Hmm. A deity who will return from above to save the poor and oppressed? Gee, wonder who that is.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen allusions to religion in this franchise; there’s no way to see Heaven’s Day, with its gift-giving tradition and ubiquitous decked-out trees, as anything other than an expy of Christmas. However, this is the first time we’ve had such an explicit reference to religion, and an indication that said reference might be more than skin-deep.
Heaven’s Day, though, is hardly the only time religious imagery and ideas have come up previously, though. From the very beginning of Big O, we’ve had quite a bit of nods in that direction, although they were subtle enough that it wasn’t glaringly obvious at the time. Early on, Roger encountered numerous ‘common’ people who voiced their belief that giant robots that he eventually thought were actually gods (the specific term used is ‘kami’; this is another issue I took with the dub, which simply referred to them as ‘monsters’). The Big O itself, and other giant robots such as Big Fau and Big Duo, are called ‘megadeus’ by various members of the cast, to include Roger – ‘deus’ means ‘god’. And then there’s the woman who tells Roger to call her Angel, and who is shown to have scars on her back which curiously suggest a prior presence of wings through their shape.
It is also probably worth mentioning that in the first series Roger spoke of elderly people gathering at cathedrals to sing and worship, although they don’t know why they do it exactly or to whom they are dedicating their efforts.
And, then, there’s this episode.
Stories about saviors who will return to save the lesser offs of society aren’t exactly uncommon. But naming the episode ‘Advent’ removes any question of what the creators’ intent was here. The frequent verbal mentions of angels and visuals of people dressed up in white robes with wings and halos reinforces that the returning savior we’re meant to think of in this case is Jesus.
There’s an interesting divide here in the way in which the falling debris is interpreted by the poor versus the rich, as presented by Jim McGowan and Alex Rosewater respectively. McGowan states that the fallen debris was an angel, that there is more to come, and the more to come will be ‘Him’, a savior of the downtrodden. He tells Roger that his Memories tell him so, although Roger is incredulous, as such a Memory would be of a future event, not a past one.
Rosewater, on the other hand, tells Roger that the fallen debris was part of a ‘star’, a mechanical one made by people from to the event forty years ago. There will be more to follow, as the main body of the mechanical star (or, as we would recognize it, satellite) has yet to impact. The Memories of Roscoe Fitzgerald, as read off of a disc, tell him so. Roger is again incredulous, since Memories, by their very name, are implicitly about things that have already occurred. Yet Rosewater says vaguely that all things are ramifications of things that have happened before.
Both claim to have knowledge of future events. In McGowan’s case, we could call this prophesy or revelation (fun fact: in ancient Greek, the term for revelation was ‘apocalypsis’, and that term didn’t imply the sorts of things we think of when we hear ‘apocalypse’ or ‘apocalyptic’ – it just meant sudden knowledge or understanding). In Rosewater’s case… well, it’s tough to say. On the one hand, his vagueness makes it sound a bit like he’s been doing some soothsaying, but that is at odds with his modern take on the falling debris. If he were a bit more direct, I would probably call it just performing the role of an analyst, but there’s just something about his attitude and tone which make me hesitant to call it that either; it is probably his assertion that warning the people of the fact that a giant metal object is about to kill them is silly, because it is their destiny that such a thing happens to them, which is completely outside the coldly scientific and realistic realm that Rosewater is trying to ground his viewpoint in.
Now, I’m about to go into massive spoilers for the end of the show. So, if you haven’t seen that yet, don’t read the next paragraph.
LOOK AWAY LOOK AWAY LOOK AWAY. Ok, you’ve been suitably warned. Rosewater holds up the disc containing Fitzgerald’s Memories as he speaks about knowing what is going to happen. Is it that much of a stretch to interpret that disc as perhaps being a CD which contains programming so that Fitzgerald the android reacts to planned things in a certain way? It fits with the revelation (there’s that word again!) that Paradigm City is some kind of bizarre reality TV experiment of sorts; the creators could certainly have some specific things planned as part of said experiment. I’ll probably end up returning to this after it’s all over, since right now it’s difficult to parse completely what the significance of this disc may be.
Dipping back out of spoiler territory, Rosewater calls Roger ‘Dominus Megadeum’ during the episode. The primary meaning here is just ‘Lord of the Megadeus’, so ‘Lord of Big O’. Digging a little deeper, we get ‘Lord of the Mega-God’, which is a bit intriguing, especially so when you toss in that ‘Dominus’ is the Latin word used in the Latin Bible and that was used in pre-Vatican II Latin services in the Catholic church to refer to the Christian God. God of the Mega-God?
Roger does stand up in his megadeus to the mechanical star/satellite/savior whom is hurtling toward the people living outside the Domes; if he doesn’t, the people will surely perish, although they welcome it as the one who will lead them out of their squalor and misery. Roger simultaneously rejects both overall ideologies here – that the poor will be saved from outside, and that the poor deserve their unfortunate lots. These are positioned as the two counter belief systems, of a sort, of Paradigm City in this episode. But, even as he rejects these, Roger doesn’t offer an alternative, and I can’t make any argument for him being set up as being a third option for the people, both rich and poor, of Paradigm. The show has been stripping him further and further to his core, making him more human and less sure of things, and it doesn’t incline one to interpret him as a messiah figure; can a messiah be just as lost as the sheep?
Next episode hints at a possible continued religious theme to the proceedings with its title ‘Leviathan’. Leviathan is, if I’m not mistaken, an extra-biblical creature, or, in something closer to laymen’s terms, a figure of Christian mythology as opposed to something found in the Bible itself. It is an evil serpent or dragon, sometimes depicted as a sea monster.
Of course, it also could be a reference to ‘Leviathan’, the treatise on governance and human nature by Hobbes.
Other things of note in the episode:
- Angel is the one who sees the scale model of Paradigm City, complete with what turn out to be satellite orbital paths in the skies around it; but how does Angel know what these are? Rosewater makes it clear that people don’t know what satellites are, not even wealthy, well-connected men like himself, since he refers to it as a mechanical star. So how would Angel see these blinking blue lights on metal rails as indicative of orbital paths of these objects?
- McGowan tells Roger that people like himself have been living since the event forty years ago with no future, which brings us back to the matter of identity once again, as his words seem to imply that by lacking knowledge of his past, he doesn’t have a sense of self and therefore can’t really have a future. But I could be reading a bit too much into his statement. Other people who have been alive since before forty years ago, though, have been shown before to not lack this sense of self; must one know their past to have an identity, and must one have an identity to have a future?
- The satellite remnant appears to have Cyrillic lettering on it. I have previously tended to think of the memory loss occurring during the 1940’s based on the technology we see in the show, with the idea that it’d take a while for humanity to have gotten back on its feet after such a blow, but a Russian satellite would seem to hint at the 1950’s instead. This would still work with the technology present, although I have never seen a television in the show, which is a bit curious.
- I was a bit irritated at points during this episode. While in Big O and Big O II we have seen things that don’t exist in real life – the giant robots, for the most obvious example – the franchise has been quite good about being logical and realistic within its own frame. Roughly, it follows its rules. But here we have Roger’s car somehow able to fly across water or something when Roger and Angel are in a tight situation? And Roger and Angel both zipline across water to one of the buildings in the sea with no consideration of how they’ll get back? I’m fairly disappointed to have stupid stuff like this pop up all of a sudden.
- Oh, yeah, “Cast in the name of God – Ye not guilty.” Don’t have anything to say about it at the moment, kind of worn myself out, but it’d be weird to ignore it completely in a post that goes over the religious stuff so exhaustively.