  (Chloe O’Brian’s unconditional trust in Bauer was a lot harder won, but her femininity is, shall we say, less than convincing.)

Am I the only who thinks she bears a striking resemblance to Skeletor?
That's a standard issue FBI push-up bra, obvs.

The season’s other strategy for redemption is of course Bauer’s martyrdom: he has now been tragically infected by an experimental bio-weapon in the line of duty.  The problem with this particular plot twist, however, lies in the fact that we’ve known since January that we can expect yet another season of 24 next year.  So unless the show’s producers have the guts to write Day 8 as the immediate, “real-time” continuation of Day 7 (during which we might finally see Bauer get in a well-deserved cat nap or two), we already know that Bauer’s gonna be just fine at the end of this season.  No dice, then, Bauer: TubaTV, at least, will not be granting your redemption any time soon.

For the lulz, here’s some more priceless dialog from this season:

Jack: I think I found us a new way in.  Look: these are Senator Mayer’s files.  This is Douglas Knowles.  He’s the chairman of Starkwood.  He was actually helping the senator with the investigation.  He’s the one who brokered the deal to open the company’s books.

Renee: What, another insider?  Didn’t we just get burned?

Two minutes later, we cover the exact same ground when Jack relays the budding plan to Larry and Tony.

Jack: Tony, you’re gonna need to find a way to stay behind.  We’re gonna get your vectors over to a man we contacted inside Starkwood.  His name is Douglas Knowles, he believes he knows where the weapons are.

Larry: Isn’t that how we got into this mess?  Almeida and some supposedly friendly contact?

Renee: Knowles is chairman of the Starkwood board, but he was cooperating with Senator Mayer’s investigation of the company.  Larry, he’s all that we’ve got.

[24‘s writers just LOVE the Only Option scenario, by the way.  In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the Only Option structure is what organizes the development of all seven seasons of the show.  There should be a 24 drinking game that requires a shot for every time the writers resort to the Only Option logic, every time someone (usually Jack) says something along the lines of “We don’t have a choice” or its kindred invocation, “You’re just gonna have to trust me.”]

– J.C. Freñán

Reuniting Zack Attack, or The Slow Redemption of Jimmy Fallon

But in my heart it was so real. If you google “Jimmy Fallon” and “douchebag” together, you’ll get 17,000 hits. Well, 17,000 and one, now.

I don’t get what happened. But somewhere between ’00, when he was SNL‘s resident wunderkind, and ’08, when he was tapped to take over the Conan spot, everyone in our generation collectively turned on Jimmy. Maybe you could chalk it up to a couple shitty movies, but since when have SNL grads done otherwise? Case in point.

Around that time, I actually started to feel for the dude. Did I see myself in Fallon? A kid, once crushed on by white girls (and boys) everywhere, later forgotten, and later reviled: you’re damn right, man. I feel bitter for Jimmy, and felt a sense of redemption (misplaced, perhaps) when I heard about his latest stint on the Late Show.

Well, so far, it’s been rough. But the guy certainly has a knack for bringing old obsessions out of our dusty childhood closets. First, there was the Public Enemy reunion. Then, we saw the old curmudgeonly Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, toss a few zingers at Fallon and Jason Segel. And, if he actually manages to pull off last week’s Saved by the Bell reunion announcement, and get the Hot Sundaes and Zack Attack to reunite in one late night spandex and shoulder-padded jam out, then I think, collectively, we ought to forgive Jimmy for whatever he did that pissed us off. Make it happen, America.

Talkin' 'bout friends

[Update: Head on over to “Do As I Write” for a pretty hilarious, if skeptical, look at Fallon’s plan to reunite the ‘Bell’ cast.]

– Thumbu Sammy