Ergo Proxy is a bizarre but meaningful piece of sci-fi that throws multiple ideas into the kitchen sink to varying degrees. From its simple cyberpunk and post apocalyptic storylines to its more conceptual episodes like a quiz show that delivers important exposition in its questions or even parodying Walt Disney and Disneyland. But one of the ongoing themes and plots in Ergo Proxy that I like the most is how it blurs the line between human and machine.
The domed city of Romdeau is suffering from a series of murders. All being committed by AutoReivs, androids infected with the Cogito Virus that causes them to be self-aware (a reference to the philosophical phrase by René Descartes “Cogito ergo sum” translating to “I think, therefore I am”).
Re-L Mayer is an inspector of the Citizen Intelligence Bureau investigating into this problem, only to be caught up in a conspiracy regarding the mysterious figures known as proxies. As her investigation deepens, she makes allies out of the amnesiac immigrant Vincent Law whom is a proxy himself and a child AutoReiv named Pino who is infected with the Cogito Virus but isn’t violent.
Stranded in the Middle of Nowhere
The crux of the trio’s quest takes place in the form of a road trip as they travel across Earth’s wastelands to find Vincent’s old home city of Mosk and learn the truth of his past. Episode 16 of Ergo Proxy, ‘Dead Calm/Busy Doing Nothing’ focuses on them being stuck in the wastelands after the wind dies out, as the ship is wind-powered. Leaving them to wait till the wind returns for as long as it takes. It’s here we see the differences between these characters in how they deal with the situation even when only one of them is actually human.
Cabin Fever Setting In
The episode is held from Re-L’s point of view as she records each day they’re stranded and studies Vincent and Pino’s behaviour. Still very suspicious and interested in them due to their non-human nature and the mystery of what proxies are. Through this framing device, we get to see Re-L’s state of mind as she frequently becomes annoyed and confused by Vincent and Pino. As they play around or pass the time in some way until the wind returns (like Pino trying on Re-L’s makeup and even covering Vincent in it).
Re-L attempts to deal with the situation by sticking to her daily routine of waking up at 8 am and spending a full hour applying her makeup. Equally does she struggle with rationing food and water (thanks to a pampered life in Romdeau) and becomes overly obsessive in studying her crewmates. Zeroing in on the most minor details like a string of hair that Vincent forgets to shave off his chin.
Re-L keeps seeing their actions as unnatural, trying to figure out why they’re taking the situation lightly. Eventually coming to the conclusion that there must be some fundamental difference between her and them that she may never be able to break:
On a journey such as this, under these conditions, it sometimes dawns on me that there is a wall. A wall between proxies and people. A wall between people and infected AutoReivs for that matter. An essential level of communication can never take place. We’re each distinctly separate from the other.
Coming to the Wrong Conclusion in Ergo Proxy
In reality though, Re-L’s actions come off as inhuman and robotic. Acting overly cold and logical whilst the non-humans Vincent and Pino act nice and try to have fun. Re-L’s struggle to understand them is easily comparable to that of a robot questioning the logic of human choices.
Eventually Vincent and Pino’s influence rub off on her. Opting to sleep in despite her strict wake up time, ripping the facial hair off Vincent’s chin and even yelling at the wind to return. This final move seemingly being the trigger for making the wind actually return. Allowing them to continue their journey, making Re-L’s struggles through this period of nothing be worth it.
It’s through all of this episode that we see some of the many strengths Ergo Proxy has to offer. The atmosphere is quietly unnerving while contained to one location and the use of Re-L’s development highlights how human the inhuman characters are but also shows how they can have a positive influence on her. Despite both being utter mysteries that could be dangerous. As Re-L ultimately decides:
Finding a way out of this might be easier than I thought. I realised that overthinking it was a waste. What’s more, for some reason, I felt I could finally smile.