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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Sym-Bionic Titan – “I Am Octus”

Oh, sure, send the robot.

Octus deciphers Jackson Pollock

Oh, Modernism. Is there no one you can't suck in?

I’m a week late on this due to computer issues, but that seems only fitting somehow. And with no new episode this week, I don’t feel too bad reviewing this later than I normally would.

“I Am Octus” is one of the show’s stronger episodes, and probably one of my favorites the show has done so far. But then I love existential episodes wherein machines attempt to figure out what it means to be a machine in a world of humans, and whether they have emotions or projecting those emotions because they perceive they should to be accepted.

Of course, it’s not really about the machines and their drive for emotion or to be more human. Like many of the Data-centric episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “I Am Octus” is about trying to figure out what makes humans humans, and since they are not human, robots provide an opportunity to interrogate the human condition without seeming like heavy-handed, existential navel-gazing angst: it’s character development! I don’t say that sarcastically, despite it potentially coming off that way. But it is a good way for writers to explore those sticky issues of human-ness and make it a step removed from humans.

“I Am Octus” works because it very nicely isolates Octus in so many ways, from his inability to form an interpretation of the painting to freezing all the humans and animals (I know the episode was finished before it happened, but the birds falling out of the sky was creepily too soon). Likewise, the episode makes excellent use of space, be it the stars in the sky or Octus in the frozen cities, to drive home those feelings of loneliness. Many wide shots or close ups of Octus only make the sense of intense isolation even starker.

The careful pacing of the episode prevents us from getting distracted by even the plight of figuring out what’s going on, or even Octus’ attempts to fix it. We focus, as he does, solely on Octus attempting to figure out his plight, what he is, man or robot. It’s something that’s been building since his relationship began with Kimmy, and is starting to pay off.

Which brings us to the one glaring blind spot in the episode: Where is Kimmy? Octus doesn’t check on her, look for her, even mention her. It’s a serious omission for an episode that provides Octus some measure of development and a sense of comfort in developing his identity. Kimmy’s lack of presence is likewise exacerbated by the fact that Octus is regularly in his Newton form throughout the episode, not his actual self or the father hologram. He’s a teenager throughout the episode, figuring himself out, and Kimmy is a part of the identity construction.

It’s a pretty serious omission, but the end result of the episode makes up for it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • If you’re looking for other robots explore what it means to be human episodes of shows, I really recommend the Tachikoma-centric episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, particularly “Tachikoma Runs Away; The Movie Director’s Dream – ESCAPE FROM”, “Time of the Machines – MACHINES DÉSIRANTES” from the first season. Also give a listen to “be Human“, a song from the series. (And if you haven’t watch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and its second season, 2nd Gig, you really need to remedy that. Like, right now.)
  • “I’ve failed. Has being around humans affected my ability to analyze? It that why I can’t solve this problem? I’m so sorry. It’s a funny thing, having these feelings. Am I just projecting feelings because it’s appropriate for the situation, or am I actually feeling them? And if being with humans is affecting me, the way I process the world around me,  then why can’t I see what they see? What am I? I’m not a man. And I’m not just a machine. Am I both? Or neither?”
  • To return to something I’ve complained about before: Illana is still lacking in the character development department, and now we’ve had episodes devoted to both Octus and Lance. I know that last week’s “The Demon Within” was ostensibly about Illana, but it was so wrapped up in issues of the monstrous adolescent feminine that it prevents any actual development, and instead works just to return her to a status quo. Needless to say, I really did not like “The Demon Within.”

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