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The Big O – Episode 20

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’re returning once more to the city of Paradigm, as Roger Smith attempts to divine what fragments of his past identity he can use to construct his future self. As external invaders continue to pierce the veil of Paradigm’s manufactured reality, Roger himself is coming to doubt the role he has been assigned, knowing full well that his control of the megadeus is not an expression of agency, but a fulfillment of his “father” Rosewater’s wishes. So then, as Roger himself recently asked, “who is my real enemy?”

Well, that’s a complicated question. The easy answer would be “Rosewater,” as he’s clearly the one currently pulling the strings behind Paradigm’s current age of amnesia. But Rosewater himself appears to be channeling his energies towards fighting some external threat, the survivors of a world gone mad attempting to puncture the bubble of Paradigm’s security. Mankind’s hubris will always lead us towards forbidden knowledge, whether it’s the technology that wrecked the world or the sins that were buried forty years ago. Like many men, Roger is a hammer in search of a nail; he play-acts an agent of truth and justice as a “negotiator,” but the secrets he uncovers may prove themselves more dangerous than any of the foes he’s dispatched. Let’s see where his fraught path takes him as we return to The Big O!

Episode 20

This one’s directed by series regular Tetsuya Watanabe, who’s also contributed heavily to a variety of Gundams and other Tomino projects, alongside a broad array of productions ranging from Love Live to Evangelion


Once again, we find ourselves outside Paradigm’s city limits, panning across the sands that time has made of the external world. In fact, the specter of time’s passage is invoked even more directly as we pass a crumbled clocktower. Just as the limits of Paradigm’s assumptions are ever-more persistently chafing at Roger’s mind, so is the physical reality of the outside world imposing more and more on these later episodes

A pair of tire tracks lead off to a vehicle in the distance, and a figure emerges

Then, images of destruction and human knowledge lost – books burn in beautifully rendered flames as megadeus fly above, caught in silhouette to emphasize their similarity to aerial bombers, calling to mind the horrifying air raids of the second world war

The recurrent images of Roger’s manufactured childhood flash before his eyes, his would-be father, that offered tomato, as perfectly tended as Roger himself, the anonymity of his numbered identity. Even if he were to ignore his growing consciousness while awake, his dreams give him no relief

Good use of saturated lighting as he wakes, emphasizing the blinding effect of sunlight after troubled dreams

Gordon Rosewater’s “Metropolis” sits beside him. A fitting reference point for The Big O, with its visions of workers chained to unbreakable cycles, and androids that call to question what truly makes humanity unique

And so, provoked by his insistent memories, Roger returns to the farm. He passes Rosewater and Alan Gabriel as they’re leaving, Rosewater bearing bluebells in his lapel

I love Big O’s “shrouded mysteries” song – its tone falls somewhere between chiming church bells and a music box, naturally conjuring a tone of nostalgia and mythic import

“Do you think it’s boring to wait all this time for the harvest?” “No I don’t. Not if it’s the most important thing to you.” His exchange with Gordon works on multiple levels, gesturing towards both the “harvest” of children like Roger, and also potentially the unveiling of the pre-amnesia truth

“Why are you so obsessed with something intangible?” To Gordon, who enthusiastically reprogrammed and reshaped the destinies of these children, seeing Roger put so much stock in a lost past must seem like the errant pursuit of a false god. Memories can be reshaped, pasts altered – what worth is there in seeking solidity in something so fluid?

“The foundations of who we believe ourselves to be are being shaken by these memories that show up in fragments.” Now this is likely a more compelling argument to Gordon: not that the true past is inherently more valuable, but that its fragmentary existence within Roger’s mind is poisoning him, fracturing his current identity

Gordon raises his own bluebell in response. His words are cryptic: he says both “the Big O chose you,” and also “don’t you remember the contract you made with me?”

Angel notes the bluebell when they meet at Roger’s usual hangout. It’s been fun seeing her more directly integrate into Roger’s investigations, unable to resist the allure of actually discovering her own truth

Her low-cut dress reveals two scars on her back, placed as if someone actually cut off her angel wings. Another way she’s growing closer to Roger, allowing herself to reveal more of her own secrets

Angel states that Alex Rosewater is also seeking this city’s memories, and is uncertain of “what they are composed of.” She also idly states that Paradigm “may have the world’s only memories buried beneath it,” a potential explanation for why so many outside forces have been attempting to invade Paradigm

Charged imagery as the two continue their chat in a diner. Roger and Angel’s faces are presented as reflections on the windowpane, with the ruins of the outer city visible outside – a tidy visual metaphor for the process they’re discussing, of reconstructing their identities through what they can observe in the mirror, all in the context of the inexplicable ruins surrounding them

Lovely shots of the city streets as Dorothy listens to a song in the distance, a humming that rises to an anthemic orchestral hymn. The Big O’s relationship with religion has always been interesting; the actual specifics of Christian doctrine were largely lost in the collapse, but the resultant amnesia ultimately made people all the more amenable to a rekindled faith, a source of certainty in a world without grounding, even if they’re only recreating fragments of their prior religion. An irony that echoes Gordon’s words – we apparently do not need to fret the specifics of something as intangible as faith

I feel like Dastun’s forehead bulge gets bulgier every day. He should really get that checked out

The diner that Roger and Angel visited exists at the far edge of civilization, with collapsed skyscrapers just across the road. The contrast makes me appreciate how good Los Angeles is as a venue for noir stories – a gaudy trinket on the edge of the wasteland, a metal monument to mankind’s hubris, to the sanctuaries we can only tentatively sculpt out of the wilderness

For once, Angel actually seems earnest in her desire to join with Roger. But she can see what even he can’t – that he is too attached to Dorothy to truly love her. Lovely shot of her concealing her tears, her dismay only visible through the clear tightening of her lip

The chanting choir calls Angel away. That was it, that was their potential moment of connection, but Roger’s refusal instead draws her back to the past

This new megadeus seems uniquely high-tech, actually floating across the city in pieces before fully assembling itself. Some excellent cuts here, as well as those always-welcome shots of the megadeus as seen from adjacent windows, further emphasizing its impressive scale and the fragility of this environment

Rosewater clarifies that this new multi-headed robot is composed of parts from all three of the robots that “the Union sent me,” the group he’s entangled with from outside the domes

A lovely articulation of Dorothy’s simultaneous grace and weight, as she lightly presses a toe on a fragment of rubble that nonetheless crumbles at her touch

The red balloon hangs from the church’s frontispiece, the symbol of Angel’s lost past beckoning her to the choir

She indeed knows the choir’s leader, who is from her own homeland, and addresses her as “Agent 340”

Angel knows this woman as Vera, or “Agent 12”

Vera further reveals that she represents the Union loyally, and that this current assault is a warning to Alex Rosewater

“Have you come to enjoy your life here? Yes, you have always had a desire to live your life here, haven’t you?” Vera’s words speak to the presumed disparity of life outside the domes, which are alone in carrying on their mirage of twentieth century splendor

Then Dorothy arrives in a haze, and is attacked by Alan Gabriel

Alan is apparently also Agent 271. So that explains basically everything about him – he’s an agent of the Union assigned to Rosewater as an ambassador, the embodiment of their tentative alliance

Angel’s loyalty to Roger is proven in her defense of Dorothy, the rival that she knows is so precious to him

But just as Roger is about to win the fight, the Big O freezes!

And Done

Alright, now that was a goddamn informative episode! With Angel now willing to both reveal her secrets and fight for Roger in spite of them, we were afforded a great number of insights into her purpose here, alongside the Union’s larger plans for Paradigm. And in the bitter spite of Vera’s words, it seemed clear that there is no alternate paradise hidden beyond the wastes – Paradigm is all there is, the carefully cultivated garden of Alex Rosewater’s father, now serving as an intellectual prison for both his son and all who reside on the streets beneath him. The more we learn about the world beyond Paradigm, the more alluring and cohesive this whole construction feels. Given the alternative, was Gordon wrong to construct this false paradise, even at the cost of human memory? But no matter the reasons, humanity will always chafe at restrictions, always seek the unknown, ending up cast from the garden for the very qualities that make us unique.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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