Planetes – Episode 17

Planetes’ seventeenth episode begins with a shot of an open hand, as pills are shaken into it from an unmarked container. As the next shot reveals, these are Gigalt’s pills, a symbol of his fraying health here used as the very first thing introducing us to this episode. Victory and legacy and career trajectory, all pointless in the face of our constantly encroaching mortality. Gigalt is a decorated employee and a credit to his company, but at this point he’s becoming just another old man.

Planetes

The longer Planetes continues, the more it becomes obsessed with these dashes of morbid imagery. It’s a fascination that’s reflective of how our careers actually progress – the longer we live, the less we think in terms of the grand scale. You reach a certain point in your life where you realize time actually passes very quickly, and is thus a resource you need to carefully budget. You suddenly realize there are many, many things you’ve planned to do that will never actually come to pass.

The Von Braun’s Jupiter trip offers plenty of chances for all of Planetes’ cast to reflect on where their lives are going. The ship’s seven-year journey is a perfect metaphor for how consequential all our major career decisions are – as I said in last episode’s writeup, every time we choose to make a substantial career decision, we are consciously choosing how a significant percentage, or even the entirety of our working career will work out. It’s easy to understand the consequences of our choices when they have a seven year sentence built into them. It’s harder to conceive of the fact that it doesn’t take a ship to Jupiter to keep you in an unsatisfying job for the rest of your life.

Planetes

Hachi’s recent brush with disaster has left him hungry for success, but he’s still not sure where to find it. Early on, Tanabe finds him running laps, something he’s forcing himself to do because it feels like good general-purpose astronaut training. Work like that is oftentimes our greatest comfort; we have trouble answering the big questions that require definitive choices, so we do personal work that’s unquestionably good but ultimately far less substantial. Hachimaki is both literally and figuratively running in place.

The Jupiter trip gives him some pause, though. As Cheng-shin says, “if you’re one of those first crew members, your name will go down in the history books.” That’s certainly one way to find purpose in life – by achieving historical immortality, and thus hopefully ensuring that future generations will agree your life had value. It’s clear in Hachi’s behavior at his return party that he craves something like this – pushing off his drunk friends, Hachi is only interested in the tales of ambition that might give him a reason to be.

Planetes

In contrast with Hachi’s newfound drive, Claire is suddenly finding herself without purpose in this world. Though she was initially on the fast-track for management, she’s been chastened for neglecting her duties, and has at last realized she can’t really escape her past. One conversation with Cheng-shin sees her bitterly reflecting on the fact that Hachi is a “thoroughbred” – blessed with a genius engineer father, he’s able to act out in the debris section without any real consequences. Hachi doesn’t really think about the big picture, but Claire is incapable of avoiding it – not only is she just a more socially aware person, but her whole life has been shaped by her lack of opportunities. And the closer she gets to the golden stairs, the more she realizes she personally is incapable of throwing away the humanity necessary to climb them. Good capitalists can’t worry about the people who built every single stair they tread upon.

This episode offers a fine example of the sociopathy necessary to be a true explorer or capitalist, in the figure of Werner Locksmith. Locksmith is the head of the Jupiter program, and the designer of its powerful engine. Hachi is awed by Locksmith’s reputation, but soon finds himself stuck with a far less inspiring figure – his own father.

Planetes

Hachimaki’s father Goro turns out to be a legendary astronaut, a famous engineer who Locksmith desires for the Jupiter project. Hachi’s conversations with Goro are a fascinating study in contrasting personalities, and the ways our nature imprints on our children. Hachi can’t stand his father, who he rightly considers a deadbeat, but he’s also stunned by Goro’s lack of interest in going to Jupiter. In contrast to Hachi’s starry-eyed thoughts on contributing to humanity, Goro says that “the whole ‘fate of humanity’ thing is a young man’s game.” Goro wants to go home. Goro wants to see his wife.

Hachimaki’s response to this attitude reflects the painful influence Goro has had on his son. Goro was clearly never a father to Hachi, and Hachi resents that, but it was also Goro’s pioneer spirit that must have partially inspired Hachi’s own values. Hachi hates his father for abandoning him, but is disgusted to hear his father is “choosing a woman over space.” Without a father present, Hachi could only assume his father’s neglectful attitude was “what a man does” – now that his father wants to abandon that pursuit, Hachi is left without a father or an ideal of masculinity to follow.

Planetes

Hachi’s views are naive, and his dialogue shows it. Whenever he’s asked to defend the Jupiter mission, he resorts immediately to canned lines, talking about its vast energy and historic importance in terms that would never naturally pass his lips. Hachi doesn’t truly know what he wants, he just knows he doesn’t currently have it. He’s casting around for a truly satisfying direction, and only has the values of his friends and family to turn to.

Goro is far less idealistic. In response to Hachi’s reliable “humanity cannot live in a cradle forever” line, Goro responds “that was Tsiolkovsky’s great lie.” Tsiolkovsky sold space travel as an inherent human goal, when it was really just his own dream. The future of space travel demands bold dreamers like Tsiolkovsky, but it also relied on many men like Hachi, who were caught up in another’s dream for the lack of something that could truly make them happy on their own terms.

Planetes

Goro ultimately doesn’t return to earth. In this episode’s last act, a tragedy rocks the Von Braun, destroying its test engine and killing hundreds in a single instant. We don’t see that tragedy – in fact, we initially hear of it secondhand, while Locksmith coldly reflects on the political necessities of holding a press conference in response. The ninja goofballs of the show’s first half, dead in a flash, without a word. Hundreds of others, dead in a moment, blood on the paving stones of one more capitalist dream.

It’s Locksmith’s heartless response to that accident that actually inspires Goro to join him. Hearing Locksmith’s barely-there press conference, he reflects that “a bastard like that will definitely go places.” While last episode hopefully posited that “space needs fools,” this episode cautions that space also needs monsters. Pushing forward without regard for those around you is the truth of the pioneer spirit – much like capitalism, space travel demands men who put their dream above their friends, above their families, and above any number of deserving souls lost along the way.

Planetes

This was a hard episode to get through, both on a personal and philosophical level. It was hard seeing what Hachi’s father has done to him – how Hachi was forced to find ideals in his absence, and how those ideals are now betraying his ability to find happiness. It was hard to see characters like Goro and Locksmith given such focus – such men are the monsters society is built on, but their worldviews are so callous and binary that they rarely make for satisfying fiction. And it was hard seeing how this world grinds people down, either through the slow, steady death of Claire’s career path, or through the sudden violence of Great Men taking another giant leap for mankind. There is great danger in traversing space’s infinite darkness, but it is no match for the darkest reaches of the human soul.

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