The Big O – Episode 13

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m pretty much bubbling over with excitement, as we’re about to explore the original “final” episode of The Big O. Though the production was slated for twenty-six episodes from the start, poor viewership numbers in Japan forced them to cut back to a lean thirteen. It was only a couple years later, after a successful Toonami run resulted in Cartoon Network co-funding the followup, that The Big O’s second half was produced; because of this, I assume this original thirteenth episode is going to attempt to serve as a “conclusion” to a story it cannot possibly conclude.

Roger has barely learned a thing about Paradigm’s history, and the last episode only just introduced the idea that Megadeus have some intrinsic connection with the city, and a will of their own. Fortunately, considering this is a noir-soaked property that delights in ambiguity, I imagine there won’t be any clumsy rush to tie up loose ends; I’m mostly just eager to see how such a talented team handled this unfortunate reality of the industry, and what Chiaki Konaka chooses to leave us with. Let’s return once more to Paradigm!

Episode 13

We enter on The Big O’s most reliable opening shot: a vision of the dome captured through a crumbling stone circle. With rain pouring down, this shot single-handedly evokes a sense of decay, entrapment, and mourning; the first two perpetually appropriate for Paradigm, the third uniquely appropriate for this moment, in the wake of disaster

The episode is named simply “R – D.” A name? An acronym? Presumably it’s not “research and development,” right? Oh… Roger and Dorothy. Huh

Oh wow, there are some fantastic compositions so far. I love how this shot of a killer, framed in reflection through a mirror, uses the shattered bullethole to hide their face. The followup shot of a bloody makeup set looks like it could be straight out of Deep Red; this whole sequence feels heavily indebted to giallo cinema

And then, this beautiful shot as the killer escapes, their red coat serving as a dramatic counterpoint to the almost grayscale surroundings. This could be a reference to a variety of classic films (along with noir and giallo, The Big O draws heavily on the French New Wave and European cinema more generally), but my first guess would be “Don’t Look Now,” a classic horror film with a central red coat motif

And on the mirror, a message in blood: “Cast in the name of god, ye not guilty”

Ellen, the murdered dancer, had allegedly been talking about having memories from over forty years ago, long before her birth. These rainy city shots are so damn evocative; The Big O creates an all-encompassing world like few other shows, and it’s so beautiful at the same time

Another kill, this time in a taxi cab. Again, the composition of this leadup shot feels remarkably like a Dario Argento shot; he also loves to create a sense of horror by pulling back the camera over a city square, creating a sense of lonely vulnerability in the composition. This initial, distant shot of the cab fits that model perfectly

Datsun brings Roger in, who reveals that Ellen actually called him to arrange a negotiation, but the killer got to her before they could meet

Meanwhile, Dorothy finds a cigarette with lipstick on it. God, “the heroine gets suspicious and jealous about other ladies” is such a tired, tedious trope. I really hope they’d find some other way to express her growing humanity and attachment to Roger

Ah, our head director Kazuyoshi Katayama himself storyboarded this episode. No wonder it’s so drenched in The Big O’s cinematic influences

Norman and Roger meet, framed through The Big O’s empty eyes. Given the phrase found with the bodies, this layout makes it feel like The Big O itself can no longer be trusted, and is suspiciously overseeing their conversation

And now Roger is beginning to question himself, how he and Norman became such capable stewards of the Megadeus. How old is Roger, and how much does he know about his own past? They’re introducing far more ambiguity about this city’s recent history now, which is an interesting choice – it calls into question the reliability of the show’s own framing

Roger receives visions of a dark history – historical texts burning in a fire, a fleet of Megadeus in the air, and then Megadeus roaming a great city, indiscriminately destroying it

The Megadeus are framed through that reliable circle, here a broken clock, with only the numerals 6, 7, and 12 remaining

And now – a collection of barcoded super-children? Perhaps Roger was raised to be a Megadeus pilot, but his mind was wiped

He awakes from these portentous nightmares to see the killer on his balcony. If they’re killing people who are remembering the past, Roger has just jumped up the list

All of the victims “claimed with certainty that they weren’t born in Paradigm”

At Ellen’s home, Roger discovers a picture of the facility where he was apparently raised, leading into more harsh flashes of his forgotten history. Staccato, angular shots of hallways are mixed with bright red flashes of a locked door, tethering his past to the figure in the raincoat

Even this facility investigation feels pulled directly out of Deep Red. I have to imagine Katayama is a giallo enthusiast

It’s interesting how this episode is sort of playing with our expectations regarding heroes and villains. Roger is charming and his heart’s mostly in the right place, plus he’s the “protagonist” of the series, so we’ve generally been inclined to see his perspective as righteous. But his enemies are right to call him a “dog of the city,” and Datsun has never trusted the Megadeus – now, we’re seeing their perspective was even more defensible, given Roger himself is apparently some kind of sleeper agent

I do love a good murder-mystery sequence of an investigator wandering through lonely library stacks. The increased digitization of media has undercut a lot of mystery and horror’s aesthetic tools; we rarely wander through stacks these days, and no longer have to use a switchboard to track calls, meaning Black Christmas basically couldn’t be reproduced these days

And of course, beneath that red coat, it’s Angel. The city’s final cleaner

“The caretakers of the city are worried you’re not using your Megadeus correctly”

Love how the bars of the stacks inherently put Angel in a letterbox perspective

The red is consistently aligned with the horror of the truth, now shifting from a light through a keyhole, to a light emanating from the end of this run-down railway

The one book left is labeled “Metropolis.” Fritz Lang’s scifi masterpiece, a work that echoes the art deco designs and socially compartmentalized melancholy of The Big O, and predicts ultimate disaster for its grand city

The book contains a slip with the list of victims, alongside their red barcodes. So is this a process of “decommissioning the robots,” i.e. killing off all the programmed children?

The book’s author is “Gordon Rosewater,” so obviously a relative of Alex, the city’s overlord

Alex comments that “the awakening is already well underway.” Sleeper agents indeed

Gordon is now an old man, sitting in front of a farmhouse. The quintessential former monster – the man this once was did terrible things to you, but that man is gone, replaced by a shell that you can’t even rage at

“Approximately fifteen years ago, you had memories of the past implanted into several children”

Gordon eats one of the bright red tomatoes, a clear metaphor for his general behavior

“What a shame to see your tomatoes ripen all season, just to seem them rot.” The message is clear: embrace your destiny, Roger. I built you, now show us what you can do

Apparently “R – D” wasn’t Roger – Dorothy at all. The R is for Red

He at last reaches the railway in his dreams. “If those memories aren’t dead, but merely sleeping here…” The idea that memories cannot die, but merely lie dormant until they reemerge in unexpected ways, is laced all throughout The Big O. In spite of its amnesia-centered premise, or perhaps because of it, its characters are obsessed with the past, and grab at whatever glimmer of their former selves they can recognize. Destroying the past only increases our fascination with it

The woman in the red coat is Dorothy, or at least a model identical to Dorothy, driven by some internal command. It appears she was a sleeper agent just like Roger – living in this false dream world, until awoken to perform her duty

“Red Destiny”

The Megadeus are “the sacred chariots of mankind. Those who pilot them are destined to be commanded”

The Big O arrives at last, with our Dorothy in the cockpit. Good, I’m glad we’re not just retreading that “Dorothy overcomes her directives” beat

The Big O acts on its own for the first time, while simultaneously a fleet of Megadeus emerge from the sea. And this is where the show originally ended? Ahahaha, what a cruel trick

And Done

Hahaha! My god, what a beautiful fuck off of a conclusion that was. Sure, we dug more deeply into Roger’s history – but that investigation ultimately just handed us a basket full of new questions, while the initial questions of Paradigm’s nature and Alex’s plans were left entirely unexplained. I mean, I very much appreciate this choice – I hate to see a story attempt to wrap up its entire second half in just an episode or two, and I’ll always prefer something gloriously ambiguous and incomplete over something rushed out the gate. But man, what confidence to go this route, and what a delicious episode to end on! Rather than acting as a traditionally conclusive finale, this was more a celebration of the show’s manifold aesthetic influences, a perfect microcosm of all its unique strengths. I’m delighted to see the first season ending with such resounding confidence, and can’t wait for the second half!

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