The first season of Love, Death & Robots was an 18-episode science fiction / fantasy anthology series on Netflix. The result of a plan to adapt graphic novel anthology series Heavy Metal for the big screen gone awry, the mish-mash of episodes was like a YouTube hopping nerd-fest for people with low attention spans and an open mind about the portrayal of female characters on TV. Episode lengths ranged from 6 to 17 minutes and the quality certainly varied.
Love, Death & Robots – Volume 2 (2021) is comprised of 8 episodes all fitting within a similar 7 to 18 minutes range, and perhaps it a case of quality over quantity this time around. The level of computer animation is startling in some cases and had me thinking “Oh a live action episode like season one’s ‘Ice Age'” for a few seconds until something gave the game away. What follows is a run down of each episode as laid out on Netflix in the UK. There will be spoilers.
Episode 1 – ‘Automated Customer Service’
The second season kicks off with a comedy short. In a Wall-E-esque seemingly utopian future the aged population of this shiny and clean city enjoy all that technology can bring. Every whim and task, from cleaning their house to walking the dog and scooping its poop, are catered for by an army of robots. Unfortunately when one old lady’s house cleaning robot has a funny turn she has to fight to survive while trying get useful advice from an automated customer service line which cheerfully informs her by the end of the episode that she will be forever hunted by an army of robots bent on her extinction.
it’s not as much fun as the previous season’s ‘Three Robots’ but it’s certainly a fun start to the new season.
Episode 2 – ‘Ice’
‘Ice’ is perhaps the most stylish of all eight episodes. It is set on a colonised ice planet in a future where most humans are genetically modified to have extraordinary reflexes, strength and endurance. The story revolves around two brothers – one modified, one normal – who join a night-time escapade with a gang of modified youths racing whales that breach the ice when night falls and the machines mining unnamed resources on the planet fall silent. Whether or not the modified brother feigned an injury during the race to help his brother be accepted by the group is open to interpretation.
Episode 3 – ‘Pop Squad‘
The titular squad in this dystopian future controls unregistered births in a society who have extended the average lifetime of the population into centuries. After a routine execution of unregistered toddlers and a visit to his girlfriend, pop squad detective Briggs (Nolan North) has a change of heart when he follows a lead from Ipswitch Collectibles toy store to the home of a single mother secretly raising a cute kid.
The cityscape is a mixture of Altered Carbon and Horizon Zero Dawn and Briggs and his flying cop car are obviously straight out of Blade Runner.
Episode 4 – ‘Snow in the Desert’
On a desolate desert planet on the galaxy’s edge, Snow the albino is a wanted man. Bounty hunters literally want his balls because they contain the secret of his regenerative DNA which makes him effectively immortal with the power to regrow blown off limbs like some kind of lizard. He teams up with Hirald a feisty female fighter who tells him that she will protect him from the bounty hunters that are on his trail.
The story and characters feel like they could easily exist within the Star Wars universe – there’s certainly elements of the cantina at Mos Eisley, but the emphasis on the rarity of water is perhaps more akin to Dune or Mad Max. It’s a nice twist that Hirald turns out to be a robot working for the AI government and that in some ways, new lovers, Snow and Hirald are much alike.
Episode 5 – ‘The Tall Grass’
In the old-fashioned short ‘The Tall Grass’, a steam train stops unexpectedly in the middle of a grassy plain. A man steps off for a smoke and is lured into the grass by will-o-wisps. The source of the mysterious glowing lights are a pack of vicious zombie-like creatures intent on dragging the man into their hellish pit. Fortunately he gets away with the help of the train’s guard who advises him not to mention this to anyone, not that anyone would believe him anyway.
Episode 6 – ‘All Through the House’
This is my favourite episode which made me laugh out loud. It’s a fun cartoonish animation which tells the story of a young brother and sister waiting for Santa to deliver their presents on Christmas Eve. They sneak downstairs hoping to catch a glimpse of the bearded gift-giver only to be confronted by something out of their nightmares. Luckily they are both judged to have been good and given just what they wanted for Christmas. They are left wide-eyed and wide-awake in bed wondering what would have happened if they had been judged to have been a bad boy and girl. The episode has obvious shades of A Nightmare Before Christmas about it, but this doesn’t distract from the fun.
Episode 7 – ‘Life Hutch’
Terence (Michael B Jordan) a space fighter pilot takes damage in an Ender’s Game style orbital battle and crashes on a deserted planet. Before he runs out of oxygen, he manages to find his way to an automated rescue pod where he can signal that he needs picking up. The problem is that, much like in Episode 1, the maintenance robot has got billy bonkers and wants to destroy anything that moves – imagine being trapped in a portacabin with a smaller but no less violent robot version of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
Episode 8 – ‘The Drowned Giant’
In a poignant episode about mortality and the aging process, director Tim Miller has adapted a J. G. Ballard story about a Gulliver’s Travels style giant naked man who washes ashore drowned on a beach like a dead whale. Crowds gather to look at the leviathan and the narrator, a local scientist (Steve Pacey), documents the body’s decomposition and destruction over time. There’s cute reference to Ballard on a butcher’s shop sign and also call back to ‘Pop Squad’ with a shop called Ipswich Collectibles & Antiques.
All told, I was impressed more by the anthology’s technical achievements rather than the story-telling. I was pleased that the sexism was largely gone from this season, and the stories seemed more adult, and less like trailers for PlayStation games, than previously.