Love, Death and Robots: Beyond the Aquila Rift

The second episode I saw, also out of order if one bases things on how Wikipedia offers the list was Beyond the Aquila Rift.  As a science fiction fan, this appealed to me the moment I saw the title.  I do have to question where the robots are in this one though.  In fact, of the titular elements love seems to be the one element that really features in this story, and it’s not a very typical sort of love.  Death occurs as well, but not in the traditional sense either. 

I will give a quick bit of personal background for this. When I was in college, my best friend and I took a philosophy course.  We were then broken into groups and, to my dismay, we were separated, however what we explored in that class stuck with us all of our lives.  

Beyond the Aquila Rift opens with a spaceship about to make a jump through a stargate reminiscent of either Star Gate, Buck Rogers or, the one that I thought of immediately, Mass Effect.  And then things go wrong…

The Good

beyond aquilla 1Having only seen one episode prior to this, I had forgotten it was animated.  This may be the best computer animation I’ve ever seen.  It’s incredibly fluid; people’s expressions look real and things move as one might expect them to in real life.  Thom and Greta are motion captured and look amazingly like their real life counterparts.  You can see their actual expressions in the animation; this is how we get around the passing of the great actors.  Time will tell, but I think we can effectively bring back many a lost great with this kind of tech!  And honestly, it’s amazing to see expressions captured so well in animation.  Also amazing how gravity works on the human body, captured by a computer.  The music is also effective with the main song Living in the Shadows.  The setting is outstanding and I love when a real scientific concept plays a part in the story; namely the time dilation effect of traveling at the speed of light.  

The Bad

beyond aquilla 2Not unlike the previous episode, the language is vulgar.  In fairness, I didn’t find any of it gratuitous; the dialogue felt natural, not like some writer decided to see how many f-bombs could be added to the script just because.  

On top of the language, this one features some nudity and I don’t know that it was strictly necessary, however when the gotcha moment comes, having had it adds something intense to the concept.  

Lastly, there was no reason to show the characters smoking after sex, especially considering two things: if they are on a space station, the atmosphere needs to be kept pure.  If they are somewhere else, the smoking means nothing at all.  I actually think this is the worst offense of the episode.

The Ugly

beyond aquilla 3This is where we come back to my college days where we learned about aesthetics and ontology.  I couldn’t help but wonder if a lie could, upon occasion, be better than truth?  I have very Star Trek-y thoughts here.  I am reminded of the episode title Is there in truth no beauty? with the outcome of this story.  More than that, I’m reminded of Captain Christopher Pike who, during the events of The Menagerie, is kidnapped and brought to Talos IV, a planet where he could live out his days in an illusion.   I do not like lying and hate being lied to, but is truth really the right option here?  SPOILER WARNING: the lead character learns he’s not where he thought he was and is kept alive by this alien lifeform.  When we see this creature, it’s extremely disturbing!  But are we basing that solely on its appearance?  

The creature communicates through telepathy, not unlike the Talosians of Trek, making Thom see what it wants him to see, but it also says that it does care for all those lost people who end up there.  I think that’s why it comes clean with Thom and shows him what he/she/it is.  It’s not lying to him, it just helps him forget because it’s painful.  Are we then viewing this creature as “bad” because it looks so monstrous?  Are we automatically assessing the situation as wrong because of the lie?  I mean, if I were alone in a distant place without hope of getting home or finding my family and friends again but an alien could make me think Jenna Coleman was with me all day long, I think I’d prefer the lie.  It was suggested to me that it might be a question of degrees.  When Pike is seeing Veena, he’s seeing a woman he knew who was human.  She’s as damaged as he is but they get to live a lie together.  But isn’t that the same thing the creature is doing?  Hey, Enemy Mine showed two people of very different races becoming friends.  I’m not saying I thought “Shelob” was hot in this episode, but I do wonder if that false reality isn’t better than the real one where Thom is a shriveled, dying man barely able to move. 

I think this episode is chock full of thought provoking ideas around aesthetics and truth.  It questions what it is to be alive and makes us face an unpleasant truth: there are times a lie might be better than the truth.  It’s not easy for me to accept that, but I had to reevaluate quite a bit after watching this episode.

The Game

Our little in-episode game features three images.  Considering the sexual content in this episode, the first image I took to represent Greta as we see her topless quite a bit.  The second image, I wasn’t so sure: perhaps the stasis pods the crew wake up in?  And the last was the “holy cow” moment, where the audience is forced to do a Macauley Culkin with mouth wide open upon the realization of what’s gone on.   

The Verdict:

I think this is a fantastic episode despite the gratuitous nature of the adult themes.  I think even those sequences advance the story and help tell a compelling tale that really got me thinking, and it pulls that off in just over 15 minutes.  For the second episode in a row, this series has impressed me.  Whether it can maintain that is another matter altogether, but so far, I’d say we’re 2 for 2…   ML

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