In the last episode, we explored minds lost to online addiction. In “Escape From,” there is further investigation of the human element in the man/machine interface. This is a two-part episode that doesn’t draw attention to a duology structure, and marks the beginning of a sub-arc for the Tachikoma. This and episode 15, “Machine Desirantes,” are very much Section 9 between missions, where members of the team are more candid. Of course, the Major is never candid, and this eventually spells doom for the Tachikoma…
A Tachikoma in the bay awakens accidentally and complains that he wasn’t updated from the previous mission, as is protocol. This is the one raised on natural oil. He rolls out into the world, and alarms civilians — in the world of Ghost in the Shell, with its invisible cybernetics, a giant blue smart tank spinning in the middle of the street and squeaking with its child’s voice, would be cause for concern. The Tachikoma is too distracted to notice, loving the overload of data being collected.
He soon runs into a little girl, Miki, who’s looking for a lost dog named “Locky,” which seems like an odd thing to name a dog, being so close to “Lucky,” and not really a name. She explains that she’s looking for her missing dog, and the Tachikoma can’t really parse the sentence she’s said, probably because it didn’t contain key words like “target,” or “image curtains,” or “firewall.” Regardless, he promises to travel into the city with her. And although their hands are very different, so they can’t shake, Miki touches her tiny hand to the Tachikoma’s claw — they’re both naïve, but a friendship is born. The Major, in a much younger body but with the same eyes and purple hair, spies on them from above.
The Tachikoma comes upon a dog and grabs it in a claw, holds it up for Miki to inspect. Not Locky, so the robot tosses the dog away. This upsets Miki, but the Tachikoma doesn’t understand why. If the dog is of no use to her, why is she upset that it was discarded? Apparently the Tachikoma would fail the Voight-Kampff empathy test, but I think Deckard might have other tip-offs that it’s not human.
Later, the Tachikoma finds a cyberbrain box and declares a feeling that it’s something very amazing, potentially the kaleidoscopic vision that humans are supposed to see before they die. This also upsets Miki, and it is pretty shocking how quickly he can be distracted and lose sight of the young girl in the creepy alley with thuggish-looking cyborgs on hand. She puts him on a leash, but her timing is pretty bad, as they’re immediately accosted by two friendly policemen. She gets nervous (a little girl with a paramilitary robot is admittedly suspicious), and the Tachikoma does his best Aramaki impression and scares them off.
The Tachikoma drives her along the highway, and she tells the tale of the secret goldfish, in which a girl wouldn’t let anyone see her prized goldfish, because it had died a long time ago and she’s been pretending it’s alive. The Tachikoma had surmised that Miki and Locky must be the best of friends, based on her teary descriptions of the dog. Yet he can’t quite put together why the girl in the story isn’t able to get a replacement fish.
So they arrive at the graveyard, and Miki confirms what she suspected, that the dog had died, even though her parents told her he’d simply run away. They even refused to help her look for the dog, because obviously they knew what she’d find. So she kept pretending to look, as not to worry them. The Tachikoma explains to her that he won’t die because he’s an AI. But Miki doesn’t feel like taking on any more pets right now.
Later, the Tachikoma is being examined by Ishikawa, who finds that the natural oil, as well as Batou’s selective use of the same unit, has had an effect on its system, made it feel individual among other things. Togusa isn’t surprised. They’re just machines, after all, he says, and the Tachikomas take exception to this, call him a bigot. The Major comes in and bans natural oil. She tells Togusa to get the cyberbrain to the crime lab.
The story of a girl and her Tachikoma might be eye-rollingly basic for a quick grab at heartstrings, but it’s mercifully brief, and the expected life lesson at the end doesn’t really come. It’s actually more sinister anyway, given the events to come. It may be about a robot learning about I know now why you cry, but the implication of evolving AI is dangerous for all involved.
There’s also the matter of a girl who’s being told mythology to shield her from the harsh realities of the world, and a somewhat sheltered robot also traversing that world. The Tachikoma’s perception of the world is limited to counterterrorism, and as we see, they never take their jobs seriously. They do the job, but the gravity of situations is never palpable. The two come to a sad ending realization in the graveyard, shattering through fiction and artificiality. As the patients of the Vocational Aid Center were lost to a virtual world, this girl and her Tachikoma are dealing in very physical concepts despite the abstract idea of life and death.
Continuing the story but in a drastically different way, the Major checks in on the cyberbrain box the Tachikoma stole from the alley. The android inspector diving it hasn’t returned for a while, and doesn’t seem to want to come back. He’d described to Ishikawa what he was looking at, and Ishikawa relays this to the Major: long corridor, stairway at the end of the hall. It’s like describing a dream, and it’s kind of weird to be in the real world describing architecture in the unreality.
The Major in turn freaks Ishikawa out by keeping her eyes open even as she dives. Contact is quickly lost; the ghost has left her body, but it wasn’t a ghost hack. She finds a crowd of people waiting in a lobby, and asks what’s going on. Nobody answers. An older gentleman explains that these people are under a spell, and soon they file into a movie theatre. The Major finds the android inspector, who’s just like “Oh hey, Major. This movie’s really mindblowing.” And indeed, we see tear drops on the floor at this cyborg’s feet.
She confronts the old man, who directed the film. The movie’s not bad, but films are only temporary. This thing without a beginning or end is dangerous. He tells her she’s a tough critic, and asks if she believes there’s a reality to which they should return (and if she’ll force them to)? She says that dreams are meaningful when you work toward them in the real world. Sharing dreams like this is no different than being dead. The director offers his hand for a handshake, and the Major goes for it before disconnecting.
This filmmaker couldn’t secure funding for his masterpiece so he put it and himself in this cyberbrain box, copies of which were illegally distributed. There’s no hacking, the movie itself is compelling people to stay. The Major later asks Batou if a film has ever moved him to tears, and all he can come up with is that a Marx Brothers movie made him laugh so hard he almost cried. He asks, off-hand and knowing the answer, if she’d like to see a movie with him. She says that she makes a point to see certain movies alone — only those she really wants to see. The others? She doesn’t see them.
It’s funny how Batou always laughs off the philosophical or otherwise left-field questions the Major asks him, regardless the edition of Ghost in the Shell. It’s small wonder why the Major doesn’t go for you, dude.
Let’s recall those reports of people who were so depressed upon stumbling out of the IMAX theatre, December 2009, not because Avatar was so underwhelming as the J-Man’s triumphant return to scifi after eighteen years, but just the opposite — they didn’t want to leave Pandora and return to their crushingly grey world of gasoline air and cubicles. It’s been proven that immersive media can relight one’s perception of the world, and if the world is a place where dogs can die and cyberterrorists hack people’s brains, maybe escaping wouldn’t be so bad.
A jaunt through the city with a new friend, as innocent as can possibly be, or being moved to tears by a movie, could be serviceable escapes, but the dream always has to end. In the filmmaker’s case, the dream is illegal despite not being immoral. These people will have to be awakened and returned from Pandora. This episode is also something of an escape, from formula, from the show’s structure, etc. It too must come to an end, and in the next episode, we abandon this adventure-interlude for extremists and rapid aging, and in fact take only the depressing consequence of developing AI…