Netflix’s two-time Emmy-winning show Love Death + Robots is back for its third season. The anthology animated series uses a futuristic setting to tell haunting stories about what the future might look like for humanity, oftentimes in robot, alien, monster-infested realities that put our humanity to the test.
Volume three continues the trend established by the two previous seasons to take risks and be inventive in how they tell their stories to craft an exciting and bingeable season. However, the stories this season didn’t all quite hit the mark and left much to be desired.
[SPOILERS FOR LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS VOLUME THREE]
Three Robots: Exit Strategies
The first episode of volume three is the much-awaited return of fan favorites K-VRC (Josh Brener), XBOT 4000, and 11-45-G as they continue with their exploration into the decline of the human race, and take a tour around the different attempts humans took to save themselves. From doomsday preppers who succumbed to infighting, to oil rigs outfitted into robots and AI run resorts, to world leaders sealing themselves in bunkers and becoming cannibals, to billionaires escaping to Mars, the episode doesn’t shy away from its sarcastic dark humor on the current state of our world and exploring all of the “what if?” scenarios of how humanity would react to an apocalyptic catastrophe.
While this episode is not my favorite of the season, I do enjoy watching stories that affirm my existentialism, like Don’t Look Up and Death to 2020 and use humor to hide a very serious topic like when parents hide the taste of cough syrup with sugar so that their kids will take it easier. At the same time, the episode does include an interesting moment of enlightenment as 11-45-G reminds us that before we throw in the towel and look outward for answers, we should put our efforts into restoring the planet we have and focusing on nurturing each other as much as the earth. But my favorite callback from their first appearance in season one has to be that of the Cat (yes, a literal cat who can talk), who makes a cameo at the end of the episode to remind us, that humans, truly never had a shot at survival.
Directed by David Fincher, the second episode of volume three follows a shark-hunting ship’s crew as they are attacked by a thanapod, a large crab monster. The crew quickly becomes defensive, as is logical to do so, but due to the amount of skill and nature of the thanapod, they are unsuccessful in defeating it. It is only when Torrin (Troy Baker), the episode’s protagonist, discovers that the thanapod can communicate with them and be bargained with, that things take a dark turn since if something can be negotiated with it can also be manipulated.
The core of the episode is a clear crash course into the human psyche. From the moment Torrin realizes that he can negotiate with the monster he quickly rushes to gain control of both it and the crew. Torrin comes across as a very devious and cold-hearted protagonist, using his knowledge and power after he secures the only gun aboard in order to masterfully manipulate his way to survival. While the story is pretty straightforward, it’s very interesting to watch how Torrin uses human nature against his fellow crew members in order to buy himself time to safely dispose of the bigger threat, and as he views it, rightfully use his fellow crew members as feed for the thanapod after they all vote to unleash it into an island full of innocent people.
The Very Pulse of the Machine
The third episode of volume three follows two astronauts on their mission on Io, Jupiter’s moon, and Kivelson (Mackenzie Davis), the protagonist, is left stranded after their SVE gets out of control causing the death of her partner Burton. Stylistically, the episode reminded me a lot of Amazon Prime’s Undone with a dash of The Midnight Gospel. The psychedelic nature of the plot works beautifully in harmony with the mind-blowing animation to tell a story of transcending the confines of organic matter and our minds living on forever.
The episode proposes a lot of really interesting questions about what it means to live forever and just how painful it can be to fight the inevitable when succumbing to it is much more peaceful and satisfying. While the nature of the story is inherently sad and ultimately about “giving up”, as someone who’s struggled with mental health problems for as long as I can remember, I connected deeply with the struggle Kivelson goes through and ultimately would’ve made the same choice she did by the end.
Night of the Mini Dead
Episode four of volume three reminds us that stop motion is king and should be respected as such. While it wasn’t my favorite story of the season, the mastery behind the artistry required to pull the episode off was astounding, especially at the scale that which everything was constructed. From a thematic standpoint, the episode feels completely removed from the Love Death + Robots DNA as the story is mainly a zombie apocalypse story, but at the same time, I can’t think of any other show where the episode would fit as perfectly as it does here.
There’s no big existential question here, it’s just mindless, adorable fun. Yes, adorable, even in the devastating and all-consuming thralls of the zombie apocalypse, the episode manages to be adorable while also showcasing the terrifying and overpowering reality of just how quickly the world could end due to a zombie apocalypse.
Kill Team Kill
The first of the “mandatory” army episodes this season takes the shape of a US Special Forces, very much in the style of Rambo and The Expendables, as their mission is quickly turned upside down as they arrive at the rendezvous point only to find the other half of their team slaughtered by a cybernetically-enhanced grizzly bear. With the help of Sergeant Morris (Joel McHale), the team regroup in a CIA bunker and get back on track to kill the unkillable beast.
My first thought when watching this episode was that I was supposed to focus on the cool action sequences and sick robot monster in order to completely look over how gruesome and horrible the entire ordeal actually is. Outfitting this animal, stripping away its free will to turn it into a killing machine is a horrible realization, especially after you realize that the bear fighting back against its captors is a very natural response for a cornered animal.
The sixth episode of volume three follows two human deep space explorers as they go on a research mission to an alien star system inhabited by an insectoid race known as the Swarm. They quickly discover that the Swarm’s survival tactic for millions of years has been to absorb and assimilate other alien species, having them then play key parts in maintaining the ecosystem of the Swarm. And in human fashion, the protagonist, Simon (Jason George), schemes to steal an egg from the Swarm and take it back home to bring some much-needed order to the chaos that is humanity.
‘Swarm’ took me by surprise. I have always been a sucker for hive mind stories, especially through the lens of what humans view as a clear violation of their right to freedom. So, when Simon’s ulterior motives to replicate the conditions of the Swarm instead of destroying it became clear, it was a very interesting twist to watch unfold. In his arrogance to try to control something that he couldn’t even possibly begin to understand, he inadvertently starts the Swarm on a mission to breed a better version of humans in order to protect itself from when the human invasion arrives at their doorstep – if they don’t succumb to their self-destructive nature first.
Volume three continues with a trip to Scotland where Mason (Craig Ferguson), a farmer, finds himself fighting a rat infestation that appears to be fighting back. With the help of the high-tech Traptech pest control company, Mason installs five pulse lasers into his barn, but the lasers are quickly disabled by the rats. And the only way for him to finally get rid of the pest is to buy the next best thing: a scorpion-like robot that massacres the rats.
I’m not going to lie, killer rats were not in my 2022 Bingo Card, but I’m not mad about it at all. The episode reminded me vividly of Barbie and the Nutcracker because of the malevolent Rat King as well as a twisted version of Ratatouille and G-Force (let me know in the comments down below if you remember this film). I love that in the episode, Mason becomes so consumed with wanting to control the rats and get them out of his property that he loses touch with his humanity, and it isn’t until the robot has gone too far and pushed the rats to their final leg that he finally intervenes and manages to strike a bargain with the rats.
In Vaulted Halls Entombed
Episode seven of volume three ventures into Lovecraftian territory as a US Special Forces team finds themselves going on a rescue mission but uncovers the lair of an eldritch deity that has been imprisoned. The deity commands them to release it and a fight ensues between the survivors, as releasing it would have dire and world-ending consequences.
‘In Vaulted Halls Entombed’ was sadly my least favorite episode this season. It is easily forgettable and while the idea behind it is really interesting, because of the nature of the show, it sadly goes nowhere. At the same time, it feels the most disconnected from the thematic throughline of the show and the season as a whole. While it does have some eye-catching cameos and a horror appeal, the reveal of the deity comes in too late and seemingly poses no big threat to the world they’ve created even as it turns teammates against each other and we’re meant to feel an emotional response to characters that aren’t fleshed out as much as they should’ve been for us to care.
Academy Award-winning director Alberto Mielgo returns to the show to direct his second episode in the series. The final episode of volume three follows a group of conquistadors who stumble across the lair of a siren. They soon succumb to the siren’s song and massacre each other, the only survivor being a deaf soldier who’s drawn to the siren because of her diamond and golden appearance.
Mielgo wanted ‘Jibaro’ to convey a story about a toxic romance, where “none of our characters here are heroes. In fact, both of them are pretty sketchy. There are moments when the audience is going to favor one over the other. In the beginning, you’ll see that the woman is a monster but later you’ll feel more empathy for her.” And while you can definitely feel the heaviness of the relationship and witness just how destructive these two characters are to each other, the pacing of the episode and how it came across technically were incredibly overwhelming to me. While I understand the choice I had a really hard time fully falling in love with the episode because of the intense sensory overload. But if there’s one thing I will say, it is that no one has the right to say that animation isn’t art after watching this masterful episode.
Season Overall Thoughts
Volume Three of Love Death + Robots was thoroughly entertaining and easily devoured in one sitting. While I wasn’t a fan of every episode, that tends to be the norm for me every season, but I still love the show for taking risks in its creative storytelling and inventive animation.
While there was still a lot of Death this season, the Love + Robots part seemed to not be a pivotal part of each episode as much as in the earlier seasons. As I mentioned before with episodes like ‘Night of the Mini Dead’ and even ‘Bad Travelling’, the show has started to depart from the thematic trifecta that made it a sensation, having episodes sometimes only focus on only one of the three major themes.
However, the selling point for me this season was how each episode seemed to be connected through a theme of control. The season felt cohesive even when it wasn’t and through this strong theme it’s able to take shape into something that’ll stay with me for a while.
Overall Season Rating: 7/10