All Style, No Substance: Love, Death and Robots S02 is Beautiful but Mediocre
The first season of Love, Death and Robots was gratuitous with its violence and cussing, and shallow with some of its parables in a way that made Black Mirror feel Proustian. But the season had a few thought-provoking gems, the art and animation were beautiful and, as a whole, the series was fun. All Love, Death and Robots has to be is fun—the bar isn’t that high. And yet viewers will find, coming into season 2, that the series is still bogged down by the same weaknesses.
The second season clocks in at a tight eight episodes instead of the previous season’s banquet of eighteen. What should feel like a selection of choice cuts ends up feeling more like scant servings, thanks mostly to bad writing.
Here’s the grading system: heart emoji for “love it!;” robot emoji for “I don’t have strong feelings about this,” and the skull emoji for “this episode is dead to me, and so is the show.” Think of this as a guide for what to skip.
S2E1 – Automated Customer Service
In a futuristic retirement community where everything looks like it was designed either by Apple or whoever made The Axiom from Wall-E, a vacuum robot tries to kill an old lady. Cliché, trash premise. Machine malfunctions, goes rogue, tries to kill its master, and oh my god we’re so weak and helpless because we’re so comfy with our robotic luxuries that we forget how to perform basic human skills. Blah blah blah. Next.
S2E2 – Ice
For me, most good science fiction stories are slices of life in greater narrative schemes. That kind of storytelling strategy bypasses bloat and heavy-handed morals, and tends to portray human characters not as zombies but as dynamic lives with thoughts, feelings and motivations. In Ice, two brothers living in a freezing colony planet, where “modded” individuals are a common superhuman occurrence, try to hang with a group of cool kids by doing parkour games that involve frost whales breaching sheets of ice. Passion Animation Studios makes this episode feel cinematic in a Samurai Jack kind of way.
S2E3 – Pop Squad
Thanks to advancements in medical technology, the human race can choose to not age and effectively live forever. In this society of immortals, having children is illegal, parents are arrested and kids are shot on sight. The story mostly revolves around one hard-boiled cop who feels guilty about shooting kids. I had to spend ten minutes watching this immortal gumshoe with a five o’ clock shadow brood about his crimes against humanity. This sort of story would have worked in, I dunno, any time before the 2010s, when society’s premonitions of overpopulation still had intellectual currency and police could still be heroes in mainstream media. But now? Claptrap.
S2E4 – Snow in the Desert
Remember what I said about Ice, about how good stories with big worlding can be told through small moments? Snow in the Desert tries to do that but doesn’t quite make it. There’s this dude named Snow who’s… also immortal? He has regenerative powers and he’s lived for hundreds of years. And he’s on the run because bounty hunters are trying to take his testicles. This hurts to type. Anyway, he runs into this lady who turns out to be a cyborg, and it’s, oh wow, they’re happy together because their lives are so long that they normally outlive the people they love, but not this time, baby! But also…what planet is this? Why is it unsafe to travel during the day? What’s with the cold, snow, ice motif that’s never quite explained or resolved? Big worlding sometimes needs clear-cut answers. You don’t get those here.
S2E5 – The Tall Grass
They did this in the first season, too. This show, heavily branded as sci-fi, occasionally throws in the odd fantasy-adjacent story, and it throws you off tonally, but whatever. In The Tall Grass, a train stops in the middle of a grassy field, and a passenger is lured by ethereal lights only to merely meet his end. Classic fae situation! The art style also mimics the idiosyncrasies of stop motion, which makes the episode feel more fable-like. Otherwise, The Tall Grass is pretty underwhelming.
S2E6 – All Through the House
Turns out, Santa does exist! He sneaks down chimneys, eats milk and cookies, gives gifts to good kids and also happens to be a Cronenberg-esque monster. Wow! Edgy! Even the episode description on Netflix is grating.
S2E7 – Life Hutch
Michael B. Jordan’s in this one! Also the story has a good twist! Suspenseful, great pacing, nice and tight. I knew you had it in you, Love, Death and Robots! More of this please!
S2E8 – The Drowned Giant
Poignant, sad, could be a metaphor for death and the human condition, but it doesn’t try too hard! A giant’s drowned corpse washes up on the beach of a small shore. Locals gawk and dissect (figuratively and literally) the giant in different ways, while an academic observes. The entire episode is told in first person narration. The writing on this episode is exquisite, and it’s a damn shame it isn’t the norm for the show.
All I’m saying is, stream Love, Death and Robots Season 2 on Netflix and you’ll see what I mean.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver