Episodes Worth Watching in Love, Death + Robots: Volume 2
We’ve picked our favourite episodes from Netflix’s animated anthology, diving deep into the story’s themes and morals.
Netflix’s hit sci-fi animated anthology series was followed by second volume released earlier in May. Just like the the first season, each episode dives into the various themes, philosophies and “what if?” theories surrounding love, death and technological advancements. After carefully, digesting all 8 episodes, we’ve picked our top favourites you certainly can’t miss.
1. Pop Squad
Animation studio: Blur Studio
Director(s): Jennifer Yuh Nelson
In this dystopian story, mankind has developed a rejuvenating treatment that allows people to live forever in their prime. Consequently, the city faces a serious obstacle of overpopulation to which their solution is to forbid breeding. Children are therefore dehumanised and perceived as undesirable pests. Notably, those who breed do not take the treatment, so it can be assumed that the treatment impedes fertility. Detective Briggs is in charge of a police force that tracks down illegal breeders, prosecute them and execute their children. After his recent execution, guilt begins to unnerve Briggs, and he begins to question his actions and his lifestyle after a casual discussion about life without the boosts and having children with his partner Alice, a beautiful opera singer. Briggs took a green stuffed dinosaur from the child he last killed, which leads him to a collector’s store where toys are being sold (since children have been forbidden, toys stores have become extinct). Here, he meets a suspicious woman, Eve, buying a toy train and follows her to a dilapidated home. Turns out, Eve is sheltering a toddler, Melanie. Instead of prosecuting the frightened mother, Briggs questions her choice in raising a child. A eye-opening exchange about the difference of feeling alive and dead. He spares their life but dies in a shootout with his partner, defending them.
There is clear, perceptible divide between the rich and poor in this city. The two social groups are divided by the thick line of clouds in the sky. Those who live below it are impoverished and it is where most of the illegal breeders reside. Above the cloud line, living on the top floors of high-rise buildings are the wealthy. The kind of people who thrive here is exemplified by Alice. They are vain, self-absorbed and relish in the joy of living forever. Hidden from view, unaware of and unaffected by the children and people dying, they are oblivious to the harsh realities and cruelty below the clouds. As long as they can keep living forever, the consequence of their lifestyle doesn’t matter.
One of the biggest takeaways from this story is that the notion that there is a dichotomy between life and death is flawed. Life is appreciated and cherished more because death is inevitable. When Eve explains why she had Melanie, she reveals, “I remember her first laugh, I remember the first time she called me Mommy. I remember all these moments because I know I won’t have many.” Knowing that life is fleeting, she holds on to these memories more and gives them more value. Without death, there is no fear of losing time with loved ones, and so there is no internal need to cherish moments in life. After a shoot-out with his partner, Briggs gets a fatal wound, in the last moments of his death, he looks up into the rainy sky. Eyes widen, appreciating the rain as though it was the first time and finally embracing a much needed eternal rest.
The short film also discusses the pros and cons of living forever. There is, of course, the advantage of staying young for eternity and having endless time to perfect your talents and skills, just like Alice’s career in opera. However, living forever means “seeing too much”. In other words, everything in life starts to feel old even though they don’t age which gradually results to people feeling dead inside. A symptom of immortality that Briggs and Eve experience. Interestingly, there are two ways in which people feel alive again. One way is through an artificial manner, that is the boosts. The other way is through the eyes of a child, which is natural. Children, having experiencing everything for the first time, makes life feel anew as Eve explains to Briggs.
Eye: It is often said that the eyes are “the windows to your soul”. Here, it reflects how alive or dead a person feels. Brigg’s and Eve’s eyes commonly have small pupils, invoking a sense of tiredness. In contrast, Melanie’s eyes are wide with large pupils and full of wonder. Eve even comments, “They’re so bright. They’re so full if life.” Showcasing how alive and in touch Melanie feels with living. Additionally, while taking the boost, Alice’s pupils widens as life is being pumped into her body.
Hat: A straightforward symbol representing Detective Briggs. Perhaps it’s also hints toward the theme of criminality and justice.
Dinosaur: The stuffed toy represents the innocence and youth of a child. It’s a reminder of Brigg’s guilt which propels him to rethink his life and actions. It also symbolises the old and the aged, since dinosaurs are extinct, prehistoric creatures that roamed the Earth. Interestingly, Alice was called the “slayer of dinosaurs”. It can be interpreted as Alice the “slayer of children”. Her choosing to live forever and taking up a spot on Earth means, no newborns can live to prevent overpopulation. The title can also imply she has overcome death and old age.
2. Automated Customer Service
Animation studio: Atoll Studio
Director(s): Meat Dept (Kevin Dan Ver Meiren, David Nicolas, Laurent Nicolas)
Imagine a future where there is a robot or gadget that can do almost everything for you. A self-driving golf cart, a robot to walk your dog, a high-tech vacuum bot that can detect dirt and stains, cleans every surface and folds your clothing with a built in AI. What could possibly go wrong? Sunset City is an example of this technologically advanced utopia. Most this retirement city depend on robots to function. Everything goes awry when a house cleaning Vacuubot begins to aggressively attack an elderly woman and her dog after they get into a disagreement in the placement of a photo frame. Here, we begin to question whether robots have taken power over people of Sunset city. Being a retirement community, the residents have become passive, relying on robots on everything. So, when our protagonist decides to make her own personal choice in her home’s décor, the robot mistakes it for her making a mess. It’s just too good at its job. An epic cat and mouse chase ensues. She tries to call customer service for help, but the automated service only made things worse. In the end, she is rescued by her neighbour and they escape the city with a horde of robots after them.
The moral of this hilarious animated short is pretty simple. Perhaps it’s a warning of the dangers in depending heavily on technology for the everyday chores and activities in life. What’s the point of playing tennis if you’re only going to sit and swing your arm back and forth? It beats the purpose of getting exercise. The episode certainly showcases the flaws of modern-day technology, particularly the most comical audible character, the automated customer service. Certainly, many have experienced the tedious waiting and pressing of numbers when calling for customer service, especially how ineffective it is at times. In the elderly woman’s case, her interaction with the automated service was almost cost her life. This reminds us that nothing can replace actual human to human contact when it comes to service provision. One of the funniest moments that seem to throw shade at company’s marketing strategies occurs towards the end while the elderly woman and her neighbour makes an escape, the automated service says, “Unless, of course, you’d like to purchase a place on the exclusive Vacuubot termination whitelist. For a special introductory rate, press one.” This have become more commonplace with many service products and one that has become annoying. Hence, the protagonist’s reaction is surely cathartic and relatable. Interestingly, one has to wonder if Vacuubot offers that service, would it mean that there have been more robot attacks in other cities?
Vacuubot: The cleaning robot turned evil. It also represents all the appliances and inventions that attacks the protagonist and her dog. Oddly, the symbol looks like a hand raising the middle finger.
Skull with glasses: Represents the retired residents of Sunset City. While the shades.
Cactus: Symbolises the location of Sunset City: the desert.
3. The Drowned Giant
Animation studio: Blur Studio
Director(s): Tim Miller
Adapted from J. G. Ballard’s short story of the same title, “The Drowned Giant” tells the story of a colossal male corpse washed onto shore by a storm. Steven, a scientist investigating the deceased giant becomes fascinated and narrates his thoughts and the towns enchantment with the colossus. At first discovery, the scientist notes how the giant appears to be simply sleeping as though he would wake up any moment, but as time passes, and the townsfolk interest fades, the corpse succumbs to the decay and decomposition due to natural causes like weather, bacteria and animals. The body is then mutilated. People drew graffiti on it as though it wasn’t living thing before but merely a structure. Eventually, almost nothing is left of the corpse except for some of its bones on the beach. The scientist later discovers pieces of the body around town. A large bone is used as an awning for a butchers and a skull near a barn.
“The Drowned Giant” is essentially a story that contemplates life and death, or particularly in the narrator’s words, “life in death”. Even as a fresh corpse, the giant still holds a lot of life, perhaps it’s because the decomposition is yet visible or perhaps its because of the many live people surrounding it, the interest and the activity brings about an air of liveliness around the unmoving corpse. As the corpse decomposes and interest dies down, life is yet again seemingly drained from the giant. Arguably, it is the scientist’s interest in the corpse that breathes new life into the gargantuan corpse. He even admits that the giants feels alive to him. His detailed observation invites us to reimagine the corpse having a life. One way he successfully accomplished that task is through giving the giant an identity, a major theme in this episode.
Where the giant came from and who he was is unknown and insignificant. Instead we focus on how the scientist perceives him. The appearance and physique of the giant resembles that of a Greek Hero like in the Odyssey, as the scientist suggest. However, his apperception of the colossus is superficial. By attaching one’s identity to their body, it is susceptible to change, just as how the body changes. In other words, when the giant’s body decomposes and is mutilated until barely nothing is left, his identity disappears, or even evolves. As time passes, the human likeness and “the personality that had clung tenuously to the figure” vanishes. Even when parts of the giants still exists, like his massive “manhood” finds its way to a circus, it is misidentified as belonging to a whale.
Consumerism is another theme prevalent in this story, particularly the consumerism of the human body. In the story, the giant’s body garnered a lot of interest in such a way that businesses utilise parts of its remains to attract customers. One example is the giant bone used as an awning or a decorative sign for a butcher. Another example is the monumental “pizzle” that has become a main attraction for the circus. This reflects how the body can be used for profit for as long as it garners interest. It could be a criticism to real life consumerism of the body, such as prostitution.
Skull: Represents the giant corpse’s head
Bone: Symbolises the bones of the corpse used as souvenirs or decor in shops or left in nature. It also signifies how after death all that remains of our existence and identity are our bones.
Male organ in a tent: References the final resting place of the giant’s private part. It is also a symbol of how the human body can be used for consumerism and has entertainment value (think about prostitution!).
*Interestingly, the three symbols of different body parts combined resembles the full form of the gargantuan corpse.
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Photo source: Gelatt, P. and Miller, T. (Writer), & Nelson, J. Y. (Director). (2021, May 14). Pop Squad. [Television series episode] In Love, Death & Robots. Netflix. ; Scalzi, J. (Writer) and Miller, T., & Meat Dept. (Director). (2021, May 14). Automated Customer Service. [Television series episode] In Love Death & Robots. Netflix. ; Ballard, J. G. and Miller, T. (Writer), & Miller, T. (Director). (2021, May 14). The Drowned Giant. [Television series episode] In Love, Death & Robots.
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