Love, Death & Robots

Love, Death & Robots, Vol. 2: We Rank All the Episodes

Dept. of Animated Anthropologies


Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots, their anthology of animated shorts created by Tim Miller (Deadpool) and produced by David Fincher (Fight Club, Gone Girl, Mank), is back for a second, truncated season that’s heavy on death and light on love and robots.

Anthologies are an incredibly hard thing to pull off. They’re almost always a mixed bag, with maybe one or two highs, and a fair share of lows. Short films, like short stories, have the impossible task of trying to strike that right balance between aesthetically pleasing, intellectually fulfilling, and emotionally satisfying. And this second volume of Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots struggles with two of those three criteria.

The first season gave us plenty of hardcore action, with lots of violence and graphic nudity. That said, those 18 shorts still managed to find some balance between the gratuitous and the human, mostly delivering on its promise of a mature and messed-up series for mature and messed-up grown-ups. This second season has taken a wholly different approach, trading edginess for poignancy. The results of which aren’t quite as enjoyable.

These eight stories, all of them adapted from works by popular science fiction authors, are rendered beautifully, with each one employing a distinctive style of its own. As a showcase for animation, Love, Death & Robots shines. As a storytelling endeavour, however, this season falls a little short. Why? Let’s get into it.

8. Life Hutch

Love, Death & Robots

“After crash-landing on a craggy planet, a pilot makes his way to shelter, only to face a threat within.”

The late, great Harlan Ellison wrote a lot of fantastic science fiction. “Life Hutch” wasn’t one of his strongest. It’s a tale of survival in which a wounded pilot (played here by photorealistic Michael B. Jordan) takes refuge in the eponymous life hutch, only to fend off a malfunctioning maintenance robot that is indiscriminately attacking anything that moves. It’s something of a sister story to our next entry on this list, “Automated Customer Service,” only not as funny or as punchy. There is some tension from the claustrophobia of the piece, but its overall darkness (with regards to light, not tone) gets in the way of your enjoyment of it.

7. Automated Customer Service

Love, Death & Robots

“If your home-cleaning unit is attempting to murder you, please press 3.”

Kicking off this volume of Love, Death & Robots is the story of a robot vacuum that goes nuts and attempts to “clean” an old woman and her dog out of their own home, prompting an incredibly frustrating and unhelpful call to customer service. It’s a funny and frantic start to the season, but one that seems to miss the point of John Scalzi’s original short story. Here, the overarching theme seems to be centered around how every decision leads to an inevitable doom, which is fine, but not nearly as interesting as Scalzi’s critique on the corporatization and dehumanizing of our everyday lives. “Automated Customer Service” begins as WALL-E lite, but ends up as something a lot more pedestrian.

6. Ice

“Two brothers far from home join genetically “modded” locals in a deadly race.”

The animation, a refined callback to the jagged, angular edges of Aeon Flux, is absolutely stunning, creating a memorable world that definitely demands further exploration. The coming-of-age story of two teenage brothers learning to look out for one another, on the other hand, while sweet, is altogether forgettable.

5. The Tall Grass

Love, Death & Robots

“During a journey across the prairie, a man becomes transfixed by distant, ghostly lights.”

A man stupidly wanders off into a field while waiting for his train to start moving again and gets attacked by scary I Am Legend-esque creatures. And… that’s it really. While the plot of “The Tall Grass” is nothing to shout about, it is slick and suitably spooky, and at 11 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s not great. But it also isn’t terrible. Which is why it’s sitting here in the middle of this list.

4. Snow in the Desert

Love, Death & Robots

“Every bounty hunter in the galaxy wants a piece of Snow.”

I kept looking for those telltale signs that this was, in fact, animation. The most photorealistic offering of this season, “Snow” is truly a visual feast. The character designs are stunning. The desert planet is immersive. And the lighting is just perfect. That said, this story of an immortal man called Snow who is being chased by bounty hunters looking to tap into his genetic material, would have done better to focus on its love story. The romance elements unfortunately felt rushed, shoehorned in between a number of action set pieces, which were incredibly thrilling but took away from the depth of the burgeoning relationship between Snow and Hirald.

3. The Drowned Giant

Love, Death & Robots

“The body of a colossal young man washes ashore and becomes an object of fascination for the locals.”

The corpse of a massive, naked, humanoid giant washes up like a beached whale on the Suffolk coast triggering an elegiac poem about life, death, decay, and society’s short-lived obsessions. It’s a beautiful folktale that plays as a bittersweet reminder of our own mortality and how the remnants of our existence, while impactful upon the world, don’t always result in a lasting legacy. “The Drowned Giant” is probably the most thoughtful meditation in this season.

2. Pop Squad

Love, Death & Robots

“A cop charged with fighting the scourge of overpopulation is haunted by the human toil of his work.”

“Pop Squad” is set in a future where humans live forever and breeding is forbidden. Briggs is a “cop” tasked with enforcing this reality and the dark nature of his job is slowly beginning to take its toll. This short provides the heaviest metaphor of the eight, drawing a stark contrast between those who choose immortality and those who find it through their children, and is probably the only one with the potential to be expanded into something much longer. There is a lot to unpack here, from Briggs’ relationship with his opera singer girlfriend, to the lives of all those down below who “just want to live.” With hints on Blade Runner and Children of Men, I for one wouldn’t mind spending more time in this dystopia.

1. All Through the House

“On Christmas Eve, two kids tiptoe downstairs to catch a glimpse of Santa. (A twisted tale for adults only).”

The shortest short of this season is also its best one. There isn’t any death. There aren’t any robots. And the only love on display is the love of Christmas. But its homage to the Rankin-Bass stop motion Christmas specials of our youth, the way it deftly balances horror and heart, as well as providing a complete and satisfying story make “All Through the House” the most accomplished and satisfying episode. It’s also a pretty fun and fresh take on Santa.

All episodes of Love, Death & Robots, Vol. 2 are now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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