Planetes – Episode 22

Continuing with Planetes’ cheekily appropriate episode titles, episode twenty-two is called “Exposure.” Though you might initially assume that refers to exposure in a “safety in space travel” sense, it becomes clears throughout this episode that they’re referring specifically to a camera’s exposure. Gigalt literally gifts Hachimaki a camera containing his final teaching, and physical motifs aside, the idea of exposure guides the drama of this episode.

A photograph’s exposure dictates the light or darkness of the final image. Even given the same subject, two cameras with different aperture settings or shutter speeds will convey wildly different tones, and even what is visible in the frame can be different. The nature of a photograph’s exposure reflects the variable nature of perspective itself, and episode twenty-two is all about perspective. What Hachi can see through the camera’s eye, or what Cheng-Shin thought he saw in the world, dictate their feelings, actions, and potential destinies.

As this episode opens, a visibly fraying Gigalt is informed of the treachery of his finest pupil. It turned out Hakim was working for the Space Defense Front the entire time he was in the OSA, and even collaborated on the mission that would have destroyed Seven itself. But faced with this clear evidence of Hakim’s duplicity, Gigalt doesn’t seem bothered at all. “Why couldn’t I think of a nickname for him?” he wonders sadly. At the end of his life, Gigalt cannot think in terms of corporate loyalties, but only in terms of people, of fathers and sons.

But while Gigalt’s sickness may have broadened his perspective, others are trapped by their own worldview limitations. Cheng-Shin’s downward spiral soon continues, as he finds himself kicked off his own return flight for his emotional instability. Meeting Claire for coffee, he mutters bitterly about how Hachimaki is an awful person, to which Claire can only laugh. Cheng-Shin had seemed too good to be true, but now at last he was proving himself to be just as petty as the rest of them.

Claire is bitter for her own reasons, but her words are a sharp critique of Cheng-Shin’s attitude. Having always worked hard and been rewarded for it, Cheng-Shin sees himself as a “nice guy” who deserves to have consistent good things happen to him. Cheng-Shin has fallen into the classic trap of the privileged. Nobody wants to believe they got where they are because of luck, or the existing biases of a system. In order to feel good about their own success, one who is blessed by society must also believe they are a “good person,” someone who naturally deserves success, or else that they specifically worked harder than everyone else and truly earned their position. Libertarianism and meritocracy are popular philosophies of the very successful because they flatter success – they applaud you for achieving things others don’t, and assuage your doubts about what the less fortunate deserve. Given the aperture of his life experience, Cheng-Shin easily falls into believing his own success is justice.

Of course, while Claire’s own perspective encompasses a more realistic view of the world than Cheng-Shin’s, her feelings are still dictated by her limited frame of reference. It turns out Claire was actually dating Hakim, and so as Hachi is marched out of the interrogation room, Claire is walked right in. Sneering at Hachi’s shock at her relationship, she reminds him of Tanabe before muttering that “no one ever fully commits with their feelings.” Claire’s brutal personal and career turns have left her with no faith in anything. Mistreated and disappointed by a sequence of bosses and partners, every new turn now validates her dim view of humanity.

Hachimaki isn’t fairing much better. While he’s been playing tough regarding his feelings on the Jupiter mission, losing Hakim’s presence seriously rattles him. Hachi saw Hakim as possibly the one person who had it all together, and who embodied the kind of person he was trying to be (aside from his father, a fact he’d never admit to himself). But it turned out the Hakim he knew was a lie – that ruthless go-getter persona was actually just a simplistic device being used to achieve his real goals. And on top of that, Hakim was Hachi’s only potential friend who’d actually be flying with him to Jupiter. Just like Cheng-Shin constructs the world around his own success and Claire builds it around her own unhappiness, Hachi finds himself relying on a comforting untruth: “people are all alone.” People have to be all be alone, because if they’re not, his own life path is madness.

This episode doesn’t let Hachi get away with that lie easily. As its second half proceeds, Hachi finds himself running into friend after friend, as first Lavie tells him to go talk to Gigalt, and then Nono offers him Gigalt’s final gift. Sitting alone in Nono’s room, the direction ensures we see that Hachi is appreciating the world of someone else for the first time in far too long. Gigalt’s final message and final gift are essentially the same: by giving Hachi a camera, he reminds his student to hold on to the things that are precious in life. As with Hakim, Gigalt has accepted Hachi’s choices; he could be angry or disappointed in him, but at the end of a long life, he understands what Hachi must be going through. Our memories of the world may not exactly sync, but Hachi can still see the beauty in Nono’s pictures.

Unfortunately, Hachi isn’t quite ready to let go of his dreams. When Tanabe finally reaches him, any hopes of reconciliation are dashed when Hachi learns she kept Gigalt’s illness from him. Hachi can’t see her perspective, and doesn’t want to – and when she offers to share the burden, he actually sees that as an attack as well. “It’s all mine! All the loneliness! All the pain! All the doubt! All the regrets! You don’t deserve them! No way in hell am I gonna give them to you!” When all we have is pain, even the pain becomes sacred. Terrified of losing what little he has left, Hachi’s perspective has diminished to a single searing dot.

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