Episode 4

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Beatless ?

Through its first three episodes, BEATLESS has touched on various big concepts but hasn't explored them in much depth. This episode may be the point where that changes, though. For the first time, the story angles for a much meatier approach to exploring big issues, carrying with it greater impact.

The biggest of those issues – and the central focus of this episode – is radicalization and terrorism, because that's almost exactly what Arato's friend Kengo has gotten himself into. This episode clarifies that the “antibody” network that Kengo has been using is effectively an anti-hIE terrorist network, and he was actually helping compatriots make attacks on hIEs in such a way that they weren't likely to be caught by police. In other words, Kengo is much more passionately anti-hIE than he's previously let on. He and his compatriots justify this by claiming that they're not targeting humans, and while they're technically correct, that carries as little weight as any flimsy real-world justifications for dehumanizing targets based on other factors like race or religion, given the sentience of hIE life. Besides, we've already seen evidence that humans can still be collateral damage in these efforts, and at the very least the terrorists are engaged in costly property damage.

All of this raises big questions about how Kengo got to this point. His parents aren't keen on using hIE labor, and he clearly got drawn into being a terrorist by Kouka's intimidation, but there has to be more to explain why he was helping out the anti-hIE crowd in the first place. It also doesn't explain why he was willing to help Arato find Lacia in the previous episode; I'm not sure I buy that friendship alone overrides his anti-hIE sentiment. At least Kengo isn't blind to the irony that the terrorists are being led by an hIE (Kouka), and he wants nothing more to do with the featured raid than the absolute minimum asked of him, although Kouka gives off the distinct impression that she has no intention of releasing him from her control any time soon; she does ask him to be her master, after all. That raises the question of why she even wants a master, given that she seems to be doing just fine without one. Is even she still limited by the “legal responsibility” issue, perhaps?

One big issue related to this is where the line lies between too nosy and not nosy enough when it comes to teenagers and their privacy. So many youths wind up committing horrible acts because family members fail to recognize warning signs, so I found it quite gratifying that Kengo's sister did exactly what she should have done: calling in help to investigate the matter when she recognized a disturbing pattern of behavior in her brother. And does Kengo ever need that help now! I will be curious to see how much he can manage to get off the hook at the end of this, as even though Kouka did drag him into this, he's plenty culpable for what he was doing before she showed up.

Another interesting issue is the hIE chairman whose test-run is the motivator for the terrorist attack. Using an hIE to aggregate public opinion as a means of guiding the government is an entirely logical development for the setting, one fraught with all sorts of potentially objectionable factors. It sounds like the hIE chairman is being specifically limited to prevent a scenario like AIs taking over the government, but that's not going to appease lawmakers nervous about any part of their job being usurped by artificial creations. I'm also curious to see how far they go with this thread. Even further, there's also the suggestion that special hIEs like Lacia are walking back-ups for the behavioral management cloud, which also has some interesting possibilities.

Almost lost in all of this is some of the neat tech on display, such as the method Lacia has for turning invisible and the means for getting around its side effects, such as not being able to see. Kouka also gets a couple of nifty moves, and her outfit and personality give her a boldly sexy allure which stands in stark contrast to Lacia's more restrained and elegant persona. Sadly, the animation budget must have been spent on Kouka's scenes, as other moments in the terrorist attack are lacking to the point of using stills and shot selections are very pedestrian.

Still, this series is throwing out such a wealth of ideas that it could wind up being a memorable series if it can resolve them properly. I'm upping my grade a bit this week based on the potential I see here.

Rating: B+

BEATLESS is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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