“Sugar is such a human weakness.”
“Afternoon of the Machines?” Have we been downgraded from “Time of the Machines?” Yes and no. While this is an echo to the earlier Episode 15, also known as “Machines Desirantes,” it doesn’t have the same rounded tragedy narrative, which slots so well into the greater arc. And yet, there’s a surprising turn here, the introduction to an element that should open doors, but sadly, those remain close. You can look, but no touchies.
Also compounding on the relatively simple formula of having the Tachikoma gather and chatter philosophy in their hyper-adorable yet dizzying manner, is that they’re not content to just babble about themselves, but also the Individual Eleven case. If you were wondering why this season didn’t also contain a “Chat! Chat! Chat!” episode, this is why.
Seems the Tachikoma have been doing independent research, and found a top secret file on the Individual Eleven in the police HQ data net. They aren’t alone in the lab, they’ve got the technicians (as led by Red Man, who I used to refer to as “crime lab guy” or “android”), and this is our introduction to Proto, a new recruit who reacts with a measured disdain to the Tachikoma.
At Proto’s protestation about the police file in their claws, Red Man says that if they find something we don’t want them to have, we just delete it. Hardware maintenance in the top priority. But Red has just been bought with pastries — red bean, of all things, and is now going too easy. Now, now, easy. Proto here wasn’t around before, and doesn’t know all the crap the Tachikoma had to go through to not be prodded and poked over every little thing.
Batou and Togusa come into the bay. Batou smiles, remarks that it sounds like they’re having a good time in here. Togusa only asks if they’re up to their usual mischief. The Tachikoma explain to Batou that they’re investigating the virus. It could be an epidemic. Batou stresses that this isn’t their job, and then does his job by taking his one personal unit along for a mission, as requested by the Major. Proto’s like hey, I haven’t given it the oil yet! I don’t really know what that means, or why it matters/doesn’t matter…
The Tachikoma hanging back say that they haven’t had natural oil since they got the new bodies. So how does Batou still prefer that one (my question is how does he even know which one it is)? Proto mentions that there’s a satellite with the data but each Tachikoma was programmed individually. Red says that the robots better start behaving, or they’ll never finish up here. He’s like the schoolteacher.
So one of them indicates the chatroom with a not-subtle gesture, and their virtual avatars appear in a space where Proto and Red can’t hear them, and also where the passage of time doesn’t apply. So what we see is just dramatized for our convenience, along more sapien lines of comprehension.
They talk about the Individual Eleven, and how… they’re the opposite of us, because we’re… and I’m gone. What the hell are they talking about? In referencing things like Richard Dawkins, the Chinese embassy incident, the Laughing Man, sociology, refugee terrorism, they ultimate arrive at the idea that human bodies and minds are two separate things, but people haven’t noticed.
How they go from Individual Eleven to that point is really beyond me, so my advice is just to lay back and enjoy the high-pitch. They go on to discuss how, like the Major’s friend at the floating garden, they’ve been having out of body experiences. On a seemingly unrelated but interesting note, they also observe their predisposition toward synchronizing, but it’s because they’re naturally curious — which is how they rolled into the Major’s crosshairs to begin with, as the price of gaining their individuality.
During the Jigabachi incident, the Tachikoma that the Major was using suddenly felt that her body wasn’t its own, so it could perform its duty as the Major said — even though it was shot, it didn’t matter. They compare it to the ecstasy of rescuing Batou back in the end of the first season, but this was more matter-of-fact. But they don’t know the location of the server their data is stored on — maybe that could be the ‘third self’ that keeps troubling them.
Over on the mission, a Tachikoma is parked outside, lying on its side. I thought this was because it was out of oil, but it gets right up later. The Major is talking with some police character when an explosion goes off. Batou and Togusa arrive, see that nobody’s running out of the building. A guard tells them that there was a bomb threat earlier, so they evacuated, but a scientist could still be inside, Dr. Akio Asuda. The Tachikoma is certain it’s seen him before.
Back in the bay, the Tachikoma attempt to find matching data against the face record. At Red’s yelling, they move to the chatroom once more. They’re frustrated, can’t figure it out — who is this guy? Argh, our synapses aren’t connecting! Enough with the organic metaphors! They theorize that the information they’re looking for is in a partitioned off region of their AI brains.
So this Dr. Asuda worked on the Tachikoma chip, the Major says. Batou’s like… so he’s the Tachikoma’s dad. The Major, straight-faced, says that he could put it like that. And he probably committed this crime himself, to defect from the country. He couldn’t patent his work as a state-sponsored scientist, despite his great invention.
But why this vague memory of the guy? The Tachikoma wants to know. The Major says that he left something of himself in the AI. The Chief had gone to the Prime Minister with help shutting down the airport to trap him there. And indeed, Asuda looks up and sees that all the flights are being delayed. At that point, he must know they’re on to him, at which point it’s time to leave, and put off the grand escape. He should be expecting this, right?
In the bay, one Tachikoma pops another’s hatch to take a gander at its brain — there’s nothing there. It’s got no AI! It looks back at the crowd: does that mean… we’re all brainless?
Batou and Togusa take Asuda into the tilt rotor, where he sees the Major — a familiar face. The Tachikoma asks him if he’s its father. Reserved, the scientist says, “Is that what you think?” The Major confronts him, with the memories of himself he put into the robots without authorization. Will you tell us how to delete them? It’s trivial sentimentalism, he says. You’d really delete that? as he puts a hand on the Tachikoma. Yes, the Major says, standing firm.
It’s File C9. Built into the satellite at your request. Ah! So that’s the third self. The Tachikoma finally figure it out, and their revelation that they exist in space comes at the expense of their father. The Tachikoma tells him that it’s not sure it wants him to be erased. Batou asks the Major what will happen to him. “If he’s lucky, he’ll spend his life in prison.” If unlucky? “He’ll tool away in Harima, in obscurity.”
Batou offers to bring a Tachikoma around every once in a while to visit, but the Major doubts that’ll help. He wanted freedom, but he’s no longer free, just like us. A somber ending. Granted, this episode isn’t in itself tragic, which is new for a Tachikoma-joint. But it is highly emotional, and ultimately, the goal was to establish that there’s a satellite with the Tachikoma AI, which is the setup to later tragedy. Don’t worry — there’s always gonna be tragedy.
I won’t go into how it plays out, but this episode was all setup. That we frame setup with an emotional effect in the moment — that’s great economical TV storytelling. Even if it is sort of mysterious and esoteric in what it’s talking about or doing.