Love, Death and Robots: The Secret War

Come on, at first sight, you hoped for that epic Marvel battle with Doctor Doom, didn’t you?  Ok, maybe it was just me but I really liked that when I’d read it as a kid!  Alas, this Secret War is not as pleasant as that comic book story and probably refers more to an actual CIA mission.  Maybe I shouldn’t have expected a deeper story since this wasn’t a comic book retelling, but war stories are usually about just one thing – fighting the enemy.  But, like so many of these episodes, taking a step away really does offer clarity.  After watching the episode, I went to bed.  You know, let the brain percolate on images of destruction for a bit.  Undoubtedly good for the psyche.  (Says the guy who regularly hangs out with the Mad Hatter…)

The Secret War is a bit Lovecraftian and for that, I liked it.  There’s even that moment we see the existential dread in the soldier’s eyes when he realizes the monsters are just a bit too much.  Is it a top contender for best of the season?  No.  But they don’t all have to be allegorical as long as they give us something to think about and after some consideration, I think this does.

The Good

TSW1Unlike some movies, war is not depicted as a thing to want to be a part of.  There’s no heroism here.  We are shown some truly disturbing images, albeit in computer generated form, that clearly shows the horror that is war.  There really is nothing good to say about it.  It is a time of terror for those fighting it.  There’s loss, and fear, and pain.  Maybe even madness.

The episode also does some amazing things with the graphics.  The human eye is hard to capture in animated form.  Sure you can draw it and animate it, but there are little nuances that are hard to get right, and yet this episode captures some of those fine touches skillfully.  Speaking of visuals, the combination of what we see and hear hits a high point during the final battle.  There’s music played over an otherwise silent sequence; no screams, shouts, explosions… just music showing the loss of life.  It’s daunting.  It’s sad.  It’s meaningful. 

The Bad

TSW1Weirdly, for a story about war with a bunch of men fighting for their lives, I don’t think I caught a single vulgarity in the whole 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, there is a moment where the corpse of a woman is seen suspended by ropes for a satanic ritual and she is naked and maimed.  Was it needed?  Did it really advance the story?  Or more to the point, could the same story have been conveyed without having to see the full frontal image of the woman with her stomach eviscerated?  I’m going to say yes and that is a ding against an otherwise good episode that managed to be adult without gratuitous use of vulgarity and sex.  

The Ugly

TSW2I asked myself: “what did this say about the human condition?” and I came back with a surprising number of answers.  For a start: humans shouldn’t mess with things they don’t understand especially when demons are part of that equation.  The backstory shows Nazi cultists attempting to summon demons in their quest to defeat their enemies.  Ok, stop right there…  they are messing with forces that they can’t control.  Maybe in some ways it’s an allegory for nuclear weaponry – once we unleashed its power, there was no stopping it.  Also, why must humans always resort to violence?  Why are we so determined to kill each other?  Forget the demons, why couldn’t the two factions of people work it out?  To quote Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks:  “Why can’t we all just get along?”  Perhaps the ugly truth we need to consider is that we are little more than they monsters we fight.  And maybe if we fight like animals, we will continue to die like animals….

The Game

Today’s in-episode game featured the same image twice followed by a star.  Death happens on both sides of the war; humans and… whatever they are (Shoggoths, perhaps?) die.  I took the skull to mean death of both parties.  However, the star seems to be the Soviet star on the hats and helmets of the humans.  Just as we think the episode ends, the enemy stragglers look to the skies and see Russian planes flying overhead.  I would like to think the third symbol works almost like a victory image.  If there are “rounds” to the war, the humans lost two rounds but won in the end.  Barely.   Not a very complex analysis, but it’s not really a complex story.  

The Verdict:

Another good action episode with some terrific visuals.  Coming it at just 15 minutes, it’s easy to tolerate the mundane “war is hell” message.  I’d prefer a little more to think about but I suspect if I just walk away from it for a bit, more ideas will pop into my head.  If not, it was still an exciting story.  If only the creatures were actually called Shoggoths!   ML

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