Love, Death and Robots: Pop Squad

pop4Having now seen 20 episodes of this series, I feel like I know more or less what to expect.  And then this episode happens and it surprises me.  It surprises me because every other story felt self-contained.  Yes, they are all part of a bigger world but even Three Robots, which takes a snip of their experience, doesn’t feel like it needs more, no matter how much we might want it.  Pop Squad comes along and is barely enough to give us an idea of what goes on in this world. 

This takes place in a world where population control is handled by a form of police who will actually kill any children they find.  We are not being introduced to a sympathetic protagonist here with Detective Briggs.  We arrive on  the scene with him as he finds a household with 2 cute children and he has to put them down like vermin.  As the one child holds up a dinosaur stuffed animal, I was very much hoping these kids were going to be some kind of demon.  Alas, no.  I hated him instantly, however when this character commits the deed, he is clearly having a crisis of conscience.  And to my surprise I felt for him because he seems to be as much a victim as the children.

The Good

pop1This is the sort of artwork I really love.  I mean that in the graphic animation as well as the content.  There are drastic differences between light and dark.  We encounter an underbelly to the city when the story starts, then Briggs goes to pickup his opera singing girlfriend from this insanely posh tower.  Like his role and his conscience, we have two opposing views.  Still later, Biggs finds himself in a dilapidated house in a semi-open space where he meets a woman with a child and he lets her live, only to come out to be confronted with another officer.  The draw on each other and fire.  There’s something soothing about the setting that is in keeping with the mother and child who are allowed to live in peace because of his actions.

Any good story should give us something to think about and I like that Briggs is both the protagonist and the villain, because it’s easy to forget that bad guys never see themselves as bad guys.  They do what they do believing it’s for a greater good.  The thing here is that we are lead to believe that the ultra-rich have the ability to live forever.  His girlfriend Alice even passes some horrid comments that “if we weren’t going to live forever, I’d let you get me pregnant.”  Ouch.  This is a strange and twisted world where one can live forever but we can’t have more children born as it threatens the status quo.  

The Bad

pop2It’s very hard to watch a story about the murder of children.  I don’t mind as much when they reveal the children are Screamers or something monstrous but when they are just regular children, my stomach turns.  The one thing we have going for us is that we never see the act take place.  

The biggest complaint I have is that I felt like we walked into a story without having the whole picture, and that’s driven largely by Alice’s story.  She performs her opera, then goes for some medical treatment which clears up her nearly invisible age marks within seconds.  She has a stuffed animal of the same dinosaur that the little child held up to Briggs.  Why?  What didn’t we see?  What part of the story was kept from us.  As hard as the subject matter was to watch, I really felt like I wasn’t given the whole story.  

One small thing that bothered me is the mother and her child at the end of the story.  The child speaks, although in “mama” and “papa” terms only, but her mother is shown breast feeding.  I’m definitely no expert and I’ve read that up to age two is not inappropriate to breast feed, but it seemed to depict an older child.  Definitely not enough to take me out of the narrative, but it did make me wonder.  

The Ugly

pop3The idea of population control was, for me, best depicted by Dan Brown with his Inferno, but this does take a frightening idea and speculates on what might bring us to such a horrible place.  And that’s a good question really: are there things we would do for self preservation that would be deplorable to admit?  If we could live forever, or even twice as long as we do now, what would we give up to achieve it and would it be worth it?  

I also had to question how much our environment plays a part in defining who we are.  I used to work in NYC and really have no desire to ever go back.  I love the grassy, tree lined campus I now work at.  In this story, Briggs starts in a place right out of the rainy streets of Blade Runner.  It is here that he does the terrible deed.  Later, in the upscale towers, he seems dissatisfied.  Do riches really give us peace?  Make us feel good?  The story ends in a beat up old house in a green open area.  In the distance, the ruins of a metropolis stand, but the house itself is on a nice plot of land.  The mother and her little girl are at peace.  Perhaps there’s a hidden message here about settings and where we really find peace.  It’s here that Briggs prevents the murder of another child and kills one of his own.  Is he accepting the rural, relaxed way of life over the rich upscale heartless world of his girlfriend?  

The Game

The eyes of the law are on us all with that first glyph.  The second is representative of the hat Briggs wears. The last is a heartbreaking reminder of the little child who lost his life just for being born.  

The Verdict:

Not an easy episode to watch but a visually stunning one.  I have read some reviews and it seems like the episode is well received despite the subject matter.  I liked it enough that I wanted more even though the idea makes me sick.  One other thing that stood out to me was the toyshop, Ipswitch Collectibles.  I think it reminds me of Rose Tyler from Doctor Who more than anything else (“Where am I gonna go, Ipswitch?”) or there might be something vaguely reminiscent of Lovecraft to me in that name, but the idea of a child’s toyshop seems ludicrous in a world where population control exists.  All a cop would have to do is stake out the toy store and follow each person who leaves there.  (Though Briggs isn’t staking the place out, that’s essentially how he finds Eve and the last little girl of the story.)  The thing is, it’s such a nice toy shop, I want to go there myself.  Talk about feeling conflicted!!  ML

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