Welcome back JeskaiAngel, one of our regular guest contributors here on Beneath the Tangles. Today, he takes a deep dive into an infamous episode of Code Geass (at least an episode this blog has been critical of in the past). Enjoy!
(Disclaimer: aside from taking general psychology in college years ago, I have no education or training in psychology, just a mix of personal experiences, counseling I’ve received, and books or articles I’ve read.)
On a couple of occasions, TWWK has included in his posts a link to a blog he wrote some years ago about why he quit watching Code Geass. (If he’s really nice, he might even insert a link to that post right about…[here].) He described an episode with such gratuitous violence that he couldn’t bear to keep watching the show. Reading his comments made me oddly curious about this over-the-top violence he found so off-putting. In a rather uncharacteristic move, I looked up the show on Crunchyroll and watched the episode he discussed, along with parts of few others. I followed that with some wiki reading to learn more about the characters and overall story. I found the episode deeply disturbing – more than enough to convince me I never want to watch the show – but it was not because of the violence.
Code Geass’s protagonist, Lelouch, has a magic eyeball that gives him the power to control anyone by issuing them a command. It only works once person, but whatever he says, they must obey him. In the twenty-second episode of the first season, “Bloodstained Euphy,” Lelouch winds up commanding Euphemia – one of the kindest, most goodhearted people in the entire show – to commit genocide. A heartbreaking (as in, literally brings tears to one’s eyes) scene follows Lelouch’s command, as Euphy tries to resist with every fiber of her being. However, she is overwhelmed by Lelouch’s power and goes off to cheerfully commit mass murder in obedience to the command (this leads to the gratuitous violence that troubled TWWK).
Lelouch didn’t intentionally command her to commit genocide, but I would argue that fact doesn’t make him any less responsible or guilty. In the scene where he brainwashes Euphy, he is boasting quite brazenly about his willingness to use his mind control power on her. As an example of what he could make her do, he jests that he could even tell her to kill all the Japanese and she’d do it. And then his power goes a little haywire and the command actually goes into effect. So, instead of taking his power seriously and treating it as the incredibly dangerous force that it was, he chose to treat the idea of forcing Euphy to become a mass murderer as a joke. The cherry on top of the whole wretched debacle is that he goes on to kill Euphy and exploit the deed to advance his own agenda. And so I found the episode nightmarish, not because of the violence, but because of seeing such a noble character have her thoughts twisted against her will in sickening fashion.
Mind control or brainwashing is a trope I find all too common in fiction and which I believe is treated far too casually. “Bloodstained Euphy” captured the horrifying nature of violating another’s mind in an exceptionally powerful and moving way. Oh, and it didn’t help my opinion of Lelouch to read that this incident didn’t change him – he went right on using his commanding power extensively all the way to the end of the show. Incidentally, shortly after my stomach-churning introduction to Code Geass, I watched Castle Town Dandelion. A character in that show, Aoi, has a similar power to make anyone do anything she commands, but in contrast to Lelouch, she finds this power horrifying and steadfastly refuses to use it, no matter the circumstance or how it might benefit her. At one point Aoi thinks to herself, “It’s true that if I were to use my real power, I could turn the tables. But I don’t want to use this power for my own self-interest.” Castle Town Dandelion’s sober and responsible treatment of mind control is unique (at least in my experience).
Why do I make such a big deal about this? Why is mind control incredibly evil? I suggest we compare it to rape. We regard rape, the violation of another person’s body, as among the most evil of deeds. Mind control or brainwashing is nothing less than the psychological equivalent of rape, the violation of another’s very self at the deepest possible level. Fiction ought to treat it with all horror and seriousness given to rape. And yes, this means I think Lelouch is the moral equivalent of a serial rapist. If it were possible in real life to deprive someone of free will in this manner, it would surely be among the most vile acts a person could commit. Finally, I find it quite notable that literally the only being who could possibly have the right to impose his will upon anyone is the almighty Creator of everyone. Yet God apparently treasures free will so greatly that he refuses to turn us into good, obedient robots, who do what he wants without choice. If even God refuses to exercise such power over a person’s mind, then no one ever ought wield it.
Of course, mind control isn’t possible in real life (with the exception of demonic possession, which I am exceedingly thankful doesn’t seem to happen much anymore). What is possible in real life are acts of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Thus, while I usually find fictional depictions of brainwashing horrifying and distasteful, I do think they can serve one useful role. Supernatural or super-technological mind control makes a disturbingly vivid metaphor for real-life manipulation and abuse because abuse, whether strictly psychological or also physical, is at its core about one person exercising control over another person. Through various forms of ill treatment, an abuser comes to dominate how the victim views themselves and how they understand the world, other people, and relationships. The victim is isolated and made dependent on the abuser. The victim even denies reality and rejects obvious truths (such as their own physical and/or mental pain) if those facts contradict what their abuser has taught them to believe. Abuse teaches shame: it tears down a person and leads him or her to believe he or she is wicked, unlovable, stupid, ugly, and/or otherwise loathsome, and thus deserves all the suffering they receive and more. It leaves the victim actively desiring to please and obey their abuser, so that they can avoid further pain. Abuse takes place over time and has a cumulative effect, unlike fictional mind control (which often needs very little time or even works instantly), but the outcome has strikingly similarities.
In real-life abuse, the victims drown in a sense of helplessness and loss of agency. They are dominated by and at the mercy of their abuser. Thankfully, unlike fictional brainwashing, abuse can be resisted. Poor Euphy might not have been able to overcome Lelouch’s evil eye, but victims of abuse can fight back successfully. They can learn to find allies, set boundaries, defend themselves, change their thinking, escape the abusive relationship entirely, and so forth. The essential first step is for the victim to recognize the truth that he or she is in fact being abused, that what’s happening to them is wrong. I hope that considering fictional mind control through the paradigm of real-life abuse can provide insight into how abuse works and what abuse victims experience, and that when you encounter fictional portrayals of mind control, it will remind you of the wickedness and horror of real-life abuse and fill you with determination to oppose it.
featured art by KL (reprints allowed by artist)