Review of LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS, season 1 (2019, TV)

Review of LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS, season 1

Michael Pitts

LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Blur Studio, distributed by Netflix, 2019.

Currently in production of its second season, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS is an anthology series produced by Netflix. Bringing together the talents of different casts and creative teams, the series consists of standalone episodes exploring diverse themes of the science fiction genre. These episodes, which do not exceed 20 minutes in length, reflect disparate genres such as cyberpunk, alternate history, and dystopia while covering themes from AI and transhumanism to colonization. They raise, for example, questions concerning the future of humankind, the destructive consequences of colonial expansion and capitalism, the threat of a nuclear holocaust, the privatization of space travel, and the dilemmas of robotic consciousness. Yet, while the series offers some interesting explorations within each of these fields of interest, it is problematic in its traditional framing of issues related to sex and, more specifically, its catering to the male gaze.

A re-imagining of Tim Miller and David Fincher’s initial plan to remake the animated science fiction anthology film Heavy Metal (1981), Love, Death & Robots continues its predecessor’s efforts of legitimizing adult-oriented animation and genre fiction. Like Heavy Metal, it utilizes advanced and diverse animation techniques, pushing the genre into new territory. Led by Miller’s Blue studio, which is known for its hyper-realistic, video-game style aesthetics, and produced using a variety of animation tools, the show is characterized by vivid, realistic details and cutting-edge animation. Uniting the disparate aesthetic styles of the episodes is their depiction of tropes common to the underground comics of the 1970s, which in turn influenced the production of Heavy Metal. Like the 1970s adult-oriented graphic fiction that skirted censorship rules, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS centers explicit content including sexuality and violence.

It is this intermingling of sex and violent content that makes the series, like its comics and Heavy Metal predecessors, problematic. Like Heavy Metal, the program caters to heteronormative male viewers through its presentation of sex and the female body. Though it occasionally presents non-normative sexuality, for example, these portrayals of queer characters frame female bodies within patriarchal conceptions of desirability. Each female character populating these episodes acts, as Laura Mulvey puts it in her influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” “as an erotic object for the spectator within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium” (62). Women in LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS are therefore predominantly portrayed in accordance with the desires of a heteronormative male audience. Also, like Heavy Metal, the program frequently depicts violence towards women and emphasizes gratuitous sexual and violent details. Female characters, for example, are brutally hunted and murdered, such as in “The Witness,” or brutalized and mutilated, such as in “The Secret War.” Other episodes, such as “Beyond the Aquila Rift,” are suddenly interrupted by sex scenes clearly developed and included to appease heterosexual male viewers. While the program caters to the male gaze and includes toxic portrayals of women and violence, a few episodes do divert from this patriarchal framing of sex and gender. “Good Hunting,” for example, follows the plight of a female huli jing or fox spirit as she escapes sex slavery and mounts an attack upon the patriarchy in early 20th-century Hong Kong. Another episode, “Helping Hand,” similarly diverts from this catering to heteronormative male viewers in its centering of a female protagonist who demonstrates incredible courage and strength in the face of eminent danger. Overall, however, though it includes these limited, non-patriarchal presentations of female characters, Love, Death & Robots problematically frames women, sex, and violence.

To a limited extent, the show also comments on other issues such as colonialism and capitalism. “Good Hunting,” for example, emphasizes the legacy of colonization and its effect upon women through its portrayal of women sold as sex slaves as a result of colonialism. “Suits,” on the other hand, undermines traditional stories of American individualism and self-reliance by revealing that the farmers upon which the episode centers are actually colonizers attacking the indigenous alien species of the planet they desire to control. “Helping Hand” imagines the consequences of corporate space exploration upon astronauts whose labor is exploited at great cost. As these examples illustrate, the series builds upon pre-existing trends and themes of science fiction and occasionally offers interesting insights into topics pivotal to the future of humankind such as environmental concerns, space travel, labor practices, the expansion of human civilization, and transhumanism. Overall, then, while LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS offers occasional commentary on issues common to science fiction, the brevity of its episodes, its patriarchal framing of issues related to sex and violence, and its catering to the male gaze limit its potential as an innovative work of SF.


Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Feminism and Film Theory, edited by Constance Penley, Routledge, 1988, pp. 57-68. 

Review of Another Life, season 1 (2019, TV)

Review of Another Life, season 1

Marta F. Suarez

Another Life, season 1. Halfire Entertainment, distributed by Netflix, 2019.

Another Life is a Netflix series currently awaiting the release of its second season. Its first season, released in 2019, consisted of ten 60-minutes episodes. The plot is quite straightforward and moves between a narrative on Earth and a narrative in space. In an unspecified year in the future, a mysterious alien device arrives on Earth and settles on an open field in the US. Six months later, the scientists are still looking for the purpose of the artifact, only establishing that it emits code to Pi Canis Majoris. Not wanting to wait any longer, the government sends an interstellar ship to the signal’s objective, hoping to make direct contact with the alien civilization. The expedition is led by Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff), newly appointed captain of the Salvare. Meanwhile, on Earth, her husband Erik Wallace (Justin Chatwin), continues to lead the research to decipher the code.

The series often nods to other sci-fi screen media, moving between echoing popular scenes, emulating genre styles, and replicating familiar narratives. Its serialised structure converges with an episodic approach that gives the series a pastiche feeling. Whereas the overall plot has striking similarities with the decoding plot of Contact (1997), Interstellar (2014), and Arrival (2016), the individual episodes approach a variety of styles, narratives, and sub-genres. For example, nods to sci-fi horror take inspiration from the aesthetics of Nightflyers (2018) and Prometheus (2012), including arachnids reminiscent of those in Starship Troopers (1997) or Lost in Space (1998). Alien (1979) is echoed several times throughout the series. Not only is the chestburster scene almost replicated, but the first scenes in the Salvare evoke those in the Nostromo, yet with a darker atmosphere. If in Alien the crew wakes up in a quiet and serene ship, emphasized by the soundtrack and long shots (as if not to disturb), in the Salvare, Niko wakes up alone and weakened, in close-ups that emphasise the discomfort and dutch angles that suggest that not all is well. As it turns out, the ship is not where it should be and the events will only take it further from Earth in a plot reminiscent of Event Horizon (1997), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), Stargate Universe (2009-2010), or Lost in Space (2018-). By the end of the season, Niko discovers that the alien race who sent the artifact, the Achaia, are decimating civilizations and implanting chips into hosts, connecting with core elements of The Mind Snatchers (1972) and the Goa’uld in the Stargate universes. The references are many and varied, making the series a kind of kaleidoscope where well-known tropes change shape but are still recognizable.

The originality of the series does not come from the plot. Indeed, some of it might result in clichés, and some of the characters are flat archetypes, with minimal internal conflict or character evolution except for Niko, Eric and the ship’s AI, William (Samuel Anderson). One of the key differences between this and other sci-fi crews assembled to go into space is their very young age, their diversity and the YA feel to the character-driven drama that they create. If in The 100 (2014-) the choice to depict younger characters is supported by the plot, in Another Life this decision brings a level of incoherence to the narrative, which suffers for it. The explanation, although given, contrasts with other aspects of the narrative. A member affirms that they have been chosen because their youth gives them the readiness to act, as opposed to a cautious disposition, which would characterize older crews. For the same reasons, space crews have abandoned uniforms, seen as outdated, and now are able to make their own fashion choices. Nevertheless, on Earth the military is still wearing uniforms, and all decision-makers are significantly older, which in a way contradicts the provided reasoning. It is also unclear why the crew only meet each other for the first time upon embarking on their voyage or why the former captain of the Salvare is part of the crew when he clearly is resentful of the change. The crew always questions the captain’s decisions, and actions are often rushed or merely illogical. The audience is left to wonder why the government has sent such an inexperienced group to make first direct contact with the alien life, whose intentions are unclear. The series’s focus on young and attractive characters and their interpersonal conflicts create narratives conventional in YA fiction, which contrasts with the space given to the internal conflicts of older characters.

The only other older member of the crew is First Officer Ian Yerxa (Tyler Hoechlin), the previous captain of the Salvare, who is killed almost immediately and replaced by his girlfriend, Cas Isakovic (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow). Michelle Vargas (Jessica Camacho) is the Communications Officer. Meanwhile, the engineering team is composed of lead engineer August Catawnee (Blu Hunt), Oliver Sokolov (Alex Ozerov) and computer engineer Javier Almanzar (Alexander Eling). The Salvare’s medic is Zayn Petrossian, a non-binary member of the crew portrayed by JayR Tinaco. Joining him in the medical bay is microbiologist Bernie Martinez (A.J. Rivera). Finally, accompanying the crew as a diplomat is the son of the US Secretary of Defence, Sasha Harrison (Jake Abel). On Earth, Eric looks after their daughter, Jana Breckinridge-Wallace (Lina Renna), and is often seen working alongside Dr Nani Singh (Parveen Dosanjh). The journalist Harper Glass (Selma Blair) provides conflict and creates tension. Overall, the characters among the young crew lack the depth of characterization that we see in Eric, Harper, Niko, or William. The dynamics between the latter two are probably the best element of the show at the narrative level. Designed not only to feel but also to combine the characteristics most appreciated by Niko, William becomes affectionate towards the captain in a relationship evocative of Her (2013). The dynamics in this relationship leads William to create another AI in search of love, complicating the matter further. For the rest of the crew, we are given little to no background story, being mostly differentiated by the way they dress and speak. There is a tendency to exposition and the dialogue often lacks subtext, breaking the script-writing rule of “show, don’t tell”. However, some of these characters have great potential. The show engages with issues of diversity, sexuality and gender in almost every episode. The guilt of the absent mother permeates Niko’s reflections about family, the engineers soon become a threesome, the non-binary medic has sexual relationships with the microbiologist, and questions of love and free will are part of a critical sub-plot with the ship’s AI. The ethnicity and cultural background of the characters is diverse, and although this does not materialize (yet) beyond the character design and into the plot, it is undoubtedly promising.

Audiences looking for a series with a robust scientific approach might be disappointed. The plot has some basic inaccuracies from the start. For example, they indicate that they miscalculated the distance to the objective because of dark matter, shown on screen as a dense thick grey cloud. Using high radiation in the ship kills alien life but is said to only impact the crew with infertility. Other elements that might feel incongruent relate to the dynamics in the ship, particularly concerning compliance to rules and following authority. The episodic structure puts the characters in situations that, for the most part, are a consequence of their own wrongdoings. We see members of the crew starting a mutiny, removing helmets in alien caves, smoking alien plants, or not using hazmat suits because the air is breathable. Because the transgressions towards leadership and regulations are so common and widespread, the audience might be left wondering how they have all been chosen for such a critical mission.

The series, therefore, is eclectic in its influences and genre, combining elements of sci-fi space travel, sci-fi horror, and teen drama, though it has issues regarding narrative coherence and scientific background. Nonetheless, the episodes could be used in a classroom environment for discussions surrounding race and gender representation, the portrayals of authority (and its failures), and moral “what would you do?” situations, of which there are plenty. For research purposes, the series might be of interest to those working on intertextuality, the portrayal of the female action hero, the ambiguity of the alien other, the fear of the unknown, reflections over the humanity of AI, the dangers of AI, and the intersections of gender and sexuality. Another Life is due to release its second season in Summer 2020. While receiving very low reviews for its narrative incoherence, these issues might yet be addressed in the new episodes. Maybe, after all, Another Life will get itself another life.

Review of The Platform (2020, film)

Review of The Platform

Emrah Atasoy

The Platform. Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, Basque Films, distributed by Netflix, 2019.

The Spanish director, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s Spanish-language thriller on Netflix, The Platform (El Hoyo, 2019) is set in a dystopian future in a “Vertical Self-Management Center.” It is a prison-like building referred to as “The Hole,” consisting of over 300 levels, with two inmates to a cell. A platform full of food descends every day from the highest level to the bottom to feed these incarcerated inmates, which is closely concerned with food distribution and rationing. The inmates at the highest level get to decide whatever and how much they desire to eat, after which the food is taken one level down. The leftovers of the inmates above become the food those below. People are randomly moved to another level after each month. The film illustrates the protagonist, Goreng’s physical and metaphorical journey which gradually reveals the brutal reality behind the Hole through his experiences with his cellmates and other people in the prison.

The movie has numerous dystopian characteristics, which may lead one to label it a dystopian movie, whereas some others may categorize it as a horror movie or science fiction horror thriller. Generically speaking, it bears certain similarities to the structural pattern of literary dystopias or dystopian movies. The film starts in medias res, as we find the protagonist Goreng (Ivan Massague) waking up on Level 48 in his cell, staring at his inmate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), an old man imprisoned due to his accidental murdering of an immigrant. The main character is initially confronted with the foil, Trimagasi, who expounds on how the system in the Hole functions, which starts his transition from a state of naivety to a state of knowledge and experience. He is gradually exposed to the reality of the system through external factors such as Trimagasi, Miharu, and other inmates. Miharu, whose name stands for “open one’s eyes wide” plays a significant role in his journey (Ishida 106).

The dystopian protagonist starts to comprehend the internal mechanics of the system and resists against the system. Goreng, who takes Cervantes’s book, Don Quixote with him as his only item, struggles hard both to understand how the Hole works and to promote fair food rationing so that everyone can have something to eat. When the protagonist does not find support from other characters, his determination is partially vitiated. The protagonist manages to stay alive and reach the symbol of hope, a girl in this case. The girl who is implied to be Miharu’s daughter ultimately becomes the token of hope that may have the potential to change the current structure. Although the blame is not explicitly put on a political body, or rather, there does not exist a political body suppressing its citizens on a holistic level, the projected world remains highly dystopian.

It is possible to approach the movie from numerous perspectives that relate to the larger intellectual and philosophical questions and concerns raised. With its strong dystopian undertones, the movie engages itself with themes such as suppression, greed, cannibalism, corruption, surveillance, empathy, self-centrism versus altruism, violence, survival, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, control, loss of individualism, social class, inequality, capitalism, the fluidity and fragile nature of borders in between different social classes, socialism, and racism. The Platform highlights how people do serious harm to others in order to survive and to climb up the ladder before them—a strong critique against capitalism. These points, illustrated on differing levels in the movie, can be introduced as relevant to research on science fiction films, dystopian films, science fiction in literature and media, as well as utopian and dystopian narratives and their cinematographic representations.

It is no surprise that The Platform has immediately become one of the most viewed movies in Netflix during the time of COVID-19. It has many similarities to the current pandemic and the new “normal” lifestyle it has brought, as social distancing and individual physical existence seem to occupy an instrumental role in both situations (emphasis added). Survival becomes the chief objective of inmates in the pit, which is followed by the desire to be on the level above, creating a dichotomy between those below and those above. Although there may be the possibility that food is sufficient for everyone, inmates eat as much as they wish instead of rationing. Therefore, people on the lower levels resort to cannibalism when they are unable to feed themselves. The self-centered approach has become clear and palpable even within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concrete parallel of which can be people’s hoarding toilette papers, not caring for the needs of others.

In conclusion, The Platform with its unique texture, rich content and idiosyncratic characteristics suggests avenues for analysis from numerous angles in the light of its themes and features, argumentation, and scholarly discussions. It represents topics that can be discussed within the context of various disciplines, suitable for the interdisciplinary nature of dystopian studies. The search for an ideal system, the nature of humans, and the need to disrupt dichotomous thinking in order to engender a non-binary approach would further discussion within literature, political science, and environmental humanities, which all reflect the strong potential of the movie in contributing to scholarly, academic and pedagogical approaches.


Ishida, Priscilla. “Corpus Data and the Treatment of Idioms in Japanese Monolingual Dictionaries.” Research on Phraseology in Europe and Asia, edited by Joanna Szerszunowicz, Bogusław Nowowiejski, Takaaki Kanzaki, Katsumasa Yagi, University of Bialystok Publishing House, 2011, pp. 101-127.