In contrast to the arguably blunt plotline of the prior episode, steamrolling down the street in its spider-tank glory, we have here something more reserved, and something that in the end, Section 9 really had no business dealing with.
Escort androids — less extreme I think than the gynoids from Innocence, and probably more like talking Real Dolls (oh, I can be so naïve sometimes) — are committing suicide all over the city. Because humanoid characters are for the most part hand-drawn, fans on the Internet can argue about whether or not the Major is actually hot, because in real life, she might look like, well… a talking Real Doll. The androids in the beginning are the same way; it’s in the voice acting that we can draw the distinction, otherwise they are indistinguishable from humans, so the cold open of this episode sees a number of women committing emotionless suicide. When one of them drops from a roof, she hits the ground off-screen and crows fly into the air in a scatter. Very effective, and overall the pre-title sequence is chilling and indicative of the nature of cyber-crime in the fictional universe.
Of course, we later discover that these were merely androids, but that enters the central question of the episode, something classic and frankly tired in science-fiction, of whether robots are capable of having souls. These androids, the Jeris, are actually outdated, and thus rare — there are only about 8,000 units in the country, so the media is expected to be all over their mass suicide.
Section 9 steps in because of the threat of a virus, and this is confirmed when the Major, a Tachikoma, and the Chief infiltrate a Genesis Androids plant, where the Jeris used to be manufactured. The Major and the Tachikoma use their active camouflage, which I feel like is one of those civil rights violations that Section 9 trades in as a matter of the day-to-day. If we aren’t reminded now, then later on we’ll see just how they’re like an extreme version of 24’s CTU, one staffed entirely by Jack Bauers.
Not to mention Ishikawa listening in when Aramaki talks with the plant manager. I wonder if civilians in the Ghost in the Shell future just assume that because it’s a possibility somebody’s always listening, they don’t care, or if they’d be outraged that a Public Security official is engaging in an illegal wiretap. The Major Crimes Unit from The Wire would have so much paperwork to wade through before they reached that point.
The Major concludes that it’s a time-release virus, and has Ishikawa run a ‘payload analysis,’ which is a term we can unscramble from context if we’re the lay — for those in the tech world, a payload is a measure of data transmission, for example a virus. ‘Payload’ is a term with military origins, and Ghost in the Shell has that conflation of the tech and the military anyway, so it’s all the same, but that term probably went over my head in earlier viewings, so I need to stay vigilant for the ‘in-between’ jargon, things not complicated enough for the show to explain, but not generic enough for me to automatically get.
The Jeris have a loyal fanbase because they’re easily customizable, which is a detail that’ll help out later on. The plant manager makes a quip about them, and the brief things he mentions, like how some people are scared of the Jeris’ behavior, are world-building details, something you might see in an email in a Deus Ex game. Video-games have a distinct advantage where world-building is concerned, though audio logs have become much-maligned. In a show like Ghost in the Shell, there is an abundance of expository dialogue, but there’s also background chatter and lines that can be ignored because what’s going on visually is more important. Maybe it’s a shot from Batou’s literal POV as he’s studying a piece of evidence, and some forensics guy who’s trying to talk to him is muttering about some aspect of the world. The show’s communications technology allow it to speak, funny as that might sound, in different creative ways.
The Tachikoma asks for a souvenir as the Major leaves the plant. She promises to tell stories of her past adventures, which is also something I’d like to hear, and muses to herself how the robots are developing in a way. It’s nothing to worry about for now. Later, Ishikawa discovers a security code in the virus that indicates the culprit has an uninfected Jeri. In hand with the customizable aspect of the android line, there’s something creepy going on… Aramaki compliments Ishikawa on his work, much to latter’s surprise.
We meet Marshall McLachlan, which might’ve been a reference to Marshall McLuhan but for the irrelevance of either to the other. The case could be made, I’m sure, and somebody could do a McLuhan reading of this episode and of the series, but I’m not that somebody. In the meantime, Marshall and the Jeri exchange robotically-delivered dialogue about escaping to Italy, spoken against a blank projector screen, as if they’re in a movie.
In a news broadcast, a sociologist refers to what the Jeris are doing as self-termination, rather than suicide. The idea that maybe machines are developing ghosts is reiterated, and it seems that yes, the media is jumping all over this. Section 9 is pretty good at predicting the public’s reaction to the crimes they investigate. That’s another dimension of complexity that gets some play in the show, the aspect of the media and how information is disseminated. One of the lines that best characterizes the work Section 9 does happens in 2nd Gig, where Aramaki notes that the events of their investigation, the attempted ousting of Kayabuki, etc., will probably not be made public in their lifetimes.
Batou turns the TV off (a car-TV, no less) and Togusa asks him why they’re on this case. Batou reminds him that it might be connected to the ‘National Assembly fiasco,’ which presumably took place before the series began. Even if it seems tenuous, they have to follow-up.
Big Guy and Little Guy here are at the heart of Ghost in the Shell, despite that Innocence is the coldest entry in the entire franchise. In any other show, these two heteronormative (both Japanese straight males — Togusa has a family, Batou has a crush on the Major) detectives, so often paired on assignments, would be the main characters. It’s interesting how they exist in light of the Major, and then with the rest of the squad breaking off into their own smaller cells. To Togusa’s dismay, he and Batou violently break into Marshall’s pad — Batou says Togusa’s method, while admirable, would’ve taken too long — while those other members talk with the other Jeri users.
In an interesting shot that catches us up to where the Major is, what she’s doing, and generally who she is in this extremely economical storytelling showcase, she seems to be interrogating the owner of a hostess club. Even more interesting is how Pazu and Boma act like gangsters in their interrogations. Boma is an intimidating guy, but he’s the nerd of the group — Pazu is the one with the questionable history. Stand Alone Complex gives just enough character details to be tantalizing, but ultimately doesn’t spend a great deal of time on guys like Pazu (less so on Boma), who may have been a yakuza in his past life.
Once Batou and Togusa discover that Marshall had sent the virus out, wading through film cans, Aramaki requests the Canadian embassy revoke his diplomatic immunity: he’s the son of the Canadian ambassador, and won’t be the last son-of-someone brat Section 9 encounters.
The team heads out after Marshall, who’s trying to escape by car. The Major insists that the whole Jeri thing is sexist, though Togusa doesn’t really get why. The Major actually raises her voice at him, and one wonders why Togusa plays dumb here and isn’t more sensitive, seeing as the Major is essentially a Jeri, but with a real ghost. Later on, the Major might be callous with the various bodies she inhabits — a physical Chroma in Solid State Society, for example — but she still sticks with the main body, despite Batou’s later mockery (all in good fun, though it’s… more sexism). Her body is her body, and it’s a touchy subject. Just ask her when the whole Puppet Master investigation was going on.
Batou reminds Togusa that the Jeri obsession is much like Togusa’s preoccupation with his revolver. In a world of miracle machines, older and outdated models will become the icons of a nostalgic past. Much like VHS or Walkmans today. I still fixate over floppy disks on those rare occasions I see one.
Marshall talks with the Jeri about how he’s not so good with women, and this level of social skill is essentially a modern otaku transplanted to the future. We know Section 9 is closing in, so this scene must be designed to draw a modicum of sympathy for a finale of conflicting emotions. This is a guy who believes his only hope is this incredibly roundabout and strange criminal activity, and so we get the human rationale behind it before the Major hacks into his GPS to maneuver him off of the freeway, fabricating a traffic jam up ahead. If it isn’t sympathy, it’s the start of thematic connection — this guy is pretty detached, borderline inhuman.
The suspect and his Jeri escape into the woods as his immunity is revoked, which is a go-ahead for Batou. Togusa warns that he’s still the ambassador’s son, so go easy. Such things need to be said to Batou, who’s always ready for action. Marshall doesn’t get far, and the Major cuts them off, effectively surrounding them as pretty magic-hour sunlight drifts through the trees. This must be what post-cyberpunk means, because I’ve never understood it — maybe a visual liberation from the dreariness of Gibson and Blade Runner. I appreciate how much green there is in Ghost in the Shell, though again to harp on Innocence, Innocence was about as dreary as they come.
Marshall pulls a gun but the Jeri says she doesn’t want to be in love with him, and puts him in a submission hold, which may not be a technical one but the threshold is considerably lower for a robot. Batou says she’s not so outdated, and everyone’s confused, not least of which poor ol’ Marshall.
Later, the Major and Batou review the case at a bar. Batou continues his confusion, but the Major seems to have it on lockdown: Marshall wanted to transform his Jeri into a unique being, killing all the other ones and then escaping. The odd part is why the Jeri saved him — maybe it was love after all? The Major plays with her wristwatch when she recounts the story of her doll, which we remember from the CG intro, saying that her prosthetic body was difficult to use at first. Batou remarks that she’s definitely mastered it, and it’s one of the best in the world. Indeed Batou, but under that military application, there beats a human heart (figuratively speaking, of course).
Togusa goes home to his unbelievably tolerant police-wife, who’s just sitting there, minding her own business watching a movie, when he takes the remote and pauses it. She was watching that! she protests, after commenting how much she loves 20th century movies. Togusa sees how Marshall and the Jeri had swiped lines from Breathless, even dialogue that Togusa himself hadn’t himself heard them say. But the Jeri had actually said more than was in the movie, in answer to the Major and Batou’s chat by the bar.
The Major getting angry about Jeris being manufactured for the whims of lazy men and the Jeri’s development of humanity in contrast to Marshall’s detachment, definitely puts a feminist spin on that age old robot-soul question, in much more explicit terms than Innocence. This is a robot who was designed to cook or do God-knows-what, as the Major wonders aloud, and was being taken to Italy as a hostage to romance. She didn’t want that, though she did love Marshall. This is the intersection of metaphor and something that isn’t metaphor: the Jeri is a stand-in for Japanese women, but she also kind of is a Japanese woman, so the literary and the literal smash together.
How the Major herself fits into that puzzle is a bit more complicated, because of course she does have a soul, or ghost, and that isn’t in question like it is with the Jeris, which are proven — to an extent — to have something resembling souls. It’s more about how things develop beyond the creator’s expectation, become new beings. The Major is a woman in a fully cyberized body, and as Batou pointed out, she was able to actualize and become one of the world’s premier badasses. That is very physical adversity, but again I’m thankful that this character is female, because no doubt there was the typical gender-related struggle to reach the position of power she currently occupies, in this world where people on TV squabble about whether androids have souls, much like how news pundits today argue about women’s rights like the women of the world are robots in need of regulation.