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A drama centered on a go-go dancer with multiple personality disorder who struggles to remain her true self and begins working with a psychotherapist to uncover the mystery of the inner ghosts that haunt her.
If you've seen or heard of the "telenovela" programs that appear on cable channels Telemundo or Univision, you probably know the name Argos, the producer of many of these shows (I'd have to say "Gitanas" remains my favorite). If the term "telenovela" signifies to you a kind of alternate universe where most of the characters are well to do, easy on the eye and spend most of their time talking and drinking--i.e., escapism--don't be put off from having a look at "Capadocia." Produced by Argos for HBO, it retains their trademark "production values" but also features grittiness galore. Like HBO's "Oz," it's visually seductive but may well rattle your sensibilities. If you're an Anglo who hates reading subtitles, though, you should probably pass on it.
It starts with a look at a seemingly tailor-made-for-telenovela Mexican family, with beautiful intelligent wife (Ana de la Reguera from "Gitanas"), handsome but not so intelligent husband and unbearably cute little kids. She's a qualified pharmacist (which enters into the plot around episode seven, the latest I've seen) but chose to be a full-time capital-M mom---can't you just feel your cardiac cockles heating up? But when she catches hubby at home doing the nasty with her best friend (in one of the show's sardonic little touches, it's her kid clamoring for a missing toy that sends her back home unexpectedly), a fracas ensues with her friend promptly falling fatally down the stairs. (Does anyone ever fall down the stairs and not die?) In short order she's in the hoosegow which is de facto run by a psycho inmate called "Bambi" who has colluded with some crooked politicians and guards to start a blood soaked riot, thus prompting a public outcry for a "new kind of prison" where inmates will work (and be economically exploited by the politicians). (There's a "lot going on" in this show, numerous subplots.) A human-rights crusader (Dolores Heredia, also from "Gitanas") runs the new facility (or thinks she does) and like the Terry Kinney character in "Oz," finds that there's a lot more to prison reform than just good intentions.
No TV show will work without characters who make you want to keep seeing what happens to them. "Capadocia" has plenty of these. The female inmates look not just like "real women" but women who have been kicked around a lot by life (often literally). There's no maudlin attempt to depict them as capital-V victims of circumstance; we're invited to draw our own conclusions. (In one scene a nun jailed for selling drugs to help feed sick kids piously intones that a fellow inmate is "doomed," which seems like the writers' sly dig at moral fastidiousness.) I'm very happy with the realistic depiction of women's needs for emotional connections, especially in this kind of situation. I'm not as happy with the depiction of almost all the male characters as jerks, but I guess I can't argue that "guys aren't like that." There are flashbacks and scenes of what I'm tempted to call (since it's Hispanic) "magical realism" with characters confronting specters from their past along the lines of "Solaris." (In one episode an inmate who's been forced to give up her new baby envisions him as a thuggish adult. This episode culminates in one of the most warpedly spectacular set-pieces I've seen on TV. Gives new meaning to "dropping in on" a concert.) It all fits together due to the care taken to concoct the overall hauntingly elegiac atmosphere. Mexicans excel at depicting both sadness and inevitability; since this is no telenovela, one suspects that (to borrow a line from "Seven") "...this ain't gonna have a happy ending..." or even a "real" ending at all, again as per "Oz."
Of courseI have a few quibbles: the subtitles can be hard to read; characters pop in and out such that it's sometimes had to follow "without a scorecard." Since the penal system is depicted as SO thoroughly brutal and corrupt, one wonders how "Bambi" gets her way by threatening to expose the collusion of the politicians or by invoking her "friends outside"; why can't they find a way to "shut her up for good," cover it up & use the myriads of cops/bodyguards we see to protect them from street hoodlums? The character of the "Colombiana" (apparently the actress is actually from Colombia), a former beauty queen coveted by males and females although I personally don't find her "all that," seems borrowed from a telenovela. She escapes from prison and from the kingpin character who's having his way with her, then wanders around town buying jewelry with his stolen money, blunders into a trap and finally implores the kingpin to take her back---yeah, okay, whatever...By the way, "even in the Third World" would a male inmate who's had a sex-change operation be put in a cell (or cell block) with knuckle-dragging macho goons? There's no "protective custody" capacity down there, even after the Heredia character intervenes for him? But bottom line, don't miss this pearl from south of the border---unsavory elements forming into a gem; available On Demand until 12/15/2008 for your convenience.
Re the name Capadocia: in the second episode there's a reference to "the city where the Amazon women lived," but since the episode titles have religious connections ("Genesis," "Exodus" etc.), it also seems likely that name was picked because the "Cappadocians" (a region of what is now Turkey) in the Bible were among the people who heard the Gospel in their own language after the resurrection of Jesus. Or maybe the writers just thought it rolled "trippingly on the tongue," as Shakespeare put it...
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