From the very beginning, Serial Experiments Lain is unusual, abstract, hard to grasp. Just when you think the show couldn’t get any stranger, it does, with episode six taking us deeper into the strangeness and also pulling us out. While the mysteries of the Wired, the Knights, and Lain herself deepen (with the most remarkable image in the episode being of a naked Lain floating in the sky), a conventional conversation with a deviant researcher seems so absolutely normal that it doesn’t belong in the series. And yet, maybe it’s there, besides as an infodump, to remind us that at the center of Lain is a divide—between the digital and physical, real and unreal, and connection and disconnect.
Lain is growing, both as a person and a “powerful force” on the Wired. Her hardware setup now includes advanced cooling systems, and Lain spends inordinate time on the Wired, especially speaking to the Knights, whom she considers friends. However, she later uses her power to talk to the avatar of Professor Hodgeson, a man who created the KIDS project, an extrasensory system that lead to the deaths of children fifteen years ago and is now being used again on the Wired, after being troubled by seeing a heavenly image of herself in the sky while out with her “real life” friends. More personally troublesome is that she has become a target—her computer’s cooling system is sabotaged, and apparently not by the men who have been watching her all along.
The title for layer six of Serial Experiments Lain is “Kids,” and more so than for any episode title so far, this one points clearly and obviously at characters and plot central to the episode. Kids lift their hands in worship toward the sky; KIDS is the name of the project that the professor ran, and which is now again in progress; and Lain is still a child herself, subtly indicated by showing her still-girlish figure several times, in contrast to a long shot on her “sister,” who has filled out.
There’s an emphasis here on innocence, as there is throughout the series. Lain is selected, perhaps, because she’s so naive and “pure,” compared to Mika, who’s actions were more worldly and served as a sacrifice in episode five. The motif is present throughout the episode, especially with the young children that Lain sees (though her friends also see them later), lifting their arms up to the sky. Two thoughts occur to me—the children represent innocence because of their ages (younger than Lain), but they also represent purity. We only see them from behind—they’re faceless entities without color or personality, almost angelic as they worship. And who do they worship? Lain herself, as a gigantic image of her appears in the sky, bright and without clothing, unveiled by clouds that roll back like a scroll. There seems to be an intention hear to cause audiences to think upon the Virgin Mary, perhaps, from Renaissance paintings, or maybe Jesus, similarly disrobed in many paintings of the time (especially when pictured on or heading toward the cross).
Lain is shaken by the image, and she’s meant to be, as the Knights, or whomever it is who is speaking to Lain, continues to lead her down a path toward godhood, whether its for their worship as well or to use her to some end. But Lain is resistant. She has demonstrated signs of resistance in previous episodes, especially when it came to questioning (for the “blank slate” trait that she often seems to exhibit, Lain has a strong sense of integrity), but goes more full throttle in this episode. The doppelganger personality, which is forceful and upfront, is one with Lain when she’s on the Wired, as she aggressively seeks connections in regards to the “game” that worries her, and both interrogates and admonishes Professor Hodgeson.
Afterward, her friends from the Wired, the Knights, aren’t as friendly as they were before, and in fact, the Men in Black accuse them of planting the device in her cooling system that leads to an explosion in her room. Are the controlling forces trying to put Lain back on the proper way and force her off the path of resistance? Have they decided it’s too late, and that Lain should perish while they raise another?
Lain, however, has come too far to go down without a fight—she’s been emboldened and now fights her fears, as is demonstrated when she confronts the Men in Black socially, which for her is as great a difficulty as any. And Lain is very powerful. Now armed with a sense of justice and a better understanding of the complexity of relationship, in which she can see that Internet relationships don’t always trump real ones; real friendships can be up and down, but aren’t necessarily inauthentic; and connection is a multi-faceted thing, Lain is on her way to face the god of the Wired and perhaps find out what it means to be that kind of god, and whether that is something truly godly at all.
Present Day. Question Time.
- Lain the…Avenger? Not only is Lain now on some sort of quest to help children past and present, she actually seems cool like a superhero, particularly in a scene when she comes home, ditches her normie clothes, speaks her computer to life, and gets to work with a serious face.
- Viewers today might think that Lain is ahead of its time in how it depicts the depth of online relationships, but I remember that my most satisfying friendships in 1998 were the digital variety. They were exciting and fun and fulfilling and painful—and all in one episode, Lain is discovering the same regarding the Knights. Did you have online friendships twenty years ago when this show first aired?
- Hodgeson is a creep. Right to the end, he’s looking to find peace for his guilt (unable and unwilling to do the things in real life that would have brought him peace before death) instead of thinking about the children. WON’T ANYONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?
- “Kensington Experiments” sounds appropriately unethical.
- A “Cheshire Cat” is introduced in the episode, and Lain is downright rude to him. It’s a nice allusion, though, as Lain certainly works as a cyberpunk version of Alice.
Let us know your thoughts below! And join us next Friday for the next installment.