Review: ‘Love Death + Robots’ 2 (2021)

I’ve been curious why the Marvel Cinematic Universe picked the Malthusian catastrophe for the ultimate disaster the superheroes rescue everyone else from. Narendra Modi has invoked the misguided idea of some (religious) communities breeding too fast for Hindu India – for Bharat – to bear. The third episode of Love Death + Robots 2, ‘Pop Squad’, visits the same idea from the class perspective. Its story seems to assume the language peculiar to the world it is set in doesn’t need explanation, and how right it is: a minute into the episode, you know ‘Pop’ in the title refers to ‘Population’. You know that lady’s “boost” is her longevity injection, that “rejoo” is short for rejuvenation (no spoilers). ‘Snow in the Desert’, the next episode, visits a dystopia in the neighbourhood. Both of them touch on the allegedly polar issues of poverty and immortality.

I know all these words in stories because they’re old tropes but the public imagination is not a synecdoche: perhaps we know them because they’re on the back of our minds? And if so, why are they there? Perhaps they haunt all pre-fascist societies – like premonitions of otherisations ad infinitum, inequalities ad absurdum. Perhaps they haunt everyone who’s come close to the deranged eschatologies of the far right, and they’re phantoms of the irreversible unforgetting of what these ideologues are prepared to do to make their fantasies come true.

Love Death + Robots 2 seems fixated on such auguries, in fact. It has nothing of the variety the first season did, a season that explored so many facets of the human condition (my favourites are ‘Sonnie’s Edge’ and ‘Zima Blue’); in contrast the second season only seems interested in passing commentary, and anything interested in commentary over substance can offer neither.

‘Pop Squad’ had the tightest script by far and the lack of intensity and cynicism in every other episode was consipicuous. (You can’t say cynicism’s absence in Forrest Gump was conspicuous but you can with Tau, so you know what I mean.) ‘The Tall Grass’ got a rise out of me with its simple premise – Gigerian, I’d say, because like the artist’s work, it drafts a new sentence, leaves blanks where some words used to be and asks us to fill them in. The result is often a horror that feels visceral because it’s of our own making.

On the other hand, ‘Ice’ was a near-criminal waste of a premise, I’d argue, a children’s tale of the sort that shouldn’t find place in an anthology as iconoclastic as LDR. ‘All Through the House’ was a poor simile of the first season’s ‘Beyond the Aquila Rift’. ‘Automated Customer Service’ was tosh. ‘The Drowned Giant’ was a short story annotated by CGI; the protagonist’s narration stood by itself so I’m not sure what the visuals were doing there. I don’t know what the point of ‘Life Hutch’ was.

But all of them – except perhaps ‘Ice’ – were concerned one way or another with a madhouse apocalypse. Imagine a spectrum defined by the following narrative function: a human or two is thrown into the deep end of the perishablity pool and thrashes about for a bit; some learn to swim; everyone discovers the possibility of unusual endings or the endings of unusual things. Encode this into a blathering neural network and sooner than later, you’d have Love Death + Robots 2.

Perhaps its producers started off aspiring to animate fantastic worlds with the tensions binding the real one, but sadly for them reality was and remains far ahead. People have lived through and anticipated more than what even ‘Pop Squad’ offers us. It’s easy to see where each episode is going within the first twenty seconds – fostering an unacceptable level of predictability, give or take a couple twists. There are no ghosts, no phantoms, nothing that lingers inside a small box you didn’t know was there inside your head. They show us the end of the world but do little to help us confront it.

Featured image credit: Netflix.