The Planetes crew was back to the grind this episode, having returned from the moon and immediately being put back to work. While Hachi and Tanabe’s lives largely returned to business as usual, Fee opened this episode by meeting with her old coworker Dolf, now a division manager within Technora. Though Fee wanted to reminisce about the good old days, Dolf had a forward-thinking proposal for Fee – accept a promotion out of the Debris unit and directly into Central. Her talents are too good for a group as pointless and disparaged as Debris. He needs her where he can use her.
This was a Fee episode from start to finish, one that used her conflicted thoughts about working in Central to expand the general scope of Planetes’ politics. We’ve seen rumblings of the corporate compromises implicit in a major company like Technora before – after all, the fourth episode was pretty much entirely about how vital it is to grease the wheels with INTO by pleasing their managers. But this episode fortunately embraced a less binary approach to engaging with your corporate overlords, one where both Fee and Dolf came across as perfectly reasonable people.
On Fee’s side, it’s clear that what she most values in a company is communal trust. She spends much of this episode reminiscing on Traum Space Company, the small company Dolf once founded, and at one point admits to herself that she doesn’t really remember why she accepted merging with Technora. “We were a small company, but we pulled together like a family,” she says, and it’s clear through the goofy Half Section shenanigans of this episode that she feels like she’s found something approaching a new family as well. While Claire claims that “a company isn’t a family,” Fee attests that “if you don’t believe in your teammates, you’ll never get anywhere.” The compromises implicit in moving up the ladder mean you can never be sure you’re on stable ground, and never believe in the rightness of what you’re doing.
On Dolf’s side, all of his compromises have been a matter of pure necessity. Dolf seems to regret merging Traum into Technora as well, but he sees it not as a self-contained failure, but as an inevitability of not being able to control his company’s destiny. And so, in order to gain true control within Technora, he’s willing to make the compromises necessary to secure control of his divisions. He’ll engage in the back dealings INTO requires, and he’ll bite his tongue when negotiating with scum. He’ll do it all because his ultimate intentions are worth more to him than maintaining an immediate environment of trust – though for all that, he still wants the people he can rely on close, and thus propositions Fee for her support.
It’s a fairly classic conflict, but it’s articulated gracefully, reflects an understandable human instinct on both parts, and never dominates the episode. In spite of being a Fee-centered conflict, we don’t often take Fee’s perspective here – instead, we hang out with the rest of Half Section, as they snoop around and guess at what Fee’s doing and generally act like the weird, immature family they are. The Half Section escapades are more of Planetes embracing its sitcom affectation, and as far as that goes, they’re pretty solid. I really liked the running joke of their useless chief actually consistently getting the right answers all throughout the episode, and appreciated Hachi taking a leading role in convincing the crew to prove to Fee that the division was in good hands without her. Even if his actual plan was very, very stupid.
That very stupid plan involved lying to Fee to make her think their upcoming mission was delayed, convincing her to take a nap, and then heading out and completing the mission without her. This caper worked out about as well as you’d expect – Fee generally performs the work of three people on their missions, and with both their chief and assistant manager only covering the work of maybe a quarter-man each, things swiftly went extremely shitty.
Fee ultimately ends up stepping in, directing the entire mission from Control and impressing all of her would-be coworkers. She fortunately has some help; the assistant manager basically just gets lucky, but the rest of her team swiftly demonstrate they actually know how to do their jobs, essentially proving the merit of Fee’s philosophy. I appreciated how the show demonstrated Tanabe has actually gotten quite competent at her job without directly commenting on it; like with Hachi organizing this whole misbegotten mission, it’s always nice to see characterization and growth proceed without a word.
Fee ultimately turns Dolf down, unsurprisingly. Though she tells him he hasn’t really changed, and frankly pleads with him to “get back in touch with himself,” I was actually more impressed with Dolf’s perspective. His “space development requires that you work on a large scale” was a fine metaphor for his philosophy – there are still things he values, but if you consistently stand on principle over every little thing, you will eventually lack the power to embody the values you truly believe in. Though Fee seems happy, she could also be seen as a cautionary tale – she might like her work in Debris, but if Technora decided to downsize, she’d be powerless to save that family. Dolf is distant, but his distance gives him the power to preserve what he treasures. As Fee smiles down at pictures of a distant family she almost never sees, it feels like the two might still have much in common after all.
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