Love, Death & Robots is an adult ‘anthology series’ on Netflix, released just under a month ago (15th March 2019). It had passed me by until I saw an trailer for the Three Robots episodes and that was enough to grab me: it was sassy, sweary and sci-fi.
Netflix’s media centre describes the series: “Love, Death & Robots is a collection of animated short stories that span the science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy genres. With a bold approach to each story’s narrative, episodes are intended to be easy to watch and hard to forget.” and on the whole, I’d agree.
When I sat down to watch, other than the aforementioned trailer, I didn’t know what to expect. The on-screen warning did portend of very dark things: gore, violence and adult themes, and boy was it accurate…
Please note, if you’ve not seen these, there may be spoilers. I’ve tried to stay quite generic in what I’ve said to avoid them but you’ve been warned…
The first episode, Sonnie’s Edge based on a Peter F. Hamilton story really did life up to the content warning. It was extraordinarily violent and should have come with content warnings about rape. But it was also beautifully done, taking a tired trope, one that the storyline ostensibly relied upon, and turned it into something else entirely.
It came as no surprise — after the event — to find out that Three Robots, with its feline content, is based on Scalzi story. The story is witty, humorous and has some great little details. And the pull-back-and-reveal at the end completes a fun episode.
The Witness, on the other hand, is darker, and if not examined too closely, the plot works. But that’s not what I love about this episode — it has some very erotic moments and because it’s animated, can push boundaries further than I think a non-animated version of the same story could.
Suits is one of my least favourites. It’s a bucolic American farming dream that puts us in a place, but not a time and I don’t care enough about the characters to invest. It feels like a mash-up of Alien, The Matrix — down to the music at one point — and possibly Firefly. All great films/series but they set too high a bar in this episode for me. It almost felt like propaganda; I can’t quite put my finger on it. And the ending? Unnecessary, as it raises a lot more questions and at that point, I had to unsuspend the remainder of my disbelief.
Sucker of Souls is a nice vignette. Not quite my thing but done well.
When the Yoghurt Took Over is a short fun piece with some lovely detail.
Beyond the Aquila Rift is another great episode. Whilst I implicitly knew the ending, I also understand why, and very much enjoyed the telling of the story, and that it ends as expected, so feels very satisfying.
Good Hunting is a longer episode and absolutely gorgeous, not holding back from addressing difficult issues and a dark part of British history, as well as being very clever in its combination of mythology, steam punk and alternative histories. There is a ‘revenge for prior sexual assault’ sub-plot, but it’s more than just revenge, so I can forgive this.
The Dump is a fun episode. We all hate the supercilious official and in this case, his refusal to listen has the perfect ending.
Shape-Shifters is poignant. I had to take a break from binge-watching after this one. I also couldn’t look at the screen at one point and realised it was quite fun to watch Mike watching it from behind his hand. I think that was the most horrifying scene in the entire series.
Helping Hand is horrifying in a different way. And begs the question, “what would I do in that situation?” An intelligent “what if” exploration.
Fish Night didn’t actually work (saying why not would spoil the plot), but some of animation is an absolute joy and I’d watch it again, for that bit alone.
Lucky 13 is a another great tale well told and I enjoyed it.
Zima Blue is… odd. Existential and questioning themes such as purpose, satisfaction and happiness.
Blindspot is another fun episode. Cyborgs and explosions and nothing too deep.
Ice Age is playful and a lot of fun, the animation perfect, the detailing great.
Alternate Histories is again, one of my least favourites. I wasn’t quite sure what the story was.
And finally, Secret War is the perfect series finale with it horrifying inevitability.
It’s hard not to be critical of the series in some ways.
Some episodes objectify women and use tired tropes — rape and sexual assault — as motivating factors. But these are still episodes with strong women characters, not damsels in distress who need rescuing by a strong-jawed hero. And the stories are more nuanced than that.
A couple of episodes also have a very masculine feel to them, but these are stories set in war, or space where resources are finite, so whilst they appear coded as masculine, I think it’s more about scarcity and survival.
At times there’s also the added ‘shock value’, which isn’t needed because the story telling is good enough, and this weakens what could otherwise be a much strong scene.
However, I loved Love, Death & Robots overall and hope more are commissioned.