Some rambling thoughts on Psycho-Pass and its ending

April 10, 2013

Almost from the start Psycho-Pass was clearly a show where the ending was pretty crucial and a bad ending would be a real problem for the show as a whole. Did Psycho-Pass come through in the end? My view is yes, although there are people who disagree. On the whole I consider the last episode a good ending although not a great one; to put it one way it was a well done and periodically exciting presentation of the last act of a play that we had all seen coming. There were no big surprises, no last minute shocks, simply well delivered story beats that we had already been (mostly) expecting.

(I'm now about to get into spoiler territory.)

The surface story of Psycho-Pass is the hunt for Makishima; apart from the first episode (which mostly serves as an introduction to the setting and the characters) the entire storyline is driven by his actions and revolves around them. But that's not really what the show's about and I think that how people feel about the ending (and thus the show) will depend on what they think the real story of Psycho-Pass is and that in turn depends on one's view of Sibyl. One view is that Sibyl is an inherently evil system and that the show should be about overthrowing it; this makes the ending at least a depressing one since the system survives and indeed co-opts Akane despite her knowing its terrible secrets. But I don't feel that way about Sibyl. Instead I've come around to seeing Psycho-Pass as fundamentally Akane's character arc, the story of Akane really growing up, maturing, and making her own decisions. This view makes the ending a powerful conclusion to the series because we see Akane come full circle to be a competent character and confident leader.

(I'll be honest; I'm biased towards this view partly because it makes the ending make sense.)

Having said that I don't know what the show really feels about Sibyl by the end. Is it evil but necessary? Flawed but necessary? There's certainly a lot of argument (tacit and explicit) in the latter parts of the show that Sibyl is now a necessity and society will fall apart without it. Also, part of my confusion is that the show and I clearly have rather different opinions on how horrifying the truth of Sibyl's deep secret is.

(This is serious spoiler territory now; I'm about to be explicit.)

The show seems to think that Sibyl being a bunch of psychopath brains in vats is both terribly horrifying and completely unacceptable to society, since that's how every character who finds out reacts. I am evidently much more cynical than the show because I don't think that people would be particularly bothered if the PR spin was done right. Really, who cares what's behind Sibyl if Sibyl works? If (psychopathic) criminals are recycled to be Sibyl components instead of being killed out of hand, well, so what. As I argued I don't think that there's any evidence that the now-Sibyl-components are abusing their nominal position to do evil things or enrich themselves. And the entire running theme of the show is that people are perfectly happy (even eager) to become sheep for Sibyl if it just takes care of things for them.

(I was pleasantly surprised that the brains are smart enough to be planning for revealing their secret over the long term. This may be a sign that show subtly agrees with me or I may be reading the tea leaves too deeply.)

Now I will be really contrarian. It's popular in the commentary I've seen to decry Kougami's choice to shoot and kill Makishima as a great failure that shows he's consumed by revenge. I disagree strongly; I argue that in the end Kougami better upholds justice than Akane does. To put it one way Kougami does by hand what the Dominators would do if they worked properly.

Let us not forget that the Psycho-Pass world is one where sufficiently dangerous criminals are executed out of hand by Dominators when discovered. There is no trial, no appeal, no argument, and no one has any qualms about it. Even Akane in the first episode is horrified only by the grossness of the rapist's death, not by him being killed on the spot. Makishima is clearly someone who would be executed by the Dominators if they could read his psycho-pass correctly (for a start he's directly murdered at least one person in cold blood). Further, everyone in the team knows that the orders to bring Makishima in alive at all costs are bogus. The orders aren't right and they aren't being driven by justice, they are being driven by some political thing over the team's heads. If the team went after Makishima with properly working Dominators he would die on first contact, shot with Lethal Eliminator mode.

(If the show is arguing that Kougami making a choice to kill Makishima by hand is more morally wrong than simply firing a Dominator on cue, knowing that it will kill someone, I disagree with it.)

I can't say that Akane's choice in the ending is either wrong or bad, but I do think it's influenced by a desire for people she knows to not get their hands dirty and other pragmatic considerations. My view is that most of the evidence is that Akane would be perfectly fine with Makishima being killed. It's also a convenient choice for the story, since it sympathetically aligns her with most people's real world morality in the same situation (of course it's right to bring Makishima back alive for a 'proper trial').

Update: I wrote badly and confusingly here . I don't mean Akane's decisions after Makishima's death but her choices before then to try to bring Makishima in alive and to work to prevent Kougami from killing him.

Written on 10 April 2013.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 10 15:38:20 2013
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