Closing out Act I of the Complex arc is Episode 6, so complex it must begin with an uncharacteristic ‘previously on,’ for the cold open. We get a brief montage of events: Nanao Ei tricking the police, Batou running a tracer, etc.
The cold opens of Stand Alone Complex are always used effectively. In tandem with the hard cut to the title screen, it’s one in a tradition of unique television storytelling element that can set mood very economically. Often in crime shows or medical dramas we open on the crime or the medical issue, cut to title screen, and then open again on our main cast. That’s sometimes the case with Stand Alone Complex, but because of both Japanese scene-setting/storytelling and the show’s titular complexity, often these cold opens are only about mood. A montage of establishing shots, a look at some corner of the city, or maybe something to focus on.
The security detail to Superintendent General Daido knows there’s a virus abound, and the possibility of cyber-brain contamination is very real. Commotion is rising in the building as Batou and Togusa learn Nanao is closeby.
The plan for our ill-fated Nanao was for the detectives to find and arrest him. He’ll go down in history as the Laughing Man! Instead, he gets assassinated, but is assured he’ll still go down in history.
The Major is confronted by the detail, tells her to back away, but she tells them that they’re the ones most at risk — they pose the greatest threat to Daido. Nothing like strategic logic and the ever authoritative Major to shut your ass down. She doesn’t make too much of a show, but I can tell those guys were shamed.
The show is soon to start however, where soon after Daido is advised to postpone the speech, the Major and Pazu rush the stage as the first contamination takes hold. A baton goes into a guy’s cybernetic arm, and things are off. The Major does a flip onto the stage and Pazu takes the guy on. Although she’d gotten knocked away, the Major finishes the job by jumping up too high and putting a high heel through the guy’s stomach, and then punching him with the knuckles from Innocence.
She dives his brain but there’s an attack barrier — good thing she went in through a dummy terminal. Am I right? She’s worried though, and wonders who was snooping around in this guy’s brain.
Batou and Togusa find Nanao Ei’s body, which confuses Togusa. Batou meanwhile is able to determine it was a silencer that killed him. But Togusa’s focused on the issue — wasn’t the whole idea that the SIU could arrest him and put the cap on the Laughing Man case? Batou then points out that he died smiling…
The Major sends a copy of the virus to Section 9 so they can get to work on a quick vaccine, but only just in case. Seems the virus only infected his encryption conversion key, so it’s unlikely to spread. So says you, Kusanagi.
The press and the public are crowding in the door against the security guards, trying to get in. In the chaos, Pazu manages to hit the gun out of a hostile’s hands, but the bullet still hits a guy. Pazu arrests the assailant who sounds like an accomplice of the Laughing Man. They try to move Daido out of the place, but then it’s a cop who tries to kill him. He wings the Superintendent General in the shoulder. Saito has killed a sniper — there’s another dead guy with a Laughing Man pin. This is bad.
The Major is escorting Daido when a giant cyborg dude comes around a corner and swings his hydraulic arm down — the move it seems designed for — she blocks it and then the Tachikoma arrives to pin the guy against the wall. After this point, the ‘infections’ are played more for laughs. It’s become comical at this point. Joss Whedon is a TV writer who can seamlessly transition from drama to comedy within a scene — Ghost in the Shell uses Tachikomas.
Pazu and Saito meet up with the Major, and Pazu asks if she’s okay. She barks an order at them, and the two men exchange grunts before heading off.
A few of the people in custody consider themselves the Laughing Man and confess to trying to kill Daido. Of course I’m the Laughing Man! In these guys, there’s no trace of brainwashing or cyber-brain contamination, no external cause. Batou and Togusa are watching in, and the Major comes through. Even they are shaken by her brusqueness.
The Chief is headed to the hospital, so the Major takes him over. He says that Daido is planning on resigning while in the hospital. The cooked up, official story, will most likely be that it’s a virus from Nanao, who was killed by trouble in his fictional ‘group.’ The SIU will continue to work the case, now motivated by the recent developments in the Laughing Man case.
On their drive over, they review: three called themselves the Laughing Man. Two were just admirers. Three more claimed to have revelations that inspired them. Thirty-nine others were just copycats. In total, there was no virus connecting to the Laughing Man, whoever that may be. They all committed acts of terrorism because they saw on television that Daido would be killed. The Major sums it up, now believing that Nanao was the unwitting participant in a police cover-up.
Daido is on the phone discussing next steps while overlooking a city at sunset through his large hospital window. It’s a beautiful shot, shining and orange. The future might be wracked by terrorism and counterterrorism, but that’s the double-edge of shimmering technological advance.
The Chief delivers some bad news, that Section 9 will conduct an independent investigation to get to the bottom of the Laughing Man case. He tells him they’ll be in touch to discuss the flow of money between him and Serrano, so no Amsterdam just yet. Ilario Graziano lights up the mic as the Major tours the hospital and sees the smiley face logo everywhere. Everything’s tinted the same shade…
The vocals of the Stand Alone Complex soundtrack are a majority of female voices, and stunningly beautiful female voices at that, and the accompanying instrumentals are typically light, fast percussion and smooth synth — a feminine edge to reflect the futuristic city, and the Major. It gives Stand Alone Complex a unique feel, and beyond that, the soundtracks are plainly damn good. Their often operatic applications to the show can reach dizzying heights — in time we’ll review in-depth the moment where the Major is wrangling a Jigabachi on a rooftop and “Cyberbird” hits its high notes.
The Chief speculates that there may be no criminal in the mix. The copycats may just be a stand alone complex, with no original. But then, the Major wonders, who was watching us when I dove that guard’s brain? The Chief wants Togusa to lay flowers on Yamaguchi’s grave — he was the one who shed light on the case, and for that someone had him killed. It’s the appropriate bookend, because through all the complexity of tech and conspiracy, crime and even cyber-crime is always going to concern the human element first.
To bookend like this, we’re able to take a break for a while, because although the case has just opened, the story’s been told. It’s just that the story is just one in the greater narrative. It is interesting how these three episodes demonstrate the rapidity at which criminality can be revealed across a network of organizations — from corporate warfare we get police conspiracy, and we might have one Daido to blame for it all, but this whole mess has ended in close to fifty arrests and two murders.
His evil has taken shape, but it is amorphous and spread through this shadowy maze that Section 9 — the only trustworthy law enforcement agency in Japan — has to navigate through. By Episode 6, not a third into the series, we understand the show’s sensibilities, how it’s taken an overall style from the Oshii film (Innocence, although referenced earlier here would actually premiere years later), but has a much different focus. It’s world-building to a fault and as byproduct of weaving a massive narrative. In Ghost in the Shell (1995), we get a perfect Ghost in the Shell story, a moody existential journey, and in Stand Alone Complex, we push further and see up-close the kind of city that could create an infinity of existential journeys.