The episode opens within the cafe-bar Roger once frequented whenever he was really down and out. Therein, The Big Ear reclines in his favorite seat, seemingly addressing Roger. As the man recites his oration, the camera pans out and we see that he has been injured, that most of his face has been seared off, revealing a metallic facade beneath the exterior. He is malfunctioning and by the end of his speech, the club will collapse around him and end his life indefinitely.
But first, his words: ‘Understand Roger, this city was created to be a stage with no memory of forty years ago. It’s nonsense to ask if memories exist. I just thought I would let you know. By the way, aren’t you going to be the knight in shining armor and rescue the maiden?’
The speech is addressed to Roger although he is absent. As The Big Ear is an android programmed to behave in certain ways, one can only properly surmise that he is reciting a piece of oration programmed into his memory circuits that would have, under different circumstances, have been delivered to a present Roger during these last moments of Paradigm City’s existence. However, something has gone awry in this simulation of the city and a choice was made that has led Roger to no longer seek out wisdom through The Big Ear, but through himself instead.
In The Big Ear’s hands is, as always, a newspaper. This time, however, we are privy to contents of this paper: An image of Big O and Big Fau fighting and a headline indicating that one of the two will win in the end (The headline is missing a ripped section indicating the victor of this battle). It seems that The Big Ear was given his information through these papers, which foretold future events. The rip in the paper serves as a narrative device to prevent the viewer from knowing the outcome of the battle, but may also serve as a symbolic cue signifying Big Ear’s current inability to divine future events.
As the final battle commences, Big O launches an all-out barrage of physical attacks and heavy artillery, none of which bypass Big Fau’s built-in force-field technology. Dan Dastun notices that Military Police have trained their howitzers and tanks onto Big O. And though he protests this action, he finds himself unable to sway the decision of his troops as he has been stripped of his command by higher ups in the administration acting on directives from Alex Rosewater himself to aid Big Fau in this battle. Dastun then decides to pilot a tank himself and direct its attacks towards Big Fau, which precipitates a mass-mutiny of his past troops from the Military Police’s command. They aid Dastun in his attempt to help Big O and roger, but don’t manage to put a single dent in Fau’s defenses, and eventually, all men are laid waste by a powerful barrage of laser attacks by Big Fau instead.
Events continue to unfold in quick succession as Big Fau grapples with Big O and eventually tosses him into the ocean. However, Big O latches onto Big Fau with a chain weapon and drags his enemy Megadeus below with him. Unfortunately, Big Fau can swim well and uses his own weapons to cut the chains and then cut and run out of there, leaving Roger a sitting duck within the rapidly flooding cockpit of Big O. Dorothy awakens at this moment and heads off toward the Ocean with Norman and a wt suit in order to save Roger’s life. Topside, Big Fau uses its cable tendrils to tap into the vital systems of Alex Rosewater and strengthen itself in the process, which somehow awakens the ‘memories’ of Angel. Her scars begin to glow as Gordon Rosewater advises her on her destiny and role as the coordinator who can destroy memories and reset the simulation at will.
Back to Roger. As he asphyxiates beneath the waves, he has a flashback to his time as a combat Dominus in a Big O in some past Paradigm City (perhaps the original in which the first Event took place?). Dorothy arrives and revives him with an oxygen tank, Big O awakens, and Dorothy hacks herself into the Megadeus’ operating system, thereby activating Big O’s Final Stage. The machine piston punches the ocean floor and propels itself out of the sea back into conflict with Big Fau just as Angel departs the world below Paradigm City, all of those things she passes dissolving and disappearing behind her in the process.
And then, the truly final confrontation begins as Big O uses all of his power to launch a powerful laser weapon that passes through Big Fau and destroys an entire Dome behind him. But the weapon only destroys half of big Fau, who manages to stay on his foot, standing. Just as Alex charges up his final barrage, Angel transmogrifies into the powerful Meta-Megadeus Big Venus. She passes through the city and the sky disappears. She passes Dastun and he fades into nothingness. Then, she passes Big Fau and Big O is no longer in mortal danger from that foe.
Roger reasons with Big Venus: ‘Angel! Memories are very important to people’s lives. They give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we exist. If we lose them, we have an unrelenting deep feeling of uncertainty…. But the humans that are living here and now in the present are made up of more than their memories of the past. I myself don’t even know who I am…. But I don’t believe anyone took my memories from me. I most likely erased them of my own free will. I was the one who made that choice so I could live in a present and in the future. I must go on believing there is a me! Angel. I know that I will never lose the you that is now a part of my memories…. You must stop denying your own existence. You have to live as a human being.’
Momentarily the illusion is broken. Angel, sitting in her operating booth in front of her master control panel, is visited by both Roger and Dorothy. Angel is crying, but Roger consoles her by putting his hand on her shoulder and Dorothy speaks in a manner affirming Roger’s existence as more than a simulation, more than a mere program in some computer: ‘Negotiator!’ A poster is visible on the wall in the room. It is a poster of the Big O series with a large shadowed Megadeus standing behind Roger.
And then the series begins anew. Roger rides through town in his Griffon. He is still a Negotiator. But this time, Angel and Dorothy are standing beside each other, signifying that they’re memories may remain intact (Otherwise how could Dorothy know Angel?). and more interesting yet: Roger’s wrist is bare. With no Megadeus communicator, is he still a Dominus? Do Megadeuses still exist in this simulation? How much has changed and how much has remained the same, and of the changes, what are their inherent qualities? None of this information is clear and none of it will probably ever be truly elucidated.
But I personally prefer The Big O remain an enigma, a mystery, a Gordian knot resistant to all critical blades. I revel the uncertainty for that uncertainty reflects that present in my own life and in the questions of metaphysics and ontology that remain quarries far outside my reach. The simulation theory says that one can imagine a computer advanced enough to simulate a world in perfect 1:1 correspondence to our own. In our own world, there are thousands of games. Given the proper technology, why not thousands of simulated reality games? And if this is possible, then there are many thousands more simulated realities than real, lived ones. Thus, it makes more sense to assume that we are in one of these abundance of simulated realities as simulated persons or as real persons hooked up to the simulated games than the perhaps 1 in 10,000 chance that we live in the real world, simulated.
Occam’s razor seems to lay waste to this theory. But it has been wrong before. Darwinian evolution certainly, on its face, its much more complex than the teleological Lamarckian viewpoint. That the sun orbits us is a simpler proposition than the more complex cosmology we accept today. The difference is in evidence. A simulated reality like The Big O is revealed as simulation through a glaring omittance: namely, the fact that one had memories before the simulation began. And like a video game wherein out of bounds play can reveal unmapped sectors, some theories in quantum mechanics point to fundamental incompleteness in our world as possible evidence of its simulated nature.
Roger serves as an archetype or a model for heroic action of individuals under similar circumstances. In the face of determinism, act. When facing nihilism, believe. And when approaching despotism, fight.
In the Name of God,
Ye Not Guilty
The structure of Paradigm City is beginning to unravel before its heroes very eyes. The center has begun to slacken and can seemingly no longer hold together the tenuous reality of the world. Lieutenant Dan Dastun has ventured into an old movie theatre only to find a younger version of himself and the Winter Night Phantom sitting together enjoying a film that itself recounts the recent events of Dastun’s life. There is no explanation of these events that cohere without recourse to the simulation theory I’ve expounded upon previously within this series.
That is to say, the world is rebooting like some sort of complex simulated game. However, the events of the previous game (Dastun’s reality) have not yet reached their conclusion, and as such, end-game events are beginning to overlap with beginning game events from the newly booted game. This explains why a young Dastun has been booted up alongside a young Winter Night Phantom to begin anew their journey toward the Paradigm Corp. Police Department and The Union, respectively.
To make things weirder still, Big Duo reappears high above the city. Schwarzwald’s ghost still sends us orations from beyond the pale, but the meaning of these pronouncements have become more obscure than ever before, more disjointed and lacking in clear sense: ‘The giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity. But the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy.’ My best guess here is that it is the power of the Megadeus’ themselves that brought this state of affairs into being, but in the process they intertwined their destinies with those of mere human beings who must sync together with a Megadeus as their Dominus to give the Megadeus the power to function. These are the chains that the Megadeus’ have become enslaved by and the weak and tame minds are the minds of those humans who have reigned in the gods, have cloned perfect Dominus subjects who have the willpower to control the machines and not vice versa as was originally intended.
Later, Big Duo and Schwarzwald will continue to ascend above the clouds of Paradigm City and will find a series of oversized rafters holding aloft the sky of their world. There they will also find a series of stage lights affixed to the rafters as illuminating points for the constructed reality of the world below. And like Icarus, when the Black Forest philosopher-journalist ascends to all-too lofty heights and approaches the ontological truth of his world and himself, that world reacts by scorching him and his Megadeus, causing them to explode in the process.
In the city itself, Big O is still being restored to fighting capacity by Norman’s mysterious cohort of old men, each with intimate knowledge regarding the repair of a Megadeus despite having no memories from before 40 years ago. Alex Goldwater, the Oedipus who razed his father’s farm to the ground in an attempt to silence the old man and to take his life, pilots Big Fau and targets, specifically, those within the city he deems undesirable: The poor. Dastun’s theatre is bombed in the process, injuring his younger self therein. He manages to get the young boy and girl to safety before approaching his troops and ordering them to cease firing artillery and bombardments of incendiary weapons on their own people. However, they have direct orders from Alex Goldwater himself and thereby refuse Dastun’s pleas.
Meanwhile, below the city, Angel has found the cabin wherein she was born and raised. But she finds that the room is a mere set complete with cameras and props outside of the open-faced room. Vera Ronstadt and Gordon Rosewater, once thought dead, are also within the room. Roger descends beneath the city to try to finally face his fears head on one last time. though he manages to leave exactly at the wrong time as Dorothy, reclining back at the mansion, awakens and calls out for Roger. This despite no longer having a core memory within her. What’s more unsettling is that Beck arrives on the scene to hear Dorothy’s words that were meant for Roger. Beck’s presence is not explained.
Angel questions Vera about her heritage and whether Vera is truly her mother or if the current situation is merely a convoluted joke. Gordon Rosewater breaks into the conversation and tells the girls that they are not related, that they are merely his ‘tomatoes’, or replicants who were created to serve some ulterior motive. However, both Angel and Vera are defective units, as are all Union members, all those who have been exiled to the wastes outside of Paradigm City. Vera Ronstadt knows this much already and has decided that the purpose of The Union will be to overthrow the genetic prejudice of the Goldwater-Paradigm cohort, rewrite the memories of the city’s people, and begin anew in a more just world.
Angel refuses to accept that she is a defective person and brandishes a pistol toward Vera, which is quickly repelled with Vera’s whip. As she lashes about Angel’s back, her shirt is torn revealing the scars on her back. Roger appears and binds Vera with a thin wire tool before knocking her unconscious with a well placed punch to the solar plexus. A move he performs with some reticence in lieu of his final rule: ‘Something else that goes against my policies– using violence against women.’ He has seen enough of Vera’s brutality, but has also heard enough of her fatalist philosophy of identity wherein one is supposedly caged and trapped forever by their social facticity (something that is probably true): ‘I am who I am. the way in which you were given life has nothing to do with the way you live your life as a human being.’ True enough too, and certainly a message emphasizing self-creation and self-responsibility that much of the modern political left ought to hear more often.
And then for the bombshell. As Vera awakens and begins to mouth off about making Paradigm’s denizens atone for their sins from before 40 years ago, Gordon Rosewater pipes up: ‘You’re wrong! Of all my cherished tomatoes, Negotiator, you aren’t one of my beloved ones. And neither is this young lady [Angel]. And the words in that book [Metropolis] don’t belong to me either. It’s a story that a dream commanded me to put down. No one ever had memories of the world prior to 40 years ago, including myself. but memories themselves have existed in unexpected forms…’
This means that out of all of the people in the world, Roger and Angel are aberrant forms in a sea of replicants. Constructs that exist outside of the parameters of this world and are uncreated and eternal. This is why Roger does not age whilst other androids and replicants do. This is why Angel has scars on her back despite there being no events before forty years ago that could have produced them. This all means that there was no world before forty years ago, except for the kind of world that will be revealed in the series’ denouement.
Rosewater continues on and claims that because of this truth, there never was any such thing as The Union. There are merely a small group of defective replicants who live in the wastes outside of Paradigm and just so happen to be good at tracking down Megadeuses and operating them. If this is all true, then another question arises with crazy implications: Who is attacking the city now, other than Alex Rosewater? Who is it that has apparently been dropping incendiary weapons into the center of the city from high above in the clouds?
As Gordon continues to explain that Angel is not a person at all, but merely a memory construct from a previous incarnation of this world, the roar of a great beast can be heard within the depths of the city. Roger calls Big O and minutes later, ascends to the city exterior with a massive Megadeus beast, known as Behemoth, held aloft by Big O’s relatively minuscule arms. Debris falls from the ceiling, lands on and crushes the Behemoth, which is good fortune as this beast would surely be indestructible even with the help of Big Fau. And now, face to face, Big O and Big Fau are set to begin one final confrontation on this eschatological plane.
Cast in the Name of God,
Toward the denouement of the previous outing, another Big Megadeus appeared from beneath the city to challenge Roger the Negotiator and Big O. As the titan ascends from the bowels of the city without toward the dome’s artificial light of day, its designation is revealed as Big Duo. However, this machine has been extensively modded with parts from destroyed Union Megadeuses and is now known as Big Duo Inferno.
Roger wonders aloud whether the machine might still be piloted by Schwarzwald from beyond the grave. This seems the only real possibility as Big Duo is a true Big, which means it can only be operated by its true Dominus (in this case, Schwarzwald). Roger imagines what Schwarzwald would say to him in this moment, or at least the show seems to present this interpretation. However, it’s also highly probable that the ensuing narration in Schwarzwald’s voice is a message from beyond the dead, addressed not to Roger, but directly toward the audience. If this latter possibility is the correct one, then we might do well to heed these words: words crafted expertly by the show’s creator Chiaki J. Konaka, a man intensely interested in understanding the human condition who has spent much of his life studying psychology, philosophy, evolutionary theory, religion, and sociology all toward this end.
‘Truth. Those who seek it out unknowingly become obsessed with this grand illusion that they are able to control this world…. The incomplete book of Gordon Rosewater’s, written in his younger days, depicts the final days of humanity. And the foolish humans who use the power of God.’
The claim seems inconsistent with the character of Schwarzwald, the archetypal Black Forest philosopher journalist who gave his very life to uncover the truths of this world. He became obsessed with the truth and with the thought that he could force a paradigm shift within Paradigm City. And in the end, what did his work accomplish? Few citizens took his pamphlets for little more than the ravings of a mad man and he was left dead, a corpse out in the wastes beyond the metropolis of Paradigm.
However, no fool to forsake knowledge totally, Schwarzwald includes in this narration a powerful invective against technocracy and its ability to lead toward techno-fascism. Against the hubris of humanity for charging heaven’s gates only to plunder her armaments for tools and weapons to kill and subjugate one another. No conservative, traditionalist, he understands how some social truths can be mutable and contradictory in nature, as well as how the search for truth at the expense of all else can lead one to ruin. But no postmodern, he rejects the logic of power dynamics and hegemonic social control as well. As these forces can also corrupt the soul and lead nations and peoples to ruin. As such, we can square Schwarzwald here, once again, as an intermediary figure, an iconoclastic outcast from all established doctrine whose neither A nor B analyses figure as the example that destroys the rule and deconstructs the binary in lieu of more balance in the world.
The fight commences as one might imagine. The two mechas crush each other handily. And just as Big Duo gets the drop on Big O, the machine revolts. We see that the operator of Big Duo is Alan Gabriel and not Schwarzwald after all. But the machine is haunted by a spectral presence, by the ghost of its one-time and true Dominus Schwarzwald. And as the machine surrounds Alan with its tendrils of cable, ensnaring and eventually crushing him in the process, Schwarzwald speaks once more: ‘The Megadeus chooses its Dominus…. You possess the foolishness of both man and machine. It chooses one who controls the power of God, created by man. One who is able to arrive at one truth. that’s not the case with you!’
The phrase, like much of Schwarzwald’s orations throughout the series, is intensely vague. If the Megadeus chooses its own Dominus, then how is it that men like Roger Smith were once programmed to operate these monolithic machines? Would that not be man choosing the Dominus for each Megadeus? Or do the specifications of each Megadeus warrant a particular makeup in each replicant, meaning scientists wishing to create a Dominus must do so according to the Megadeus’ implicit rules? Who is really in charge in this case? And this matter of one truth? Is this a specific truth one must discover or any sort of over-arching monolithic worldview one accepts, generally speaking? We may never know as Big Duo immediately ascends toward the sky and flies off toward the wastes, never to return.
When the battle ends, Roger returns the heavily damaged Big O to its track beneath the city for return back to the Mansion. He searches the city in his black sedan, Griffon, and eventually finds Dorothy standing atop a building in a nearby sector of the city. But when he reaches the roof of the building, she falls into his arms, her eyes emotionless and cold, her body un-moving, and her forehead cd-rom memory core interface totally removed. Roger brings her back to the Mansion in the hopes that Norman can do something to fix her, but the old hand can do nothing without the core memory. He even believes its return would not necessarily awaken her. And if it did, the memories might be corrupted.
Norman gives Roger the option of installing a new core memory into Dorothy’s braincase, which would undoubtedly awaken her. However, with a clean slate and no past memories, would he really be awakening ‘her’, or just resetting her back to a time when she did not know Roger or Norman, before she began emoting and before her love for Roger began to flower?
In the meantime, a letter arrives to the Mansion, addressed to Roger from Michael Seebach (Schwarzwald) in the event of his death. Inside is the final page of Gordon Rosewater’s messianic tome Metropolis: ‘ The power of God, created by man…. Divine thunder raining down from the heavens…’ Along with this page is a torn photo of a young Gordon Rosewater shaking hands with a man whose white pale hands, white dress shirt, and black shoes, pants, and suit jacket are obliquely visible. The man is obviously Roger Smith, though only we know this intuitively. That Roger Smith has not aged in the more than forty years since the photo was taken is one more signifier that he is more than a mere mortal man.
As Roger leaves the Mansion for one final confrontation, he speaks with the unresponsive Dorothy: ‘Since you first came to live here, I felt like I knew you forever…. I never answered that question you asked a while ago, did I? You asked if you were human, instead of an android, would you and I have fallen in love?… Maybe we would have…. Please don’t tell me that I’m dodging the issue. Right now I can’t seem to commit to one truth. but I know I won’t waver in doing what needs to be done. Or in going down the path that I have to take. Wait for me.’
As Roger departs his sweetheart, and leaves her with that precious line, Angel approaches her final confrontation deep in the subway system of Paradigm City, below the areas that create panic and terror in all it’s denizens. She finds therein a television set of an old cabin, with an old kitchen whereupon something is cooking in a pot on the stove. She recalls her past and realizes that her childhood memories were forged in this place, and that either she contains false memories of another person and is merely a copy of the original, or worse, that the one real memory she has of her childhood is really only a memory of an acting gig she once held as some sort of child star. The latter meaning that she has no substantive memories whatsoever. What’s worse is that the ‘mother’ she remembered from her childhood was in fact Vera Ronstadt, a brutal, vicious leader who never treated Angel like her child later in life, but instead merely as a pawn for The Union.
Finally, out in the streets of Paradigm, the dejected Police Chief Dan Dastun wanders about feeling helpless to aid his friend Roger in his battles against The Union and Paradigm Corp. Two children flit across the screen and catch his eye as they enter a movie theater with the Marquee Winter Night Phantom. The stars of the picture featured on the theater’s large poster for the attraction: the Union girl from his dreams and himself. As he enters the place, the lights in the room dim and Dastun’s own memories begin to play out on the screen before him.
The stage is set, the players are in position, but before the climactic final battle could begin in earnest, they have all realized something horrible about their ontological states: That they are merely players in a program, in a large simulation. Programs with no virtuality, existing in a plane without imminence as mere bodies with organs. But can their self-knowledge of these roles affect the outcome and bring to them some semblance of free action, or are they destined, nay determined toward a specific end result in this play?
Cast in the Name of God,
The central theme in Episode 23 (and arguably the rest of the series as well) of Chiaki Konaka’s classic The Big O is the interplay between programming and freedom, determinacy and action.
Many events unfold themselves within this episode, from the off-screen battle between Vera Ronstadt of The Union and the killer android (or is it cyborg?) Alan Gabriel, which results in no real damage done to the latter whilst the former is dealt a wound in the side. She is visibly in pain when, later in the episode, she turns up and delivers a message to Roger, one she wishes him to relay to Angel: ‘A bird whose wings have been plucked will shed all it’s feathers and will return into the beast it was before it evolved into a bird.’
The meaning of the statement is obscure and never quite spelled out through the context of the show. We know only that Angel, named after a celestial being donning wings, has large scars on her back, presumably where a set of wings once lie. Or is the visual merely a symbolic signifier of her role within the events of the story, of her role as a fallen being whose presence is more a portent of doom than divine care? And as the obscure quote alludes to, has she only become a portent of doom by virtue of losing her wings? Wings that once elevated her above the moral speciousness of human action and whose absence make her little more than another primitive homo sapien beast in comparison?
The strict, narrative purpose of Vera’s quote will later be revealed as a memory from Angel’s past, a memory of her mother and of the cabin she was presumably raised within as a young child. But when she finds the cabin… and in that place of all places…. Well, that’s a tale for next time.
Alan Gabriel escapes his battle with Vera, though not unscathed. He was previously playing both sides in the struggle for Paradigm City’s fate: fighting as a spy and counterspy for The Union and Paradigm Corp. Now, Alan Gabriel has to throw in all of his chips behind Paradigm to remain a player of import in the ongoing game. For the time, he raises the ante and heightens the tensions by freeing Beck from prison once more and, using an execution order, and the promise of freedom and money, Alan twists the inventor into working to restore Big Fau’s memory core. The plan? To once again abduct Dorothy using a horde of mechanical scorpion machines and then to use the power of her programming to rig Big Fau back into operation, thereby allowing Alex Rosewater to resume his helm as the Dominus of the Big Fau Megadeus.
The Dominus of Megadeus. A role one is destined for, a role none but a true Dominus can perform without being expelled from the machine, perhaps violently so. We know that Alex Rosewater is the son of Gordon Rosewater and the rightful heir as CEO of his father’s company Paradigm Corp. However, at the farm, before Alex Alex dispatches his father, we learn that Gordon considers Alex to be just like all those other people working on his farm. He considers Alex and these large, humanoid working machines to be his sons. The question becomes whether Alex is like them in other ways. Whether he too has been programmed for a job. In this case, the job of running the corporation and operating a Megadeus.
Unlike Alex Rosewater who has seemingly accepted his fate and his programming by deciding to follow his father’s wishes, Roger the Negotiator, also almost certainly a replicant-like being, a created, not born, human being complete with emotions and all, is grapples with his fate. He knows he has been programmed to fulfill a social role, but has a rebellious nature. In the past, he was a police officer, but he quit that job and moved on to become a Negotiator who could help the people without answering to the Police Department’s head company: Paradigm Corp.
He was programmed to pilot a Megadeus and has innate operating knowledge of its systems thereby. However, instead of merely protecting the city from The Union and supporting the goals of Paradigm Corp., he has been tempted by the Black Forest Philosopher-Dominus Schwarzwald and realizes now just how corrupt the city really is. Roger knows of the existence of peoples beyond the domes of the city, people who have been systematically discriminated against and marginalized until their kind were expelled from the city or killed. People whose memory in the minds of Paradigm’s denizens have eventually faded into obscurity. But Roger knows Angel, and he knows, deep down, that she is not wrong for wanting to live a peaceful life in the city, and that The Union is not totally evil for wanting to destroy Paradigm Corp. to install a more friendly regime that would allow their people access to the city’s comforts.
Roger now pilots the Big O Megadeus as a rogue Dominus who has abandoned his programming and fights both the terrorist activity of The Union and the hegemonic totalitarian regime of Paradigm Corp. Though, just like all anti-fascist in modern history, his work only heightens the tensions between the most extreme factions. He has only served to bring more turmoil to the city by exposing the city’s people to the existence of outsiders. And what’s worse, he may now be relatively free from the dictates of his programming, but he has not gone far enough beyond good and evil to recognize a need for a new system, let alone to begin formulating it as a positive force in opposition to The Union and to Paradigm Corp.
When Dorothy is taken by the scorpion machines, Roger makes it back home just in time to watch helplessly while his love is removed once more from his abode and turned over to Beck for use in his Megadeus modification experiments. As she departs, Dorothy stops fighting back and calls out to Roger: ‘I am what I am. I am not like you Roger. I will always have this same body and this same heart.’ Time and again, the reference to a Jewish mythos, to the Leviathan and the Behemoth, to Angels, and to an end-times prophecy of destruction is brought into discussion. Here, Dorothy defines herself as YHWH does: ‘I am what I am.’ The effect in this context is of an orthodoxy burrowed deep into her psyche. An orthodoxy of stasis, of oneself as what one is born into. A Socratic truth delivered upon pondering oneself and coming to know oneself and in contradistinction to a Nietzschian truth of self-creation and becoming.
Roger recognizes this orthodoxy as the false god it is, as he too once believed it and has managed to come toward the light of truth and shake off the shackles of his programming to become more human than human in the process of accepting his manufactured nature and denying its maxims. He tells Dorothy not to give up, tells her that she must take control of her own destiny rather than resigning herself. The meaning is twofold in that she must take control now and escape the clutches of her enemies no matter how much she feels she belongs with them, rather than with humans like roger and Norman. The second meaning, and I may be reaching a bit here, is that she ought to try and take hold of her destiny to also overthrow her mere programming: that she should try to love him and live alongside him despite their anatomical differences: Roger the organic android and Dorothy the mechanical being.
At the last moment, Dorothy’s eyes open wide and we realize that she has picked up on the latter message all too well, though she is now physically incapable of following the first. Before I get too sappy here, I’ll stop. Especially since the next episode is there waiting in the wings to swoop down and upend our expectations, just as the final two ring the death knell and put the nail in the coffin, respectively, regarding the philosophical dialogue between determinism and free action. The result? A stance staunchly astride the former.
Cast In the Name of God,
An old black sedan, at first resembling Roger Smith’s Griffon, is smashed within a press as a scrap yard. An old man and his worker android, and best friend, are just finishing up the day’s work and discussing when next to go out for supplies like food and high quality oil for the android, when out of the blue, a dart latches onto the back of the android. The dart pulsates a red glowing light that begins slow and then speeds up rapidly before unleashing a powerful explosion, which utterly destroys the android. The assassin slinks off undetected.
Dan Dastun and his Military Police regiment are on the case, which is one out of a number of developing cases in which androids have been assassinated in the same manner. A Paradigm investigator appears on the scene to help handle the case, much to Dastun’s chagrin. He is only further incensed when he finds out that the investigator, R. Frederick O’Reilly, is actually and android himself who has been sent to work alongside Dastun specifically for this case. Elsewhere, Roger’s existential questioning begins anew as he explains that forty years, not only the memories of human beings, but the memories of androids as well, were all lost. Could these androids being targeted, like the humans previously who began to recover memories, have become targets because their own memories began to surface?
At Roger’s mansion, recent repairs on Big O have been completed for the most part, and all that remains to put on the finishing touches is to retrieve some oil to grease the Megadeus’ joints. Norman sends out Dorothy on this errand, which works out as she too needs to retrieve premium oil for herself and the oil drums weigh a ton. However, on her way back from the market, the assassin makes an appearance and shoots Dorothy with a homing bomb. The message is clear: the assassin is targeting androids through their connection with this particular oil vendor. The purpose of these assassinations, however, remains completely unclear. Norman, who decided to leave the mansion on second thought, watches as Dorothy is hit with the bomb and tries his best to pull off the incendiary device to no avail. Luckily, Dorothy is no lightweight. She catapults into traffic, takes control a man’s car by manipulating the wheel through the windshield after breaking it with a swift kick, and then she manages to get close enough to a large semi-truck, which knocks the bomb off of her side with the force of its grazing impact.
The whole affair is one of the most dynamic action sequences thus far in The Big O. And the encounter results in Dorothy’s being detained by Dastun and ‘Freddie’ the Android Investigator for further questioning, as she is the titular eyewitness. In fact, she is the only eyewitness as all other androids that came into contact with the assassin have been killed.
Dastun, meanwhile, has remained openly hostile to Freddie’s presence and dislikes the fact that he must have a partner in this investigation. When the two go out to a rich district of the domes to interview an old man whose android friend and companion was previously killed by the assassin. Freddie takes this opportunity to make his disdain for Dastun known as well as he chides Dastun for interviewing a man who could give them no useful information regarding the identification of the assassin.
Elsewhere, Roger has been interviewing the old man at the scrapyard who lost his friend as well. The man seems to have some knowledge of mechanics and hopes to be able to remember enough memories to one day rebuild his friend anew. Later, Roger visits the Big Ear, the Informer at the town’s Speakeasy Club. He alludes to the fact that in Paradigm City, people are generally safe and murder and crime rates are extraordinarily low. He explains that the only time this truism proves false is when someone foolishly claims to have recovered memories from forty years ago, and thereby hints toward the fact that some of these androids who have been targeted may have been doing likewise. He gives us, the viewers, a bit of background explication by explaining that all of Paradigm’s previous efforts to extract memories from forty years ago out of the memory banks of androids have proven totally futile, despite the androids memory’s not functioning like human beings. There is one theory that in the universe of The Big O, something in fact did occur. However, if even android memory banks contain no information prior to the mythical Event, maybe this assumption is false.
At the end of the conversation, Big Ear alludes to the possibility that the androids could be experiencing false memories, like deja vu. However, Dorothy was a target and we know for a fact that she was not experiencing deja vu or recurrence of once-forgotten memories. No, it seems that the assassin is merely targeting high-functioning androids in Paradigm City through their connection with a particular machine oil market that sells high-quality oil for androids who might merely hold the possibility of having such memories, like the Senator Roscoe Fitzgerald previously. This reasoning will later lead Roger to suspect Alan Gabriel, Alex Rosewater’s henchman and the assassin responsible for the death of Roscoe Fitzgerald whose memories never left him. Alan Gabriel is an obvious suspect as he killed the ageing Senator merely to claim the disc on which his memories had been burned: Something Alan Gabriel may now be doing to other androids in the hopes of unlocking some secret technological memories for Alex Rosewater and Paradigm Corp.’s benefit.
As such, Roger visits Paradigm Corp. to track down Alan Gabriel. He finds that Alex Rosewater is out of town, presumably in a foreign city or region far away, on business. Roger meets Angel outside, sitting within his car as he leaves the building. She reveals that Alan Gabriel likewise left the city with Rosewater, and as such, he cannot be responsible for the murders. As the two drive off toward the ocean, the sun begins to set and the mood takes romantic turn as the two muse over questions of why people retain certain memories, of why Roger can pilot the Megadeus. He tells Angel that he feels guarded around her, as if he can’t trust her, and yet he confides in her that both of them seem to share a quest, a search for the truth and a willingness to follow their questions down the rabbit hole wherever it leads.
The episode ends with Freddie and Dastun tracking down the assailant, and Freddie completing his mission: to serve as a target for the assassin who can simultaneously get close enough to kill the assassin. Freddie sacrifices an arm in the process of killing what turns out to be a mad android assassin. Outside of the city’s prison, a large Construction Megadeus, piloted by a member of the Union, appears and tries to track down and destroy Dorothy. Norman fends off the beast with his motorcycle’s heavy artillery until Big O arrives and puts the machine out of commission. Angel watches as the machine is destroyed, and she mouths a foreign word, indiscernible in nature, but quite clearly the name of one of her compatriots in the Union. After the mecha is disposed of, a red balloon floats into the air, seemingly signalling the death of the pilot inside the Megadeus.
Is Roger truly the ordained protector of Paradigm? Some sort of programmed being meant to pilot Big O as a defense against foreigners? And if so, why does Angel stay so close to him? Is it just an attempt to keep her friends close, and her enemies closer? Why did the Union target Dorothy in the Construction Megadeus? Is this somehow connected to the android assassin’s mission? And if so, how does this make any sense when the purpose of the Union is make the existence of foreigners known throughout Paradigm City? If Alex Rosewater was out of town, who sent Freddie out on this assignment? He is the first of his kind, the first android police investigator in Paradigm’s remembered history. Who could have authorized his being sent on this mission? And how much about the mission was he told before he left to complete it?
There are, in Act 19 of The Big O, way more questions than answers. Each more confounding than the next.
Cast in the Name of God,
The bulk of Act 17 of The Big O is taken up by Schwarzwald’s various narrations, typically heard in his own voice by the viewers of the show, but read out by characters in the series as they skim and scan his final tractatus on the Leviathan. This work is a one-page leaflet that summarizes Schwarzwald’s philosophical project and is delivered into Paradigm, mysteriously, upon the winds themselves. The recto is all sermon, all fire and fury, whilst the verso is a reproduction of the painting Behemoth and Leviathan by the British romantic poet, artist, and mystic William Blake (an author whose works are popping up again and again in my daily life and may ultimately serve as the rabbit hole toward my psyche’s undoing).
‘Even without the events of forty years ago, I think man would still be a creature that fears the dark. He doesn’t face that fear, he averts his eyes from it, and acts as if he never had any memories of his history.’ Schwarzwald began as a relentless newspaper reporter, hellbent on discovery of the truth of the city, and then turned philosophical warrior working to open the eyes of the denizens of Paradigm’s veritable ‘Cave’ toward the truth of their existence. Now his has become a prophetic voice with the strength of religious fervor behind it. It is not enough merely to report corruption in the daily paper, nor can he force people to turn their attentions toward the light as they have, and always have had, a natural aversion toward its brightness and the pain gazing too long upon God-qua-veritas ipso facto brings. His religious fervor would typically be the result of megalomania, but in the case of Paradigm, something isn’t quite right and it seems that Schwarzwald has flown closer to the sun, closer to enlightenment and awakening, and closer to obtaining the truth of the city than any other within it.
‘But forty years can be a both a brief time and yet a long time. Man’s fear has withered , and even time itself tries to wither the desire to know the truth. Is it a crime to try and learn the truth? Is it a sin to search for those things, which you fear?’ The city exists and society exists in Paradigm because no one searches for the truth, because everyone lives their lives as if nothing ever happened, as if they retained their memories of the past. Fear is an unconscious psychological tool that has helped the more curious of Paradigm’s citizens to forego looking any deeper into their pasts. And as the city is a Military Dictatorship ruled by a Corporate Autocracy in the form of Paradigm Corp., the search for the truth is further hindered by propaganda (such as the city’s denial of the existence of foreigners), by assassins (like R.D. who has was sent to kill all those who recovered memories of 40 years ago), and thereby through a de facto law and social norm that states: ‘When one goes searching for the past, only death and destruction, both personal and toward the city can result.’ Paradigm is the archetypal fascist city-state in which the ‘truth’ is manufactured and any authentic pursuit of real truth is outlawed.
As the leaflets of the Leviathan manifesto fall throughout the city, the verso’s art is displayed on numerous occasions. The chaos dragon of Jewish myth, Leviathan, fights against Yahweh, with Behemoth by his side. Yahweh seems to control them, to bind them, to restrain the chaotic potential and form a world out of their bodies. One might think that in this analogy, Schwarzwald’s search for the truth is analogous to Yahweh’s chaos-reducing battle. But no, in Schwarzwald’s path lies only more confusion, more chaos, but ultimately truth. He appears as the Leviathan or as the prophet of Leviathan who ascend from the depths like a forgotten memory of a traumatic event, like a nightmare forcing its way to the surface, like an ancient Indo-European myth of a world-forming conflict between the prideful, boastful Yahweh and his counterpart God, the Leviathan. As if awakening the ‘religious’ of the city to a deeper, more troubling, mystical truth behind their Evental past, which they have largely forgotten by merely chanting hymns and going through the motions of ritual in their Church-spaces. Like most all Christians today who would refuse the Chaos dragon’s existence within their mythological past, out of hand and without even bothering to research it.
We are shown visions of Schwarzwald in the desert wastes surrounding Paradigm like an Old Testament prophet or a Christian Desert Monk enduring a trial. He comes across Big Duo within a relatively intact Airplane Hangar. And later, we watch once more as the battle between this Big and Big O commences, and Big Duo is proven the weaker of the two. Like John the Baptist, Schwarzwald has philosophically communed with some great metaphysical truth about the world and has passed on his teachings to one who might prove to be the true savior of Paradigm: Roger Smith. ‘ My purpose in this world is knowledge, and the dissemination of it. It is I who is to the restore the fruits of my labor to the entire world.’ Not to change the world, but to inform the world, to inform Paradigm and those within its borders that there is something much more sinister going on that they are not aware of. And to cede his findings to a great liberator who might carry on his knowledge and begin the second phase of that knowledge: world-transformation.
‘Fear, it is something vital to us puny creatures…. The instant man stops fearing is the instant the species will reach a dead end. Only to sink to pitiable lows, only to sit and wait apathetically for extinction.’ This fear is different from the fear of the past and the fear of the truth, which are ultimately unhealthy fears. No, this third fear is a fear of pain, of death, of the death of one’s loved ones, a fear that was possibly lost in the world before The Event and which was returned to the world once its technological marvels were forgotten. The world formed by this lack of fear, itself formed through a technological society in which life is easy and thereby nothing substantial, is the world of top-siders that The Big O series writer Chiaki J. Konaka would later expand upon in his dystopian, nihilistic anime series Texhnolyze. Here, the rich live forever, or for as long as they wish to live, and as such, life has no meaning, everyone has already done all those things they wished they could do at an early age. They are the last men, anything but ubermensch, who rest on their laurels and make no effort to create of life something marvelous, something beautiful, something transcendent. And all they wait for is death. In this sense, we can imagine Texhnolyze as a retroactive prequel to the world of The Big O, after some terrible Event occurs and throws human civilization backward by more than a millenia.
‘Wake up! Don’t be afraid of knowledge!’ Angel reclines on a bench, recognizing the words of the in the leaflet at those of Schwarzwald. Another flashback and we view Schwarzwald himself, out in the desert wastes examining an old, abandoned amusement park. ‘Humans who lose the capacity to think become creatures whose existence has no value. ‘ And indeed, value, like morality, is merely a social construction. In the state of nature, there are no universal, ontologically-grounded morals, values, or rights. Schwarzwald, like philosophers of our modernity in the still relatively new millennium, understand that human beings are becoming satiated, uninspired, and thus have formed no new artistic movements, created no new great technological wonders that spur on the human spirit, and believe what they are told by their favorite figure heads and media outlets without question. The men and women who brought us to the Moon, brought us Avant-garde Jazz, Electronica, and Rock and Roll, and challenged all standards of convention throughout the 1960s and 70s were, in this analysis, citizens of a world with a greater culture, more individualistic, and thereby more valuable, socially, culturally, and morally, especially as compared to those herds who roam the social media landscape in this day and age, and back to Schwarzwald’s point: more valuable than those currently living in Paradigm City.
‘Think, you humans who are split into two worlds! Unless you want the gulf between humans to expand into oblivion, you must think! Signed, Schwarzwald.’ Thus ends the Leviathan leaflet. The two groups could mean those from Paradigm and the unrecognized foreigners from outside of its borders. It could refer to the rich Paradigm citizens within the domes and the poor stuck outside of them. But in either case, Schwarzwald is calling for solidarity lest the two groups rip their own world to pieces, as their ancestors almost seemed to do with whatever during The Event. Ultimately, the fan of The Big O knows that the people of Paradigm will fail to heed Schwarzwald’s warnings and that the world will be ripped asunder. They likely know as well, that upon its recurrence, it will take a much greater prophetic force to keep it from occurring once again: A force that seems impossible to generate given the nature of Paradigm’s recurrence as something of a game simulation meant to find a way to create the perfect world, outside of that simulation, which may itself by simulated by a vengeful God. And on and on the Sisyphean struggle will go, for all eternity, unless Roger Smith can muster up enough heroic energy to bring everything to its illogical conclusion, win the game, and extinguish the suffering of his virtual peoples.
During the final remarks of Schwarzwald’s narration, we watch as a beast tunnels toward him the sands of the desert, seemingly another Megadeus that has found its way to revered Dominus in search of the truth. Meanwhile, Paradigm Corp. hires Roger to once again try to complete his mission of tracking down Schwarzwald. He is to work alongside Dastun, though the latter, now obviously knowing about Roger’s identity as the Dominus merely mulls around and complains about his own ineffectiveness in protecting his city from the Megadeuses that continue to attack it. Roger begins his search for Schwarzwald rather enigmatically as he visits the mystic’s old apartment from when he was Michael Seebach, the Paradigm Press reporter. Roger hears an odd sound, a moan as if a primordial cry from out in the desert and then we hear Schwarzwald’s narration: ‘Don’t you find it odd that in this whole city there is only one man who has the desire to pursue the truth?’ This statement still holds true as Schwarzwald, the one man, has disappeared from the city, but left behind his own curiosity within Roger Smith.
Dorothy finishes a piano lesson with Instro in the Amadeus Bar and he explains that business in establishments selling alcoholic beverages has diminished. Instead, more and more people, sensing some perceived fate ahead have been taking to communing with their neighbors in churches. As such, Instro has secured a position as a Church organist to supplement his income.
‘You poor souls who fear the darkness and the deep, when you suppress that fear, you will be able to get closer to the truth.’ Roger has been following these orders like a good student and is now venturing beneath the city to where The Archetype was found. He muses on the fact that this Archetype City housed what appeared to be a primal Big O archetype Megadeus. If this is truly the nature of the beast he fought in this room, then what does this mean about the identity of Roger Smith, the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus? Is he too the final version of previously-existing archetype version of himself? He shakes off the question and eventually finds himself in another tunnel below Paradigm City, which leads him to a typewriter labelled ‘Another Light’ that contains one sheet of paper with the same lines written over and over along its recto side: ‘There is but one truth. If you avert your eyes from it, you will always remain nothing more than a puppet.’ It is as if Schwarzwald has reached into the very mind of Roger Smith and is taunting him, pushing him to draw out the full implications of the truths he has been investigating.
Roger next finds a large hangar housing a restored Big Duo as well as the three Foreign Megadeuses. After a brief confrontation with Alan Gabriel, Alex Rosewater appears and tells his attack dog android to retreat. Above ground, a Megadeus awakens after hearing Dorothy’s voice, Dastun readies to fight it with his Military Police forces and Norman tries to contact Roger whose communicator is out of commission on account of the signal-blocking technology within Rosewater’s Megadeus hangar. A ship sinks into the sand and once again Schwarzwald’s voice: ‘Imagination and memory are but one ting, which for diverse considerations have diverse names.’ And later, ‘Foolish denizens of Paradigm City, as long as you exist together, continue to live your lives together, and share in your mass illusion, a single dragon will be born there. ‘ The chaos dragon: Leviathan.
The beast emerges from the sands and destroys buildings, turning them into sand at the touch of his mechanical, oscillating claws. Dorothy seems to be speaking with Leviathan who believes that they are one and the same. She believes that Leviathan has become unhinged, has lost his conscience. As such, she refuses to join up with Leviathan, to become its Dominus or power cell, or what have you. Schwarzwald: ‘Yes, that ancient mechanical dragon is a mirror of none other than yourselves, you fools! The anxiety within you has no outlet. It has no past, and no future!’ The Leviathan itself seems confused about its rage and wishes to subsume its consciousness within that of another being of its ilk, like Dorothy, in order to forget itself and to feel at home with another person, in communion with another being.
After Rosewater tells Roger that he is also a Dominus, but instead of a manufactured one, he was born with the ability to harness the power of a God through a Megadeus. Roger cannot accept this news and denies what it implies about himself once more before running off to exit the hangar. Back in Paradigm, Leviathan swings toward Dorothy, enraged at her refusal to become one with him, but is blocked at the last moment by Big O who has seemingly arrived of his own will in an attempt to protect her. Roger arrives moments later and pilots Big O from there on, eventually overcoming the dragon of chaos and bringing back order and stability to the city, though the appearance of each new Megadeus must bring ever-increasing uncertainty and questioning into the minds of the average Paradigm citizen.
Schwarzwald’s final words: ‘Each person’s jealousies, their desires, their fears. Alone each may be a small part, but together they become an enormous whole that will take shape.’ The arrival of the Megadeuses, of Leviathan, of the satellite, and of a general feeling of malaise may yet unite the denizens of this dark city. But Schwarzwald will not be their prophet. Roger believes that Schwarzwald was finally killed in the previous confrontation when Big O evaporated Leviathan by its own hands. He believes that Schwarzwald piloted Leviathan as its Dominus. But Angel appears and reveals the truth: Schwarzwald’s body was found weeks earlier out in the desert wastes surrounding Paradigm. He has been dead for some time, which means the Leviathan, the chaos dragon was piloting itself and cuts a much more obscure figure for it.
Cast in the Name of God,
Roger Smith once again has a day off from Negotiating and de facto work as a P.I. (a job more traditionally in line with the show’s film noir and German expressionist aesthetic style). Whenever such a rare occasion comes about, Roger makes the most of it by sleeping in well past noon. And Dorothy makes a habit of awakening him by playing the loudest, most abrasive compositions she can muster on the piano downstairs in order to awaken him. Luckily, this time her playing rouses Roger at a proper time: when a potential customer comes by to inquire about a job.
The prospective customer is one Kelly Fitzgerald, the spouse of one Roscoe Fitzgerald, a Paradigm City Senator. She tells Roger that she believes her husband is in danger from an assassin who previously (in Act 10: Winter Night Phantom) killed many of his fellow Senators and threatens to do so now as well. Roger assures her that the Military Police (and specifically Dan Dastun) took care of that assassin ages ago and as such, she has nothing to fear. And then, Kelly Fitzgerald cryptically tells Roger that her husband was actually killed well after that incident, and the question becomes: well… why and how should one protect a dead man?
Roger and Dorothy accompany the old woman back to her mansion wherein they find a massive library. Kelly tells the pair (who will surprisingly mirror her own relationship to that of her ‘dead’ husband) that the ‘kids’ who were killed by the assassin a few weeks ago were all alter egos, proxies for her husband’s fellow Senators. That the memories implanted by Gordon Rosewater into these young, twenty-somethings were culled from the minds of the Senators of the city who had previously been killed by the foreign assassin. Roger again informs Kelly that if Roscoe’s proxy individual is still out there, he or she should still be safe as Roger himself made sure that the assassin, R.D., was put out of commission.
And then for the final reveal: within the library is Roscoe Fitzgerald, who appears very much alive and not dead as his wife had previously explained. His presence is inexplicable and, until the very denouement of the episode, Kelly’s disclosure about his death will remain so. The man explains that he wishes to know more about the android who committed the aforementioned murders of the Senator’s proxy memory data banks. He wants to know, more specifically, whether she awakened by her own volition or if she was awakened by someone else with the purpose of erasing the memories housed in her targets. And the more that Roger and Dorothy think about the subject, the more they wish to know the answer to this query as well. As such, the two leave the parlor and presence of the Fitzgerald’s, and head down to the Speakeasy where they learn from the informer, The Big Ear, that there are very few people who could have designed such an android as R.D. in the modern time, and that she may have been the product of some earlier pre-Event era in which humans lived alongside androids and their presence was common. Thinking this possibility merely plausible, Roger presses for more information and learns that the only man Big Ear knows who might have been able to construct such and android was Dr. Wayneright, Dorothy’s creator: the man who somehow managed to retain or regain enough memories of the past to create numerous androids and Megadeuses.
So, Roger and Dorothy leave and head toward Wayneright’s dilapidated mansion. Along the way, roger wonders why Dorothy and R.D. appeared so similar, ultimately coming to no conclusion in his musings. Though we, the viewers, know that Wayneright must have constructed both of them at some point. Inside the mansion, Roger and Dorothy find a room encased in copper plating, which Dorothy believes was installed to prevent something from entering it. As they continue down the corridors, they eventually find his lab wherein eyeballs and other synthetic organs lay about in a disheveled mess of tools and materials for the construction of androids. As Dorothy approaches the machine on which she was most likely assembled, the very wellspring and ground of her being, a program initiates and works through her, which triggers a large Megadeus to awaken (like the Archetype before it) elsewhere in the city.
Next, a huge magnet pulls Dorothy to the ceiling above and another android is sent from elsewhere in the lab to attack Roger. He narrowly avoids being killed by the mechanism before Angel appears, inscrutably in her red R.D.-like red cloak and hood, to plug the android with about a dozen holes from her pistol. The ensuing conversation reveals that Roger knows about Angel’s identity as a foreigner. After turning off the magnet, retrieving Dorothy from the ceiling, and driving off toward the city to face the Megadeus, Angel reveals that she knows about Roger’s identity as the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus, which is unsettling to Roger but also allows him to call upon Big O rather than mull about waiting for an opportunity to sneak off to his veritable ‘phone booth’ to pilot Big O.
Meanwhile, Dorothy reveals that she found a CD-rom inside of Wayneright’s lab. She assesses it with her head scanner and learns that they were tricked by the Fitzgerald’s. They cannot be on a mission to protect the memory proxy of Roscoe as there never was a memory proxy for Roscoe. He never even lost his memories from before The Event, and as such, viewer musings that Roger may be the proxy child become unfounded, and his own identity is once again obscured, in the dark.
As Big O rises from the Paradigm’s depths, the Military Police’s chief Dan Dastun is, at first, overjoyed to find backup. His own forces have hitherto been absolutely useless in impeding the forward progress of the newly appeared Megadeus Glinda (Glinda and Dorothy- a sign of head series’ writer Chiaki J. Konaka’s affinity for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). In the next breath, however, Dastun laments his constant inability to defend the city and the very necessity thereby of Big O, who always destroys quite a bit in the process of defending the city in Dastun’s stead. As for Big O, he and Roger initially have a hard time battling Glinda as this Megadeus is just as agile as The Archetype, and also wields a sword with which it effectively hacks through Big O’s defenses. As always, Big O pull out one final offensive move, this time a large laser gatling gun mechanism on his wrist, to destroy his foe.
Finally, the episode ends with a meditation on what it means to be human (the same core question from The Big O’s greatest stylistic and thematic predecessor Blade Runner): What does it mean to be human? It is revealed that Roscoe is, like Dorothy, merely a very human-like android. The Senator is extremely life-like to such a degree that it is more than apparent that there is no existential difference between himself and a human being. As he reflects on his past (‘Memories are eternal. Or is that a fantasy robots shouldn’t indulge in, Roger Smith?’), Roscoe hands over a disc to Dorothy, presumably containing his memories of the past, and most importantly those with information before The Event.
But just as quickly a gunshot rains down and decapitates the Senator. On a building aft, reclines the form of a mime-like android assassin that Angel refers to as Alan Gabriel. He extends a plastic arm that recovers the disc from Dorothy. As he retreats, Dastun attempts to shoot the assassin, but misses completely due to the vast distance separating the two. Angel has, seemingly, been fired and replaced by Alex Rosewater at Paradigm Corp., Kelly Fitzgerald’s fears that an assassin would kill her husband have proved prescient, and Dorothy and Roger are back to square one in their search for information about the past. But at least, through the example of Roscoe and Kelly, Roger and Dorothy may finally be realizing that there is, indeed, a way forward for the two of them in this world.
Cast in the Name of God,
The Big O was initially planned as a 26-episode, one-season anime by Studio Sunrise. However, low viewership of the show in Japan pushed the networks to request it be wrapped up in only 13 episodes instead to make way for the next show. Luckily, The Big O as a pastiche of Western film noir, comics, and science fiction films (as well as Japanese Tokusatsu and Mecha shows) was very popular abroad and had a positive critical reaction and viewership internationally. As a result, Studio Sunrise was able to fund a second, 13-episode season after the show’s initial cancellation with the help of Bandai Visual and Cartoon Network who wanted the show to continue airing to market toys and to fill their Toonami slots with high-quality shows, respectively.
Act 14 begins where 13 left off as Roger and Dorothy stand inside of Big O’s cockpit, ready to take on the three foreign Megadeuses rising from the waves out at sea and heading toward Paradigm. As an aside, the names of the three Megadeuses are all French in origin and derive from historical persons: Robespierre, the architect of the Reign of Terror; Carnot, the Father of Thermodynamics; and Fouche, a general of Napoleon. Although the Megadeuses are associated with the Foreign Peoples leading an insurrection against the city of Paradigm, they’re namesakes are not easy to interpret as purely revolutionary persons. Carnot’s appearance may be relevant insofar as without his work, such technological marvels as the advanced engines that power the Megadeuses may have been impossible to build. And as for Robespierre and Fouche, they were arguably anti-revolutionary. Whereas Robespierre’s will to ideological purity sabotaged the French Revolution’s success, figures like Fouche made sure that the later reign of Napoleon lasted as long as it did.
As the battle commences and Big O takes heavy damage from his three opponents, the voices and monologues of all of the major players in this struggle are heard throughout the city. The informant called Big Ear asks aloud, ‘Who is it exactly who came to the conclusion that there is no one outside of Paradigm City, Mr. Negotiator?’ Beside him in the Speakeasy is a huge stack of newspapers, which no one else in the series ever seems to be reading, and is almost never even shown in possession of. The reason for this will become apparent in a future episode that reveals just how the Big Ear collects his information.
As Roger fights on and rejects the notion that people are ruled by their memories, we see Schwarzwald below the city, sitting at a desk and typing up a manifesto in which he claims that ‘it’s not just the citizens who lost their memories of forty years ago. The foreigners who came here searching for fragments of memories have lost them as well.’ Again, Schwarzwald, the one-time newspaper turned philosophical warrior has sought out truths about the nature of Paradigm that have proved too taboo for others to investigate, and he once again confirms the existence of foreigners outside of the city.
In what appears to be either a flashback or a flash-forward sequence, Dastun asks Roger if Big O was already waiting for him after he resigned from the Military Police, pointing to the fact that at some indefinite time, Dastun became, or will become, fully aware that Roger is the pilot of the Big O Megadeus. Meanwhile, Gordon Rosewater stands in his field and continues to claim that the existence of machines through the use of which man can harness the power of gods is absurd, and that the events attested to within his own book Metropolis never occurred. All the while, Roger becomes increasingly confused and questions his identity consistently: ‘Who the hell am I? Who am I?’ The answer comes in the form of a vision of Norman who claims that he was probably always the butler of Roger and that Roger most likely piloted Big O even before everyone’s memories were wiped out forty years prior.
And then everything comes to a head as Dastun reflects back on Winter Night Phantom and the fact that these three Foreign Megadeuses presence means that there are Foreign Peoples as well. Fouche collaborates with his fellow Megadeuses to use an electrical attack so powerful that it breaches Big O’s outer shell and shocks even the dominus within. Roger feels the pain in addition to the existential pangs of not knowing who he really is. Then, a the cockpit seems to be full of tomatoes, artificial tomatoes symbolizing the genetic engineering of Gordon Rosewater, and the possibility that Roger himself might be a product of genetic engineering like the tomatoes. One of the children created by Gordon Rosewater and injected with memories of forty years prior. The EQ line on Big O’s radar flatlines and Roger passes out.
When he comes to, Roger is disheveled, asleep on the ground within a busy subway tunnel. He washes his face in an adjacent restroom and realizes that he is not dressed as nicely as usual and that his face is now sporting five o’clock shadow. The streets above are filled with happy people basking in the sun of a Paradigm City without Domes that has seemingly never been subject to the ecological/mechanical catastrophes of the past that rendered the world unlivable without such protections. In the Speakeasy, Big Ear is absent and his mansion is now an ACME Bank owned and operated by none other than the Mr. Beck, who is a criminal, and not an entrepreneur and businessman, in Roger’s own timestream. Furthermore, Roger’s watch is missing and he cannot contact Big O.
That night he wanders the city and finds himself outside of the Nightingale Club. Dorothy and her father enter, but this Dorothy is oddly emotive, as if a real girl. What’s more, she has a boyfriend who greets her at the door. An alleyway in which he stands turns into a vaudeville stage on which Roger performs the meeting with Norman in his own timestream for an audience of one who, though obscured by shadow, appears to be himself. It becomes apparent here that Roger is playing out some sort of psychodrama in his own head and has not been transported to a different place. The literal Cartesian Theater act reveals that a mere year ago, Roger happened upon the Mansion after leaving the Military Police. Norman insisted that Roger was the master he had been waiting for for the past forty years since The Event wiped out his memories of everything beyond his job as a butler at this home and as a mechanic of Big O. Roger was confused at first, but when he first met Big O he had an immediate affinity with the machine and knew they were destined to fight alongside one another.
Roger shifts once more to a park bench whereupon he is reading comic in the newspaper that displays Roger Smith as a superhero mecha dominus and it becomes obvious to him that he has been playing a role rather than really being Roger Smith, that he may be a random man with no connection to the one truly destined to pilot Big O (despite the fact that he can do so naturally as if destined). He next finds himself within a theater wherein he watches Winter Night Phantom and watches down-row as a young girl does likewise, a girl with a red balloon. This seen segues into one in which Angel picks him up and asks why he was afraid to awaken it (seemingly referring to Big O). Roger takes some time to explicate this message and eventually comes to the conclusion that is a cryptic one pertaining to his fear of awakening unpleasant memories, of going back to the wellspring of his being.
Then and there, Roger decides to fight the fear in his heart and to get to the bottom of the whole host of existential and ontological questions he has about himself and his world, respectively. He decides to fight. And in this moment, he meets the ‘real’ Dorothy in his dream who concludes that Roger really is himself, and is not merely playing a role, and this despite the fact that it seems that Roger may in fact actually only be doing exactly that: playing the role of Roger Smith. But his acceptance of such a fact would be to wallow in pity and defeat, and the only truly freeing action is to reject the truth in this instance and return to consciousness back in the simulated reality of Paradigm City wherein he can face his demons, destroy the three Megadeuses threatening to destroy his adopted city, and force a reaction in the world around him to his own brazen actions. And he does just that.
Cast in the Name of God,
Although there have been hints of Paradigm’s coincident identifiaction with an earlier New York City, Act 12 confirms this. The episode opens onto a large airfield, which Roger Smith refers to as JFK Mark, or John F. Kennedy International Airport. A large, bandaged Megadeus stands atop some sort of structure in the now-defunct airfield at the outer edges of Paradigm’s current boundaries,and as it begins to move, Dastun and the Military Police observe it and plot what would no doubt be a failed attempt to stop it from entering the city and attacking its targets. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as we have no clue what would have happened if this Megadeus and its pilot Schwarzwald succeeded in attacking Paradigm Corp. and revealing the truth of the world to the city), Big O arrives and prevents the Megadeus from attacking Paradigm, for now.
‘There isn’t anyone who exactly knows what did happen 40 years ago. The only thing that seems to have been left behind is the fear that whatever it was may have completely changed the world,’ Roger muses. This is a pretty just fear as a world seems to have existed well before The Event in which foreign lands and peoples existed, in which there was a world economy and Paradigm was an economic and cultural hub of part of that world. Many of the technologies of Paradigm are reminiscent of 1940s and 50s real-world tech, although there are also various modern technologies and future technologies such as compact discs, androids, and mecha.
Inside of Paradigm, the only two languages universally known are English (presumably the language spoken by everyone there, though hard to confirm as this is the veritable ‘air that its denizens breathe’ and is thereby not named) and German (as Dastun, Roger, and Angel all know the meaning of the German name Schwarzwald and seem well versed in the language). One is tempted to interpret this to mean something along the lines of WWII ending in a manner different than in the real world, such as the U.S. supporting the Nazis in WWII, The Event being coincident with some largescale nuclear and mecha based war, and the simulation of reality that is our world (at least in Big O) being eventually taken aback and traumatized by the triumph of evil over good in this run of the simulation. This would explain why the French are recognized at outsiders and political enemies of the state whose existence is hidden by the dystopian Police State of Paradigm governed by the (Tyrell or Wallace-like) Paradigm Corp. Add to this the stylish import of film noir and the hard dramatic lines of the Megadeuses, which trace their artistic lineages back to German expressionism and at least potentially an SS fashion sense, and this theory becomes more and more apparent every time you see the series.
But I digress, and Roger continues: ‘No, there is one other thing: the Megadeuses. They left us a technology that surpasses any other in the world.’ As if the greatest scientists on the planet trained under the conditions of war by the Nazis were never members of a beaten state, and were never consequently head-hunted by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the race to technological achievement. As if they won the war, continued being funded and working together, and eventually created designs for marvelous works of destruction and of great beauty using not only funding from their mother country, but from their ally in the burgeoning economy of the U.S.
The episode flashes back to Roger taking a job for Alex Rosewater personally. In the past, the Paradigm Press reporter Michael Seebach refused to accept his severance check from Roger Smith and instead attempted to burn the man alive within his old home whilst Roger was investigating the disappeared reporter. Seebach took on the new persona of Schwarzwald and could not accept the payout as it would be a a tacit recognition of his previous identity and an affront to his new mask as the ‘Black Forest’ philosopher archetype whose goal is to bring truth to the city of Paradigm, by force if necessary. Because Roger failed to deliver the severance check, but nonetheless received payment from Paradigm for services rendered, he takes Rosewater’s new job, which is to deliver a second severance payout. This time, the job is a matter of professional respectability, of proving he can finish a job that he takes on.
The following day, Roger tracks Schwarzwald to JFK Mark, just on Paradigm’s outer limits, bordering the desert wasteland (symbolizing, like T.S. Eliot’s fable, the moral vacuum and instantiated reality of nihilism post-World War II) and finds his mark. Schwarzwald claims to have uncovered some great truth about the city, something new that all of Paradigm’s citizens should be made to hear. He attacks Big O and it is soon apparent that the bandaged Megadeus is much more than your typical modern Megadeus. Big O launches a series of missiles at the beast, which burn off its outer garments, revealing a Megadeus of the Big type below: Big Duo! After Big O launches all of its arsenal at the enemy Big, and has nothing left to throw at it, Big Duo stands still, unfazed and unscathed. It emits a cloud of smoke and suddenly disappears, not beneath the ground, but seemingly into thin air, or above the clouds (which may the source of Schwarzwald’s discovery, but more on that later).
As Roger broods at his mansion on his inability to have any effect on Big Duo, angel calls and reveals that as an assistant to Alex Rosewater, under the pseudonym of Patricia Lovejoy, she has learned the whereabouts of Schwarzwald. This puzzles Roger as he believes that Rosewater only knows about the persona of Seebach, but now realizes that Rosewater knows more than he’s letting on, which partially explains the extremely large sum of money listed on Seebach’s severance check. Roger follows the lead to a masquerade party in the city later that night. When he arrives, he is immediately admitted without the need for an invitation, and is given a mask to wear, which he foregoes donning. Those within the room are acting lasciviously, and showing themselves to be lecherous, gluttonous, and debauched people with seemingly little of redeeming quality.
And also within the party, Roger finds The Jester: a figure of deep mythic significance who is reportedly the only figure who can tell the truth to the King at all times. However, this figure is ultimately comedic and quite mad, and thereby escapes retribution through supposed insanity, and symbolically represents the link between madness and the search for truth: a Nietzschian figure who may have inadvertently gone mad through the sheer impossibility of staring into the void of meaning. This masked figure is Schwarzwald, a man who is himself masked already and appears externally as the philosophical warrior who has been burned, quite literally, through his search for the truth. Who has flown too close to the sun, far above the clouds, and thereby learned of the reality of the situation in Paradigm.
As Roger looks around, disgusted at the display of his fellow Paradigm citizens, The Jester explains that he is ‘observing the corrupt reality of the city he’s trying to protect.’ Roger feigns ignorance, always wishing to hide his own persona as the dark knight, as the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus. But no truth stays hidden from Schwarzwald. After being presented his severance pay from ‘The Negotiator’, he burns it and exclaims: ‘No! It is this corrupt city that will burn. These false skies called domes that are ineffectual and useless in this world. It cannot continue. Everyone must be made aware of the truth and experience what happened 40 years ago. And that’s what I’m going to do: Make them aware of it. With Big Duo!.’
Like veterans of an immoral war, the denizens of Paradigm are traumatized by their past to such a degree that they find it easier to forget their past entirely, lest they lash out in episodes of violence and destroy their world entirely. The evil was of such a high degree that it became metaphysical evil in nature, and the trauma translated to a cultural trauma and to an ontological state of forgetfulness in the population of Paradigm. The job of the philosophical warrior, of The Jester, is to make the world aware of this evil, to awaken them to their evil and to the truth no matter how painful. To drive them from The Cave, by force if necessary, and force a state change within them in the hopes that the truth will move them beyond their current ahistorical existence and toward progress, change, and a prophesied new world.
At the party, everyone’s heads begin to hurt as the drugged food and drink takes effect. Their masques immolate and begin to burn their faces as the club itself becomes engulfed in flame. Roger and The Jester escape the room, though all those within burn to death or jump to their deaths from the open windows of the room (pre-figuring the Event of our own time as Americans, these Paradigm citizens like our citizens merely collateral damage in the horrific plans of a terrorist group to awaken American society to its own hypocrisy and Imperialism, to strike fear in its heart and force a change to the status quo of bureaucratized, capitalist-driven subjugation of the world for the mere gain of a few robber-barons with a Middle Eastern policy founded on the lies of religion and an eschatology that dismisses the suffering of the world’s dregs at the hands of the so-called chosen nation). And like certain historical figures of our own time, Schwarzwald descends to the Earth in his machine, Big Duo, seemingly chosen by the forces of history to expose the lies of a nation-state, and like the Dominus of Big O, Schwarzwald too is deemed ‘Ye Not Guilty.’ Divinely ordained in his mission, pre-figuring the coming of a new age, and fighting to force a larger metaphysical gambit.
Roger calls upon Big O, but is informed by Norman that there has not been enough time to replace the mecha’s ammunition. As such, when the battle begins, Big O is pulverized and beaten back time and again by his overpowered bomber opponent who not only has the same capabilities, but has the ability to fly. As Big Duo launches two missiles directly at Big O, he uses a chain mechanism to pull himself into the air and hang from the support beams of the domes’ false sky. Though Big O avoids taking damage, much of the city is destroyed as a result. when Big O descends, he lands atop Big Duo and pummels it into oblivion, piston punching its skull case into nonexistence, and ripping off on of its arms.
As a final action, Big Duo stands on its own without Schwarzwald piloting it any longer. Despite being decapitated and severely wounded, Big Duo walks out of the crater and attempts to approach Paradigm HQ, reaching out to grasp it before expiring. Schwarzwald wonders aloud whether the Big Megadeuses need masters at all, or if they choose their masters. He wonder whether they are controlled by a Dominus or if it the Megadeus itself that pulls the strings, and the Dominus are mere instruments for the Megadeuses. And he departs the scene, never to be seen again. Off to the desert wastelands surrounding Paradigm to reflect on his inability to bring the truth to the world for now. Though his spectral presence will forever be a force to be reckoned with in the city of Paradigm.
Cast in the Name of God,
(Catch my previous Bakshi film review here: Cool World)
After the catastrophe of Cool World’s release in 1992, Ralph Bakshi again had trouble developing any high-profile work and either could not secure another guarantee for the production of a theatrical feature or had no interest in directing one. Instead, sometime in 1993, Bakshi was given approval from Showtime to direct a feature-length feature for their Rebel Highway B-Picture film series. The bait must have reeled in Bakshi immediately as it would give him an opportunity to direct his first completely live-action film, finally develop a thrice-aborted attempt at making his long-adored screenplay about marital infidelity entitled If I Catch Her, I’ll Kill Her, and put himself amongst the names of other revered directors in the series including Joe Dante, William Friedkin, John Milius, and Robert Rodriguez.
Rebel Highway was a program meant to be in the spirit of Rebel Without A Cause with all of its attendant 50s atmosphere, music, cars, and culture. Each film in the series was released as a B-Movie remake of a 1950s B-Movie, but with better actors and good directors attached to each project. And the goal was to present a series of high quality in an effort to simultaneously produce an artful film series for Showtime and to cash in on the popularity of Rockabilly and 50s Retro cults that were thriving (as evidenced and enhanced culturally by the popularity of Twin Peaks just a few years prior).
Interestingly, Ralph Bakshi decided not to adapt a previously existing B-Movie, but instead took the name of one (1958’s reefer madness propaganda film The Cool and The Crazy) and affixed it to his own script without making any changes to it whatsoever. Although the final product is alright on its own merits, it seems threadbare and not excessively stylish or exceedingly well-made. By referencing and perhaps making light of the earlier film’s stance against marijuana use, Bakshi could have added an element to Cool and The Crazy that might made the film more referential to cinema history, and thereby ‘cooler’ to film buffs, or at least more in line with the postmodern approach to filmmaking, which was in vogue at the time due to directors like Tarantino and Rebel Highway’s own Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the narrative of Bakshi’s film has no relation to that earlier film whatsoever and thereby breaks away at the structural integrity of the series of which it is a part.
The result was to undermine Rebel Highway’s operating principles, but to simultaneously be one with the spirit of rebellion against conventions and codes of operating that are its ethos, and the ethos of the American spirit from the 1950 through the late 1970s (when American culture began its downward phase). Cool and the Crazy, though not a great film as a film (though it does have a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is thereby ten times better than Bakshi’s previous film Cool World at 4%?), is an interesting work because of its aforementioned formal qualities. Through them it stands as one amongst a member of a set (Rebel Highway), which it achieves by being literally one amongst its production number. But the ethos of this set is anti-set at the core, and as such, a film must subvert the set’s normative rules to be one amongst it.
The resulting confusion is in the designation of a member of such a set, which seems impossible. The other members of this set are members because they follow the few rules of the set, but in doing so are not rebellious and anti-set at all (at the formal level. They might contain cultural critique or obscenity or taboo that make them culturally rebellious whilst being conformist in the context of the set). This makes them fundamentally not a member of the set in regards to their ethos and only through their nominal containment in the set. As for Bakshi’s film, it finds itself also nominally within the set, but by breaking the set’s normative schemata, finds itself closer to the ethos of the set. In this way, Cool and the Crazy seems to fit the set better than any other members.
However, this is only so if we give ethos primacy within the set. Then, and only then, does Bakshi’s film check off nominal inclusion and ethos inclusion whereas the others do not. There is the also the schemata of rules, and if the set rules are given primacy over ethos, then Bakshi’s film only fulfills the first function of nominality within the set. The key, and also the problem with all critical approaches to grouping (hold on, we’re almost there), is in bifurcating schemata and the urge to pick the one over the other. In this case, the only film that really and truly fits the Rebel Highway series is the one with nominality (literally being one amongst the films produced for this program), ethos (being rebellious to formal rules of the set), AND rule-boundedness (actually being a remake of a 1950s B-Movie).
Given all three criterion, no films are completely at home in the Rebel Highway series, which might be why the series only existed for one season and did not manage to catch the attention of the public at large. But for those who do like some of these films and want something of a Dogme 95 challenge for the modern age, there is one within the criterion listed above: If a filmmaker were to create another remake of a classic 1950s B-Movie and update its sensuality and violence to fit in with the modern epoch, it would be able to checkmark the rule-boundedness box. By claiming itself to be one amongst the Rebel Highway series it would be truly rebellious (and fit the show’s ethos) as well, as no more films beyond the original 10 can retroactively check the nominality box. This means that a film created today in this manner by someone with the guts to claim its inclusion into the set (despite the obviousness of its non-inclusion and the threat of legal action) would, like all of the films in the series, check two of the three inclusion boxes and would therefore be no less legitimate than any of those films originally made for Rebel Highway. Such a paradox is truly something to marvel.
The final question: ‘But man, did you LIKE the movie or not?!?!’
My answer: ‘Not really.’
[Next up: Spicy City]