We come now to the episode that caused a bit of contention between me and my fellow blogger, Roger. I don’t blame him really but I had seen two episodes, which I thought were excellent, so I told Roger to check it out. Because Netflix had some blockhead idea to not show them in the same order for everyone, he didn’t see the same “first” episode I did. He saw Sonnie’s Edge and deemed it abysmal garbage. So he bailed with no intent of ever going back. To my delight, I did get him back to check out Three Robots, but that was some time later.
The thing is, Sonnie’s Edge isn’t a bad story; it’s just not treading any new ground. In fact, it’s really basic; so much so that we all played it as kids when we’ve played Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots. You know the game: it’s a kids game where you play two robots against one another and hope to clobber the others jaw.
Sonnie’s Edge is just a much cruder, adult version of how to look at the story behind a board game that doesn’t need a backstory…
The plot is simple: this is a futuristic boxing match with avatars that are monsters. Think about the game Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots but with monsters instead. Sonnie is our audience identification character, if only by virtue of the other guy, Dicko, being so good at living up to his name. We are then given just over 15 minutes to bond with the characters and the backstory for the main character is tragic enough that you can’t help but want her to win. She’s lived a hard life and this is her chance to do better. In fairness, I think the twist ending is superb. Early in the episode, she’s offered money to throw the fight; so much money she wouldn’t have to fight again. So why turn it down? Pride? Or something else. Conceptually we’ve got an interesting idea. Plus the graphics are truly well done, creating a near future back alley cityscape where crime is rampant and life is ugly.
There are roughly 15 minutes to the episode and the first F bomb drops within the first 3 minutes. 4 more follow less than a minute later. By the 13th minute, we’re dealing with nudity where there didn’t seem any need for it. Sonnie’s backstory is one where she was raped then brutalized leading her to the life she now lives. Wow, talk about not being accessible to the average audience. That’s not all though. The better chuck of the episode is spent watching the two monsters fight. Usually fun when Godzilla goes against his foes, but seldom to we see such brutality. The hacking and slicing is just unnecessarily violent with chunks falling off as the creatures attack one another. This is boxing, a sport I find overly beastial to begin with, brought to a level that is just not needed.
As if all of that is not enough, when Sonnie seems to be at her weakest in the story, there is a violent head-stomping that goes on, crushing in a head like a melon. When one of the attackers flees, her head is impaled by a spike. I’m no prude, nor do I mind violence in movies, but I hate gratuitous anything: violence, cursing, sex… if it doesn’t advance the story, it takes away from it, and I walked away quite disheartened by this episode. Had I recommended this to other friends, they’d never have taken my recommendation again.
“Everyone sees what they want to see!” Is this a commentary on the things we ignore in favor of what we want to see and hear? In some ways it is. I’m reminded of a friend who would not hear logical reason when confronted with changing long held beliefs. It’s probably what motivates a lot of political arguments: one party insists their candidate is right and rather than admit they are wrong, the double down on a bad belief, trying to further convince their rival, and themselves, that they are right. It’s an uncomfortable truth when we only see what we want and can’t see what is.
I also think the twist in the story offers a bit of mind candy: we’re looking at what it really means to fight for our lives. What is really at stake isn’t pride or money for Sonnie. Fear is a real motivator and she uses it to full effect. This can be a good thing in some cases. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor had said in Listen that fear is a superpower: it makes us faster, stronger, more alert. But fear can’t be the driving force in a person’s life. I think over sustained periods of time it damages us more than it helps, hence PTSD. It needs to be a small part of one’s life, not the driving motivator.
But perhaps the ugliest truth is that it makes us look like brutal, blood-hungry monsters. I won’t deny it: when Sonnie reveals her “edge”, I was delighted and physically punched the air. Then I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to like that. I didn’t want to enjoy watching the bloody destruction of two people. And I suspect I am not alone. But the episode is crafted to get the blood pumping, as much in our veins as out of the veins of the “enemy”. But is that really what we should want??
Today’s in-episode game felt like an easy one and I can see where it might have helped to indicate that this is the first episode of the series. Love, Death and … Sonnie’s tattoo? Or perhaps it’s a little more complex than that: Dicko and his girlfriend (heart/love) actually kill Sonnie (X/death) but she has a sneaky trick up her sleeve (a snake tattoo). I like the clever interpretation more, obviously.
As an action piece, I enjoyed it, but do feel like the series missed a major audience by making these episodes so adult. There was no reason for it. The violence in this episode is over the top and I couldn’t help but ask why was it necessary? Did we really need chunks of meat falling off the monsters? Did we need to see someone’s head stepped on until it was mush? I’m going to say no. If it was there just to show us what computer graphics could do, it was better suited to a video game. That didn’t stop my excitement around it, but it did give me a very conflicted feeling afterward. ML