I did one of these posts in 2019 for season one of Netflix’s Love, Death and Robots so here’s another, starting from most enjoyed to least.
The Very Pulse of The Machine
This entry is first in the rankings partly because of the severe case of imposter syndrome it left me with when it was through. It’s the type of story I envision myself being able to write really well one day—enough hard sci-fi elements to keep it grounded while it takes the reader/viewer on a trip through the sublime. It’s based on a short story by Michael Swanick and concerns the aftermath of a rover accident on the moon Io that claims the life of one astronaut and leaves the other stranded without radio signal and rapidly depleting oxygen supply. Convinced her own death is imminent, the surviving astronaut injects mind-altering substances into her helmet and begins to hear the voice of her dead colleague as it reads her poetry and slowly reveals to her the true nature of the moon they’re on. Beautiful visuals and a sort of open-ended conclusion that makes you contemplate barriers we maintain not only between each other but between all forms of matter.
I can’t really put in words how much I enjoyed this. There isn’t even much of a story here. The majority of the runtime is a wordless dance between a mystical siren and the conquistador she slowly, painstakingly claims as her captive but it’s so gorgeously shot and sound-edited, the kind of story that could only work in a visual medium and, unsurprisingly, this is the only entry that wasn’t adapted from a previously existing story. It’s written and directed by Alberto Miego who also helmed The Witness—one of the standouts from season one.
Kill Team Kill
Kill Team Kill is the entry with the most blood spilled and the highest amount of viscera, dealt here by a bionic grizzly bear designed by the CIA as part of covert operations in the Afghan region. After CIA Grizzly deviates from its programming and turns on its handlers, it ambushes a small band of U.S. commandos. What follows is a twisted and darkly funny meditation (I think it can be called that) on American foreign policy over the past five decades, expertly delivered again by CIA Grizzly without uttering a single word. It’s anti-imperialist in both message and tone, the ‘finding out’ half of the ‘f*ck around and find out’ refrain. It’s the American war machine exclaiming—as it often does before barreling head-first into its next quagmire—’if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.’ Also it’s thirteen minutes of unbridled rampage on screen.
Night of the Mini-Dead
This one ticked an oddly specific box for me: the ‘used-to-be-obsessed-with-tilt-shift-photography’ box. Rewind back about twelve years to when I was just the protoplasm of who I am now, a year out of design school, having just beaten the NEET allegations, and thinking I would be like the other graphic designers and finally pick up an amateur photographer habit, being introduced to a technique called tilt-shift after examples of it started cropping up everywhere. That’s everything this entry surfaced for me in the first minute as I watched and realized the point being made here. There are few things that work like tilt-shift in conveying just how insignificant everything is in a cosmic context, even something as steeped in the collective imagination as the zombie genre and everything it’s been used to comment on since its debut. I especially like the shot of the White House and the President’s slightly over-the-top accent as he reacts in voiceover to news of a zombie infestation and he could just as easily be talking about ‘creeping sharia communism’ or any of the other boogiemen that gets people stomping to their nearest polling places every four years. It’s mostly juvenile and not anything particularly revelatory about the genre but it all comes together well and manages to avoid the adult swim circa early 2010s odor that should just be oozing off something like this, and it’s largely thanks to the way it’s filmed. I was surprised to learn this one was also adapted from a story but then I looked and the story was co-written by Tim Miller who is basically the creative force behind LDR so I’m thinking the story was written with the express purpose of being adapted here.
Bad Traveling is about the crew of a whaling ship held hostage by a flesh-eating crustacean in exchange for them getting it to land; somewhere with more humans it can presumably graze on. It’s up this high partly because of how much I disagreed with the main character Torrin in his decision-making. It isn’t something you see a lot in modern SFF and that’s a shame. Stories like it without obvious audience surrogates are often better at speaking to the human condition than stories outwardly inviting the audience to identify with one character over another. Two or three times while watching, I found myself thinking there has to be another solution that doesn’t involve feeding your shipmates to the crustacean below deck but this is the solution he arrives at and part of the point is just watching it play out. Solid direction and plotting by David Fincher from a story by Neal Asher.
If you started hearing a ticking noise the moment the two leads in Swarm meet for the first time, you have the same stopwatch I have. It’s only good for counting how long it takes till two researchers at the top of their fields are (tastefully) ripping items of clothing off each other (very tastefully, they spend most of the story in microgravity and clad in nothing but their undies so when the show gets going, it’s a seamless transition.) There’s interesting stuff here about sentience emerging as a defense mechanism and the ethics involved if we would ever try to assimilate an alien species into human society. It gets a bit convoluted near the end. Nothing wrong with that generally if the ideas are still front and center throughout. This is the only entry with aliens and it does not skimp on the weirdness. Something else it doesn’t skimp on is the sex as I already alluded to, putting it almost in the same league as Beyond the Aquila Rift—another standout from season one (for more reasons than just that.)
In Vaulted Halls Entombed
Horror isn’t really my genre so it’s always good to see something that lets me know what I’m missing and does it very quickly. The ‘invading force running up against an otherworld horror familiar to the natives’ setup doesn’t feel new but the execution here is A+.
This dude Mason has a serious rat problem in his barn. They’re getting organized and taking up arms. They’ve decided Mason is the actual rodent from their perspective, which seems reasonable. Mason employs various methods in his desperation to suppress the barn rat uprising. Finally realizing he can exterminate a handful of rat revolutionaries but can never exterminate the rat revolution, he decides to try a little rat diplomacy instead.
Three Robots: Exit Strategies
John Scalzi is very much not my wheelhouse/wavelength/cup-of-tea but I appreciate him doing what basically amounts again to lending his name to the LDR franchise, putting butts in seats, and so on. This one is a sequel to the Three Robots entry from the first season. There’s nothing really new here compared to the first installment; three robots embark on a tour of the wasteland Earth has become post humanity’s self-inflicted wipeout. This time there’s more of a focus on tech billionaires and the governments that enabled them but it somehow still boils itself down to HUMANS BAD. Very facile conclusion, if you ask me. Again, nothing new and a little on-the-nose as usual. There’s an Elon Musk dig at the end that’s not even worth mentioning (don’t know why I did just now.) There’s an attempt at robot uprising lore which, as a casual lorehead, I appreciated just for it being there.