by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Let's be frank: The odds of Babylon ending on a strong note were virtually nil after last week's disastrous episode; never mind the story's plummeting drop in quality ever since it returned from its winter hiatus. And yet, here I am, smashing my head against my keyboard in an attempt to write a review of Babylon's finale, which is worse than I could have imagined, even after the G7 fiasco. Ever since Ai Magase's “true nature” was introduced, I'd been preparing for the show to dole out some truly noxious political vitriol by the time it ended. Still, the naïve and altogether too-trusting part of my critical eye was desperately hoping for all of the Magase stuff to be setup for an eventual subversion, something along the lines of “You thought Ai was going to be the actual Whore of Babylon, complete with inexplicable and spooky magic powers, but she is actually just reflecting back the role that a corrupt and misogynistic society forced upon her from a young age, all because she made men horny!”
I should have learned by now to smother that optimistic voice with a pillow whenever it tries to speak up, because the closest thing Babylon has to an “answer” for why Ai Magase is doing what she is doing is that she very much is the Whore of Babylon, complete with inexplicable and spooky magic powers. In fact, that one explicit allusion to the Biblical myth is just about the only discernible statement Babylon has made at all in its final two episodes. That's right, everyone, after months of infuriatingly obtuse build-up, Babylon's grand and ultimate conclusion to both its plot and its central thematic questions is a big old shrug, along with two giant middle fingers raised high into the air. I'm honestly feeling a little insulted that the episode had the nerve to title itself “The End”. To call this anti-climactic would be an insult to the very concept of a climax, or the basically understood notion of “plot” – it would be more appropriate to call Babylon's ending anti-narrative.
In true Babylon fashion, the whole first half of the episode is the phone conversation between President Wood and the suicidal Japanese woman that Kaika introduced last week, Kanae, who demanded to speak to the President of the United States, and somehow got her wish. Again, we've run into a situation that defies the most basic understandings of reality and logic, because even if we could accept that some Mayor in Japan could get away with basically holding a woman hostage by proxy and forcing the hand of the President, we would also have to accept the President's astoundingly stupid decision to go along with it. Remember, this guy believes Zen completely when he's told about the magical shape-shifting Whore of Babylon who can control your brain simply through speaking, even over the phone. The President's argument is that, since an interpreter would be doing the talking, he would theoretically be safe from Ai's influence, despite the fact that they are dealing with a freaking sorceress whose powers have never been studied or understood by a single human being on earth. Babylon is trying to tell us that this supposedly intelligent man, who has had a lifelong fantasy RPG obsession, isn't considering that Ai might have some kind of bonus area-of-affect spell, or something?
You can't think about this too much, though, or you would risk bursting a blood vessel before Wood and Totally Not Ai Magase In Disguise have their heart-to-heart about suicide. Like every conversation every character has ever had in the history of Babylon, this conversation is mostly a dull repetition of the exact same ideas we've run around in circles before. Even the supposed epiphany Wood experiences, the single point of clarity that is meant to give meaning to all of the self-masturbatory futzing about, falls flat on its face. Basically, what Wood comes to realize is that the definition of “good” he has been grasping for is found within the concept of “continuing” – he doesn't know whether Kanae's suicide would be a good or evil thing, but that there is even cause to continue searching for an answer makes existing worthwhile. Or whatever.
It is possible that there are language nuances at work here that I can't parse – the terribly wooden translation continues to do Babylon no favors – but I doubt that even the finest localizer's touch would be able to save Babylon from its own Achilles heel, which is that it gave itself the terribly important task of once and for all putting into words what philosophers, scholars, artists, and prophets have been debating since the literal dawn of civilization. I don't know whether to blame the author of the novels, Mado Nozaki, or series writer Minaka Sakamoto, or Kiyotaka Suzuki, or whomever, but someone needs to be sat down and told that “The meaning of life is the search for meaning!” is the kind of platitude that is best left to bumper stickers these days, or should otherwise be left in the care of a story that knows what in the ever-loving hell it is doing.
What really makes all of this swill go down rough, though, is that it all amounts to nothing. Ai ends up brainwashing the President, he ends up on the roof of the G7 building, ready to kill himself on live television, and Zen does the only thing he can think of in the moment and kills Wood before he can jump. The idea is that, if Wood was to kill himself at the G7 Summit that was specifically about deciding the fate of the suicide law, it would send a message to the world, and as soon as America adopted the law, the rest of the world would tumble like dominoes. At least, I think that's what the show is trying to say. The idea is so juvenile and half-baked that I have a difficult time accepting that this would be Ai Magase's grand scheme, that anyone would imagine a society that would just fall over itself to start jumping off of tall buildings once the President set the standard. Even as satire, it's idiotic – the only way it could possibly work would be if it played as comedy, but Zen's fall from grace is handled with deadly seriousness. He committed the ultimate sin, throwing away his own life so the villain wouldn't get her way.
So it's more or less the ending of David Fincher's Se7en, except Morgan Freeman isn't around to give a small amount of meaning to the senseless violence. Ai Magase doesn't win because Wood's suicide is foiled; Zen's life is ruined, and his plan to avenge his former colleagues is foiled when Ai kills him before the credits roll; President Wood loses because…well, that one is pretty obvious. Every outstanding plot thread Babylon has set up winds up fizzling out into the ether in one glorious catastrophe of wasted opportunity. Remember Kaika? I don't, because he literally doesn't matter. The suicide law? Who knows, who cares? How about Zen's family? A post-credits scene reveals that Ai is alive, which confirms that Zen is super dead. She meets up with his son at some random bus stop, which means he's probably going to be dead soon too. Cool.
To make a heinously long story short, here is the best I can make of what Babylon might have been trying to say with all of this: “Suicide is definitely not good but, like, we live in a society, you know? And society is pretty messed up. Maybe we'll get to the point where we think suicide is good! Wouldn't that be wild? Also, apropos of nothing, I bet that it would happen because a super sexy anime woman who axe murders people used her magic powers to make men cum their brains out. Like literally, with bullets. Women, am I right?” If there's something less puerile than that going on, Babylon sure as hell isn't telling any of us about it, and I certainly won't be looking into the books to find out more. This finale was so bad, it retroactively tainted even the things I kind of liked about the early episodes. Babylon may have started as a dumb-but-fun supernatural cop show, but it eventually revealed itself incomprehensible bore with delusions of grandeur, one that that ran up so fast to join the other Super Serious Anime at the adult table that it tripped over its untied shoelaces, and also soiled its pants in front of everyone. If the show weren't such an obnoxious waste of time, I'd almost feel bad for it. Almost.
Babylon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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