There’s no denying that this was a heartily entertaining episode of Pshyco-Pass, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it in precisely the way Gen intended it to be enjoyed (or perhaps I did). In truth, this is proving itself to be a highly conventional series in most ways – Gen’s bailiwick is usually putting his own bleak and intellectual spin on conventional formula, but this time I’m seeing less that’s really original or intellectually challenging and more that seems to be Gen just having fun with some very tried and tested clichés. Given what a talented writer he is there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and the result is a rousing success as an entertainment. In fact, it may even be better off with a bit less ambition, as Gen has tended to falter in the past through overreaching as a writer.
Where I wonder if my car might have separated from the train is in my rooting interest. Oddly enough I found myself siding with Makishima and even Gu-Sung this week, despite their admittedly ghastly actions in the past and further, the fact that I find Kougami and Akane perfectly pleasant and likeable characters (Kagari too, for that matter). The problem with the heroes in this series isn’t that they aren’t likeable – they’re good representations of archetypes, anime and otherwise, and fun to watch. It’s that there’s no “arc” in “archetype” for any of them. It’s fitting that this episode looped us back to where the jump-ahead from the premiere left off, because pretty much all of the major characters haven’t changed much if at all since the premiere anyway. A case can certainly be made that it’s to Akane’s credit that she hasn’t changed much (as witness her decision at the end of this episode) given what she’s seen since, and Kougami was obviously a classic dark superhero type to begin with. But that lack of dynamism makes them a bit two-dimensional – and the rest of the main cast is even more so, apart from Masaoka, who isn’t really on-screen enough to be considered a main character.
In part then, it’s certainly because Makishima is the most interesting person on the show that he’s compelling. But a bigger reason why I found myself sympathizing with his axis is that the fundamental intellectual balance of the series hasn’t shifted either – it’s been clear from the beginning that Sibyl is a travesty ethically and morally, and what we’ve seen since has only confirmed that sense. It feels to me as if he’s on the right side here, in the larger sense – and that makes me uncomfortable, as I’ve never been a believer in the kind of Consequentialist “end justifies the means” philosophy that Gen seems to conditionally espouse in his works. In no way do I believe that Makishima’s actions in this series should be forgiven – yet I can’t help but feel that the society it depicts would be better off if he’d succeeded in his mission at the NONA Tower. In that sense then, certainly, Gen has succeeded in getting inside my head and twisting me around his little finger. The moral and ethical dilemma in Psycho-Pass isn’t the merits of the Sibyl System – it’s the merits of Makishima and his efforts to destroy it.
Here’s the complete Blaise Pascal quote that Makishima excerpted:
It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical. Justice without might is gainsaid, because there are always offenders; might without justice is condemned. We must then combine justice and might and, for this end, make what is just strong, or what is strong just.
Justice is subject to dispute; might is easily recognized and is not disputed. So we cannot give might to justice, because might has gainsaid justice and has declared that it is she herself who is just. And thus, being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just.
I find it fascinating that Makishima (well, Gen) left out the last part of the quote (and I confess I’m not familiar with the Ortega quote Kougami used in response). In any event, the twin threads playing out in the tower were certainly well-executed, with a little bit of a mélange of elements – Minority Report, Blade Runner, Die Hard, maybe Soylent Green – heck, even No Country for Old Men. The only part of the scenario at the top of the tower that disappointed me was the way it ended. Makishima and Kougami have been doing a private dance for most of the series – understanding things at a level no one else does. Makishima set himself up as a decoy and Kougami saw through it and played along anyway, because on both sides of the fourth wall they’re the only two characters in the series that really matter and Kougami knows it – everyone else is window dressing. That’s why seeing Makishima apprehended on a surprise attack from Akane after beating Kougami in a fair fight was kind of an anti-climax. Full credit to her for shrugging off her injury, and for not succumbing to hate and killing him – but still an anti-climax and really, there was never the slightest possibility that she was going to kill him in cold blood.
In the basement, things were a little more compelling. I think Kagari might have set an all-time record for most death flags in a single episode (separating from the others, “Don’t do anything reckless”, loss of radio contact, “I hate places like this”, etc.) so his demise was guaranteed. But the way it happened has the element of surprise to recommend it, and a certain amount of poetry. He earns some points for his honesty, too, in telling Choe Gu-Sung that he hoped he was successful in destroying Sibyl before Kagari arrived to destroy him. We’re left to wonder just what it was that Choe saw behind the last firewall – something so compelling that he believed just the knowledge of it would cause Sibyl’s society to collapse utterly. Whatever it was, the Chief was keen to make sure that never happened – and that meant overwriting the safety on the dominator so she could kill Kagari on the spot.
We’re left with a lot of questions, most obviously what was in that room. Aliens? Human brains hooked up to Sibyl directly? Precogs? It’s going to be a stretch for Gen to find something original in this minefield of a plot twist. The Chief being a cyborg wasn’t too shocking given what we saw a few eps ago, but it’s interesting that she’s so determined that Makishima be taken alive. It may simply be that she wants a chance to dissect this strange being who can defy Sibyl’s analysis, or there may be another reason. I’ve long speculated that it was going to be Akane’s role to destroy Sibyl as she, like Makishima, is something of a puzzle to it, and she might take it down from the inside where he failed to do so from the outside. The second ED certainly suggests that Kougami is the key, though, walking as he is in a different direction from everyone else. It also seems possible that what Choe and Kagari saw in that room is so shocking as to completely change the plot dynamic of Psycho-Pass in the final arc, to a general Terminator-styled war against Sibyl itself – though if I were betting, I’d say that’s not the most likely course.