Love, Death & Robots Volume III premiered on Netflix on May 20, 2022, with nine episodes. The Very Pulse of the Machine is based on the short story by Michael Swanwick, published in 1998. The episode, animated in a retro 90s-esque style, was directed by Emily Dean with a script by Philip Gelatt. You can find explanations for Bad Travelling and other entertainment news on Retrology as well.
The story starts off with Martha Kivelsen and Burton, her partner. These two astronauts are making their way through the rough terrains of Io, a moon of Jupiter. The surface of the moon suddenly becomes unstable and it starts to erupt. This causes the rover to crash and Burton dies. Martha’s oxygen pack breaks. She loses contact with the space station as well. She uses her dead partner’s oxygen and decides to walk toward their base. She also attempts to carry Burton’s body back on a sledge.
Martha is injured in the accident and to numb the pain, she administers some morphine which can cause side effects including loss of motor function, hallucination, and euphoria. “If I don’t make it, better to die high,” Martha decides. Soon enough the effects of the drug kick in and she begin to see moving shapes, vibrant colours, cliffs turning into human-like structures, and a huge astronaut, and also starts hearing the voice of her dead partner communicating with her.
The robotic voice of Burton starts reciting poetry to Martha. Earlier in the episode, a book of poetry falls open just as their rover meets with an accident, it is unclear who it belongs to. As the pain increases, she further mixes amphetamine, which could lead to paranoia, psychosis, and hypomania. The voice soon convinces her that Io is a machine that is alive. It was connected to and was using Burton’s mind to communicate with her. Martha sees the electromagnetic spectrum of Io and starts to believe the voice. “Language is data. Radio is medium. Sulfur is triboelectric,” says Io.
Martha then wakes up at the edge of a cliff of a lake of the molten electromagnetic spectrum. She asks Io whether Burton had gone into the molten matter and Io confirms this and encourages her to throw herself in as well, explaining that her body will disintegrate but her mind will live on the moon forever. Martha notes, “Maybe I’m going to live forever. Or maybe this is just one last dream before dying,” and jumps off the cliff into Io. We then see an explosion and then Martha seems to send a radio message to a space station.
Is Io Alive?
“And now I see with eye serene. The very pulse of the machine.” This is a quote from William Wordsworth’s poem She Was a Phantom of Delight, but it’s also how the embodiment of Io tries to explain its supposed machine status. When Kivelson views the moon in the electromagnetic spectrum, she sees its snaking, luminous wires, disappearing through the hole where Burton’s eye once was, forming a highway into the data of her partially intact mind.
If Io was in fact real, then there is a chance that Io tricked Martha into joining the machine. Barton’s corpse, risen by Io, carries Martha away, instead of taking her safety, she left her by the side of the cliff of the thermal lake. Upon awakening, Martha had no chance of making it to safety, which lead to the possibility that Io gave Martha almost no choice but to trick her into joining Io’s ever-expanding conscious.
Until the very end, we believe that the painkillers are inducing a high which makes Martha see and hear things. Most of the things she hears in Burton’s voice are from a poetry book shown at the start of the episode. It is also unclear whether the book of poetry belonged to Burton or Martha. If it did belong to Burton then Io claiming it had accessed it from her neural network would be a confirmation that it was alive and both Burton and Martha lived in it forever. The Very Pulse of the Machine allows viewers to make their own assumptions and conclusions on this.
The Purpose of the Machine
Io tells Martha its function is to know, love, and serve her. This is a paraphrase from a Catholic philosophical answer about the function of man to God. Io is seemingly unable to distinguish between mobile intelligent organisms and thinks that Martha is its creator. Or, it could just be an echo of something Martha remembers Burton saying. Io’s explanation for using Burton’s voice also allows for the possibility Martha’s own brain is just recycling her own foggy memories because of the drugs and oxygen deprivation.
We hope that you would now have an understanding of what the episode, The Very Pulse of the Machine, was all about. Keep following this amazing series and Retrology as we explain every episode as it comes along.