Protocol

Another week, another episode of serial experiments lain. Layer 09: Protocol’s voice-over says, “If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, God is always by your side.” Much of the rest of the episode consists of infodumps about topics such as Roswell, important figures in computer history, and concepts and inventions like Memex and hypertext. An alien in a striped sweater appears on Lain’s doorway. In Cyberia, JJ hands Lain an envelope that he says she dropped, but she doesn’t remember it and it’s stamped with the Knights’ logo. Lain has a “date” with Taro where she questions him about the processor from the envelope. Taro steals a kiss as he leaves.

Nice.

Lain sees a vision of herself being introduced to the Iwakura home, and has a brief exchange with this past version of herself. Eiri finally appears in person.

So, Layer 05 may be the episode where things get confusing, but Layer 09 is where it gets weird. Mostly because of that alien, who we’ll get back to.

First let’s talk about the documentary-style infodumps in this episode, which accomplish a few things. One is that they lend the story an air of credibility, especially since they blend the final segment on Eiri Masami in with the footage about real-world figures like Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson. Given the material about the Schumann Resonance and John Lilly’s dolphin research, it becomes easier to suspend disbelief about Eiri’s incorporating those ideas into Protocol 7.

These documentaries also get the audience up to speed on lain’s source material. Lain’s plot does become a little easier to follow once one is more familiar with ideas like the global brain, but lain is kind enough to give us the basics here. Long infodumps are often boring, but the staff pulled this off perfectly. Breaking it up into multiple segments certainly makes it more bearable, but it was also prudent to wait until about the last third of the series to introduce it, when the audience is already invested enough in the story not to be turned off by too much information up-front, and will also have some idea of the relevance of all this material since we’ve already encountered references to some of it.

Lain and Taro’s date, such as it is, has a few interesting points. There is, apparently, some kind of data coming through the music at Cyberia, which can manipulate memories and is why the Lain double that’s appeared at Cyberia has only appeared at Cyberia. We also learn that Taro, though not a formal member of the Knights, is nonetheless allowed to hang around with them, and they do share some information with him. He tells Lain that the Knights are interested in her, and that “The Knights are users who are fighting to make the one and only truth there is into reality.” He doesn’t really understand this, but I gather that the world of the Wired is the “truth” in this scenario, and they want to merge it with the real world.

Taro also says something quite interesting that he’s learned from the Knights, “The truth has power because it’s the truth. And because it’s the truth, that makes it just.” He sounds like a real philosopher here; it reminds me of how we can say that God is Truth, and also that qualities associated with God, like justice, are essentially attributes of His existence. If something is just, then, we can say that it expresses something true. I realise that this almost certainly wouldn’t be what lain has in mind here, but the statement is nonetheless interesting and true on its face.

Now, about Lain’s family. The vision of Lain being brought to the Iwakura household and Mrs. Iwakura’s comment that “It’s almost over, isn’t it?” tell me that there is indeed some kind of play-acting as a family. When and why she was given to the Iwakuras, though, is a mystery, though one clue lies in the documentary photograph of Eiri. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the man standing next to him is Mr. Iwakura. It’s possible, then, that Eiri gave Lain, or some kind of protoype Lain, to him because he believed he could trust Mr. Iwakura. He grew to love Lain like a real father, despite knowing more-or-less what her real identity was. Mrs. Iwakura also seems aware of the situation, though Mika doesn’t. Perhaps her memories have been altered, but I’m not certain on this point.

Lain says to herself at the end of the vision, “This is a lie.” Based on her expression, though, she’s just trying to convince herself that this isn’t true.

There’s also a brief scene of static-y figures talking with Lain in the Wired, speculating about what she is. One woman disputes that Lain could have always existed in the Wired since she’s simply a child, but another says that “If a being is remembered, that proves that it’s part of a record!” Well, maybe so, but in a world where even memories can be rewritten there’s no way to know how reliable memories can be.

So, there’s just one more thing to discuss, and that’s the alien.

Oh, that frickin’ alien.

Lain is back in her defensive bear pyjamas, presumably having been traumatised by recent events, when that Roswell-type alien shows up and looks in at her. Whenever something weird happens in lain, it’s often a safe assumption that we’re seeing something that happened in or through the Wired, so at first one may think that this alien was just somebody’s avatar.

However, there are a few problems. One is that is we’re given no indication of whose avatar this might be, though the alien has been mentioned a few times in various “rumours” segments. The closest thing to a hint comes in a later episode when Lain herself appears with this creature’s body. Second, this appears to be Lain’s real room with all her computer equipment, not the bare room seen in Layer 05 when she spoke with the apparitions. Finally, the alien’s appearance comes between documentary segments on the Roswell incident, which implies that this alien is connected to Roswell somehow. More broadly, a later documentary discusses how John Lilly “believed his experiments connected him to cosmic entities.”

On the other hand, what conclusion do we draw from this? That aliens created Lain or the Wired, or that they’re helping us evolve like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey? We could say that the important part of the segment on Lilly was the communications angle, and that the alien is just someone trying to confuse or contact Lain through the Wired, but then why bring up Roswell at all? It’s not needed to introduce Bush; Memex would be the reason to discuss him, and he could be introduced by referencing his involvement in the Second World War.

One possibility, raised by Lawrence Eng at his excellent site thought experiments lain, is that the alien is “a manifestation of our collective unconscious preparing us for future evolution.” That seems more in line with the rest of the series and so is the interpretation I’d like to go with, but the context makes the alien, or at least some kind of higher intelligence, theory seem more likely.

to Be continued…

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