Blade Runner: The Nexus Production Line

(My number of Blade Runner essays is growing weekly. More on Blade Runner here: Set Design, Cinematography, 2022, 2036, 2048)

In the original Blade Runner universe, Los Angeles 2019, Eldon Tyrell was the largest business mogul on the planet for his work on android technologies. Unlike the androids of most science fiction before the source novel’s (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick, 1968), the androids in this context are made completely using artificial-biological parts and genetic engineering. When the 1982 Blade Runner film was in the scripting phase, director Ridley Scott decided to use a term less familiar to the general public that could denote the androids in the film without the connotation of automaton machine that ‘android’ brought to mind. This term was replicants.

In that original classic (and my favorite film of all time), we are only privy to the replicant production model: Nexus 6. These are the top of the line production models of their day and are used primarily for off-world resource collection and as slaves. Their programming can be specified in a few different directions for different purposes. Need workers, Nexus 6’s like Leon Kowalski are much stronger than ordinary human beings and have a very high pain threshold as their pain receptors are inactive. Need entertainment for your workers, pleasure models like Pris are made for just such lascivious purposes. Soldiers you can dispose of without a moral hubbub? Models like Roy Batty are created with superhuman strength, vast intelligence, and finesse to do any such job. Need assassins? Replicants like Zhora are just the skin jobs you need to infiltrate any situation and survive under most conditions to complete any wet job assignment. Finally, there are Nexus 6 models who can work as assistants, typists, receptionists, butlers, maids. Your general workhorse models for big businesses, which are not explicitly shown, but are implied to exist by the very presence of Rachel (albeit a Nexus 7) illegally working in Eldon Tyrell’s offices on Earth.

Now, during the years between the first film and Denis Villeneuve’s new film Blade runner 2049, we know that at least three other Nexus models exist: The Nexus 7, the Nexus 8, and the unnumbered (at least explicitly in the film) Nexus 9. So how do I know that Rachel was a Nexus 7 model and not just a modified Nexus 6 with a memory implant as we are lead to believe in the original film. First, when Officer K and the LAPD unveil her skeleton buried under Sapper Morton’s dead tree on the outskirts of LA, they then bring the remains to the crime lab and find a serial number prefaced with ‘N7’, or Nexus 7 model. Second, when Officer K brings a lock of her hair also found in the grave to Wallace Corporation for identification purposes, the DNA pulls up her catalog number and shows this different information also prefaced with N7.

So, what are the differences between the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 7 models? My theory is that the Nexus 7’s were the first with memory implants. We know that Nexus 8 models and Nexus 9 models had memory implants as well, and it makes sense that all Nexus 7 models would have been likewise since the data mole at Wallace Corporation pulls up Rachel’s catalog number and data card in the archives, remarking that she was standard issue and “unremarkable.” We can bear this point out because all of the Nexus 7 and Nexus 8 memory bearings are housed in a secret vault in Wallace Corporation headquarters, meaning that at minimum there were other Nexus 7 models with memories.

A particular kind of Nexus 7. Rachel was at least one of the first Nexus 7 prototypes. The new memory feature in Nexus 7 models was a necessary add-on to the series because of the blankness of past in the Nexus 6 models made them occasionally go haywire and decide to kill their human counterparts. This emotional instability was successfully circumvented with the new memory feature in Nexus 7 models that gave them a sense of past and made them easier to manipulate because until told otherwise they believe themselves to be human. Why is Rachel a prototype and not a one-off experiment in a line of replicants that are already on the market? Because Deckard is surprised when he finds out that she is a replicant with memory implants. And if the Nexus 7 models were already around and functioning then why would he be surprised? Plus, we have established that Nexus 7 models do have memory implants as a feature.

Is Deckard a replicant? The question that has plagued the franchise for so long and receives no easy answer in the new Blade runner 2049 film. I think the answer is obviously yes. His eyes glow like artificial beings in a number of scenes, he has a penchant for keeping old photographs of his supposed past, he has no close friends or relatives and seems only to know his fellow police officers, he is pretty resilient to attacks from much stronger replicant adversaries, and he daydreams of unicorns and his fellow officer Gaff knows about these dreams. Plus, Ridley Scott says he is one. So now the question becomes, what kind of replicant is Deckard?

Deckard is a replicant with memories, so we know that he cannot be a Nexus 6 model or earlier in the series. So far so good. But what other features can help us out in this inquiry? Lifespan. The Nexus 6 models had a built-in safeguard system to prevent them from causing too much mayhem if they managed to escape their off-world prisons: a four-year lifespan. We know that Nexus 8 models have a normal, or even elongated, lifespan. But we do not know if the Nexus 7 models have the same normal human lifespan. What can help us out?

In the future, in 2022, a large-scale EMP-based blackout was caused by a few Nexus 8 replicants. They destroyed a power grid and destroyed all digital records, which ended wide-scale persecution of replicants as the Human Supremacy movements were unable to track them down any longer. During this time, Nexus 6 models, Nexus 7 models, and Nexus 8 models all existed side by side, presumably with earlier models, and often on Earth. Afterward, all replicant technology was banned until 2036. In the new film, in 2049, there is an underground movement of Nexus 8 models (and later Nexus 9 models) against the Wallace Corporation and the system that made them slaves, but no Nexus 7 models are present any longer. This leads me believe that the Nexus 7 models did not have an extended lifespan and slowly died out as their four-year lifespans played themselves out.

So where does this leave us with Deckard? He is a replicant with a memory like the Nexus 7 and Nexus 8. But he has lived for at least thirty years. Meaning he does not the limited lifespan of the Nexus 7. We know from Wallace’s reliquary that the Nexus 8 was a Tyrell model. So, Deckard must be the prototype for the Nexus 8 model with both the memory implant and the normal human lifespan built-in.

From Eldon Tyrell’s death in 2019 until the company’s failure in 2022, they rolled out the Nexus 7 models and then the Nexus 8 models quickly and in succession to such a degree that many Nexus 8 models survived the Human Supremacy movement and thirty years of being hunted by the LAPD to start the basis for a large underground movement in 2049. We can also imagine two unique positions with regard to Eldon Tyrell during this initial three-year period.

First, Eldon Tyrell died at the hand of the prodigal son returned to Earth and his own creation, Roy Batty, way back in 2019. The company continued to run under a different person’s leadership during those three years or it ran autonomously under a vast and wide-reaching pre-planned itinerary put forward by Tyrell in the years before his death. Second option, Roy Batty only killed the replicant copy of Eldon Tyrell who then continued to run the company. In the original screenplay for Blade Runner and in the original shooting script, the real and original Eldon Tyrell is in a cryogenic tank on the company’s top floor. Housed in his pyramidal structure to live until his goals are reached by proxy copy Eldon Tyrell replicants, he waits, not aging, one day to emerge. Just why he wants to do this I don’t have the foggiest. Maybe he wants to live until death-control technologies can offer him eternal life and he can re-emerge as a God-like figure wielding unchecked and unlimited corporate and political power as the head of Tyrell Corp. and humanity’s savior as the one who allowed for exploration to more and more off-world colonies. This is just speculation, but interesting source material for a future film (And I would drop everything to write a treatment if given the opportunity!).

Now, we have just one more replicant model to analyze: The Nexus 9. From 2022 until 2036, all replicant technologies and production was banned. During this period, a global famine based on the deaths of all natural species (minus human beings) because of climate change seemed inevitable. And then, rising like a phoenix, a new Norman Borlaug came to humanity’s rescue with new technologies in genetic engineering of crops and animals to increase food production on a huge scale and created second Green Revolution. Like Norman Borlaug, the new tech saved billions of lives from starvation, but this time prevented humanity’s erasure from the Planet Earth entirely. This man was Niander Wallace. But he had greater ambitions than saving humanity on Earth alone. He bought Tyrell’s patents and worked secretly and illegally on a new Nexus model, the Nexus 9. A replicant unable to harm human beings. One that would listen to all human commands. One that took the strengths of Nexus 7 memory implants for emotional stability and Nexus 8 prolonged lifespans for greater user bang for the buck, and created the perfect slave: one that could not rebel.

But being complex beings, their psychology could become warped over time and like Officer K and other Nexus 9 models in the Nexus Freedom movement alongside their Nexus 8 counterparts, they are able to break free from their conditioning, utilize their freedom as human beings (albeit manufactured rather than born), and fight the good fight for autonomy. They represent the new by-line for Blade Runner 2049: whereas the Nexus 6 models fight for quantity of life, it is the struggle of Nexus 8 models and Nexus 9 models to fight for quality. The slaves have nothing to lose but their chains. and if producers can create more Blade Runner films in the future, there are plenty more concepts and ways forward for the franchise socially, politically, economically, existentially, and emotionally.

 

Dreadfully distinct,

Against the dark,

A tall white fountain played,

Cody Ward

 

[P.S. The Tyrell modification of replication in replicants is next in this blog series. Stay tuned for when this HERE turns blue]

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