Planetes – Episode 23

Planete’s twenty-third episode is one steady build to a long-awaited explosion. Early scenes reveal the SDF meddling with INTO’s broadcast satellites, putting us in their own leadership’s perspective for the first time. From a vague threat or thematic counterbalance, the SDF have become one of the principal actors in Planetes, touting a philosophy that the show may actually agree with more than any other. Though their overt rhetoric leans towards apocalyptic nonsense and naive environmentalism, everything we’ve learned about their actual members indicates they’re simply fighting back against INTO’s global hegemony in the only way they can.

Claire’s character arc provides a sympathetic case study in what might lead a “promising young member of INTO’s society” to side with the SDF. Claire’s career trajectory has always demanded erasing her past, and early on, she doubled down on that by actively resenting her homeland. When you’re born into the first world like Hachimaki or Cheng-Shin, you can ignore the fact that global capitalism is a rigged game, and even take pride in your professional accomplishments as if they were truly reflective of your superior nature. But when you’re born where Claire was, you are presented with far more clear realities: INTO actively hates your kind, so will you join your oppressors and peddle their rhetoric, or be discarded by the only system of victory the world provides?

Claire did her best to manage her resentment of this system through the series’ early arcs, but only a lucky few members of the non-chosen get to represent their countries on the high stage. Claire’s ascent was protected by Dolf, and when Dolf was sabotaged by other members of the ruling class, Claire became a liability. “I’m going to hunker down and do the work and fight until I’m working under people who judge me based on merit” only works if you can eventually ascend above the fray – but there is no “above” what INTO represents. And so Claire was banished to meaningless work, and through Hakim’s passion, found a new role that truly did provide meaning.

Outside of Claire’s tragic arc, there isn’t actually that much to this episode. With all of the dominoes already set up across the second half of the show, episode twenty three is mostly spent watching them tumble down. INTO’s Supreme Council are hosting their first meeting in space, and given such an esteemed audience, the SDF decide to put on a show.

The framing of that INTO meeting is one of this episode’s many bitter details. While news reports speak of this “historic event” and its “deep significance,” the camera cuts us back to places like El Tanika, which will gain nothing and lose much from INTO’s continued space supremacy. This juxtaposition emphasizes how even the nature of news and history assumes a certain narrative based on the supremacy of the first world – every use of a word like “historic” or phrase like “humanity’s interests” inherently implies a first-world perspective. Even the very concept of morality that society embraces is often directed by the interests of the ruling class. The idea of “respectability politics” is pushback against the fact that the oppressed are expected to play to the rules of the powerful and complacent in order to gain their respect, and the difference between a democratic regime change and an inhumane coup often comes down to if a foreign power is footing the bill.

The conventional view of history tends to elevate Great Men and Bold Dreams and Conquerors; the romance of space is often framed as embodying those narratives. These narratives are not inevitabilities, and do not speak to anything more fundamental to the human spirit than any other morals we might embrace – they are simply the ideals that reflect the social assumptions a particular hierarchy of oppression is based on. Even our fundamental language tends to inherently villainize those who refute this system (framing them as either terrorists in a negative sense or helpless natives in a neutral one), while softening or distancing us from the violence inherent in the social contracts we’ve chosen to embrace. Locksmith neatly articulates that fact later in this episode, when he repeats that classic “I’ll take full responsibility” from just prior to the first Von Braun’s explosion.

“Taking responsibility” is a nice concept, but in Locksmith’s case, it’s utterly meaningless. Locksmith will never be fired, because he is important to the commercial interests of the companies he works for. Him “taking responsibility” might mean he has to make a contrite speech, but it doesn’t bring back the countless people who died to bring his dream to life. “Taking responsibility” is in a way more for his employees, who need to hear “you will not be fired for my actions, and should not feel morally responsible for what follows them.” Exactly one financial manager was forced to “take responsibility” for our own recent economic crash, while millions of destitute homeowners were framed as simply the foolish losers of capital’s ebb and flow.

The SDF’s ultimate plan is intricate, desperate, and bloody. Commandeering the new Toy Box and jamming INTO’s satellites, they plan to actually board the Von Braun and crash it into the lunar city. The transition from heated words to bullets takes place in moments, and then there’s no turning back – Hachi’s companions and Hakim’s conspirators exchanged fire and then float weightless, like loose gears in the bowels of some unstoppable clock. Claire is shot down in a silent moment, the entirety of her life story reduced to a gasp, a cut phone call, and some future newsreel. “What brought such a promising young woman to embrace a life of terror?” might be the tagline, or “we should have known… there were signs, there are always signs.” Perhaps the narrative of Claire’s life will be the untrustworthy nature of El Tanikans, or the tragic influence of Hakim’s hatred. Perhaps she won’t get a narrative at all, because the news anchors found something more cheerful to report.

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