“Know Thy Enemy”

3 stars.

Air date: 3/5/2010
Teleplay by Patrick Massett & John Zinman
Story by Patrick Massett & John Zinman & Mathew Roberts
Directed by Michael Nankin

Review Text

The key thing "Know Thy Enemy" and Caprica as a series have going for it is the sense that this is a series that's constructing a fictional world that feels like a believable, lived-in place. That's not always an easy task, and a big part of the equation is the fact that this place feels simultaneously familiar and fresh. Everything in general terms feels like our society (which is to say American, since the audience is predominantly so), but the story is freed in so many other ways from adhering to that template and can instead be about itself and the peculiar imaginings of its universe.

When you consider the fairly bare-bones plot movements in an episode like this, having it play out against a compelling developing backdrop is all the more important. "Know Thy Enemy" is not nearly as arresting as "There Is Another Sky" — but because it exists inside a world that I enjoy spending time inside, I can cut it a lot more slack than I otherwise might. Simply put, "Know They Enemy" is a lot more impressive for the way it feels as a slice of a larger world than for what it actually accomplishes.

In the main story, Tomas Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson), head of Vergis Corporation, strolls into town and unleashes a slowly percolating psychological terror campaign against Daniel, whom he knows but cannot prove stole the MCP from him. You'll recall from the pilot that Daniel enlisted Joseph (who in turn enlisted his brother Sam) to steal the MCP from Vergis' R&D lab on Tauron. In the process, two of Vergis' employees (and close friends) were murdered.

It's nice to see Daniel's corporate malfeasance from the pilot come back to rear its head here. And if Vergis sometimes comes across as an unlikely construction of the writers (he wants vengeance, but he only wants it served via a series of painful personal incursions into Daniel's life), he's performed to a calm and measured perfection by John Pyper-Ferguson, who vows that vengeance will come with an easygoing smile that will be served out over the course of — hell, possibly the entire series' run. "My dream is to tear up your dream," he eventually tells Daniel. A great deal of menace is conveyed here in the most civilized manner possible. (Vergis arrives with the intent of buying Daniel's sports team — simply because he knows Daniel loves owning it.)

I also enjoyed the portrayal of Joseph's attempts to get into V-World, which rings true. He buys a holoband, but the preloaded Graystone consumer software ("WELCOME!!!" says the digital Daniel recording) doesn't allow him to enter illegal VR realms. No wonder people have hacked the holoband and made more elaborate things like New Cap City; the consumer version looks like a glorified VR edition of Wii Sports. (Enjoy golfing and skiing, without leaving your home!) Joseph, not technically savvy enough to do it on his own, eventually instead has to track down the kid who told him about Tamara in V-World. This is storytelling at a fairly laid-back pace, but the attention to detail and characterization works.

Then we've also got Daniel's lab tech Philomon (Alex Arsenault), who is a brilliant kid when it comes to robotic engineering, but rather unlucky in love. In keeping with my theme of this show creating its own world based on ours, we're introduced to the Caprica version of online dating, which is given an intriguing little plot twist in that U-87/RoboZoe observes this guy and then e-mails him pretending to be "Rachel." They then meet in a V-Club room. I continue to appreciate the straightforward use of Caprica's advanced VR technology in these plausible real-world social-networking situations. When Philomon notices that "Rachel" looks a lot like Zoe Graystone, Rachel has a pretty good explanation for why.

Still not working for me, on the other hand, is the STO plot, which continues to get more complicated even as it continues to refuse supplying anyone with a concrete motivation. Let me see if I have it straight: The STO is comprised of a series of independent cells who don't work together. Clarice is in one cell, and her priority is to explore the Prophecy of Apotheosis, which she interprets to use technology to achieve immortality in the form of sentient AI. This is why she wants to steal a copy of the Zoe avatar (which she tries to do here, by getting Amanda liquored up in a visit to her home under false pretenses).

Meanwhile, there's this other STO cell being run by a guy named Barnabas Greeley, a self-flagellating whack-job who is Keon's boss, and whom Keon hopes will help Lacy in transporting her mysterious cargo to Gemenon. (How, or even if, Keon and Clarice are linked as STO members is beyond me, since she previously gave him a warning about the school raid, but here appears to have no influence over him.) Barnabas likes to blow things up, and indeed we learn here that Keon built the bomb that blew up the maglev — although the maglev was apparently not the real target; Ben set it off early. A lot of the STO throws their support behind Barnabas and his more violent tactics, which Clarice believes to be self-defeating at this point.

I suppose that logically this kinda holds together, but emotionally it doesn't work, because these characters are enigmas being moved around mysteriously and are impossible to invest in as people. I enjoy a lot of the world that Caprica is creating, but the STO seems to exist apart from it. Barnabas is played by genre-show veteran James Marsters in an apparently important recurring role, so hopefully the writers will soon bring some urgency to this so-far less-than-impressive storyline.

Now to shoot up the place:

  • Why does Daniel insist on having sensitive conversations in front of the U-87? Even if he doesn't realize Zoe's avatar is in there somewhere, he knows it's a sentient machine.
  • Nice piece of pragmatic wisdom from Sam: "If you've got time to ask if a bullet's coming at your head, there probably isn't."
  • Vergis appears on the Baxter Sarno program. It's a nice beat that makes the world feel more lived in, filling out the edges.
  • I never watched Buffy or Angel, so I am not very familiar with Marsters. I saw him in one episode of Andromeda, and I remember that it was a good guest-star performance on a show that usually just had bad ones.

Previous episode: There Is Another Sky
Next episode: The Imperfections of Memory

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8 comments on this post

    I just loved this episode. Thought all the Vergis stuff was just superbly well done, and that scene in the Daniel's house that ended the episode was so menacing.

    Until the debt is paid...

    I agree with you yet again on this one. I sure hope the STO plot ends up going somewhere interesting, because thus far it's easily the most expendable part of the show.

    It's funny how they've been re-using BSG actors; We've seen Kat and Duck already so far, and now we have good ol' Stinger as Vergis. This is an actor who they were never able to bring back after the initial Pegasus cliffhangers, not even for Razor. Is it a coincidence that all these re-used BSG actors were fighter pilots???? Sorry...this isn't Lost, so probably not...more likely it's just that the Vancouver talent pool isn't huge, so we've ended up with some familiar faces, a la the Law & Order "He was in another one a while ago" phenomenon.

    An average, set-up episode, I think. I like Caprica, I really do, but I hope that it wouldn't be too unreasonable for all this plot building come to an awesome revelation that makes our jaws drop?

    Also, thank you soo, much Derek, I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out where I had seen Vergis before! I even re-watched Pegasus recently too.

    Yeah I think they're just reusing the talent pool, the only one thats kind of grated on me was having Kat in such a large role. Kat wasn't a very minor character in BSG, so it sticks out. I'm fairly certain its just actor reusing though.

    One thing though, Daniel keeps on playing that piano.....

    James Marsters has also done recurring roles in Smallville and Torchwood- I consider casting him a good sign...

    Oh, I always liked Marsters as Spike in Buffy. If you get a chance to see him in a Buffy rerun sometime, check him out.

    It's easy to forget that Marsters' native accent is actually American after he spent so many years playing a character with an English one throughout Buffy and the 5th season of Angel. I read a lot of gushing praise about his performance in this episode on some other genre site that will remain nameless, but I just frankly couldn't see it here. That's not to say it was a bad performance by any means, given that I can't ever recall him giving a bad performance in anything I've ever seen him in, but there just simply wasn't enough of the character shown here to make anything more than a cursory appraisal. Looking forward to seeing the role fleshed out a little more though.

    Patton Oswalt is just perfectly cast as Baxter Sarno. While I immedialtely picked out Duck and Kat from BSG in their new roles, I have to admit that it wasn't until reading the comments here that Vergis and Stinger were one and the same actor.

    I'm liking the continuing real world parallels of the virtual worlds being increasingly used for escapism from the day to day drudgery, and that the show is not shying away from using religious belief as the basis for violent terrorist action rather than just downplaying it to mere political division. I also find it interesting the way real world religious groups are having differing interperetations of the way Caprica portrays the STO. I've read comments absolutely decrying the use of a mono-theistic group as terrorists while the polythism is shown as having mainstream acceptance, while others seem to have decided that they are actually rooting for the STO for precisely that reason? Perspective really is unique I guess.

    I did enjoy Vergis in this episode, but it was painfully slow to watch. It's the 7th episode of the series; It's time for Zoe to do... anything.

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