In psychology, the ego is responsible for one’s sense of identity. In our everyday speech, we use it to describe self-worth or self-importance. As Serial Experiments Lain comes to a close, layer 13, entitled, “Ego,” centers on those ideas. Lain must decide both what her identity is and where it is she places her importance—her decisions about those questions will determine her future and those of the ones closest to her, as well as of all humanity.
Lain is able to destroy Eiri, but Alice remains in shock from the events. Deeply hurt by how Alice has been pained, she decides to hit “RESET,” setting the world back to one that seems to be pre-Lain. Meanwhile, she continues to struggle with her decision and with the other Lain, working through what she should ultimately do with her presence in the Wired.
From almost the very beginning of the series, Lain has been hearing voices that dictate her to do one thing or another. One was from Eiri, whose power is now overcome by Lain’s; he would have her be the tool through which humanity could be interconnected and evolve, with Eiri as their god. Another was from the other Lain, who has little regard for humanity and is chiefly concerned with herself. In episode 13, Lain deals with her as well, eliminating that voice for good.
A final voice, though, is one that becomes clearer and clearer through the series, one which is birthed as the show begins and slowly grows up until it can become mature. As episode 13 opens, Lain’s own voice remains confused: what is she and what should she do? If this was ten episodes ago, the answer would have been robotic in nature, matching Lain’s composition, in a sense. But Serial Experiments Lain, as I’ve mentioned before, is a series about humanity from the point of view of a program learning what it is to be human. By this finale, Lain’s “soul” is as human as could be, and it’s hurting.
So Lain decides to hit “RESET,” literally. But this reset isn’t necessarily a reboot, nor is it the same as the delete she used previously. Lain takes herself purposely out of the collective memory as those around her restart from what seems to be a point in time near the beginning of the series. The reset world isn’t perfect—it never was—but the pain that Lain caused through her existence is erased, and knowingly or not, Alice and the others get a chance to restart. For all of them, this new world is a better one, a more hopeful one.
But Lain is left in pain. As described by the other Lain, she’s gotten what she wants, a chance to help those she loved, especially Alice, who became manic at incarnation of Eiri. Still, Lain is sad, because she has to face the consequence of this action. She is forgotten, as if she never existed, and will never have a chance to interact with the people she loved as she once did.
At one point in the episode, Lain is told by her other self that she should become god and that it’s easy to live that way since she won’t be hated and won’t be hurt. But there’s something sparkling inside Lain, something that realizes this is not a symbol of godhood; in fact, as demonstrated through series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica and more abundantly through the Bible, godly love is defined by giving to the undeserving through great personal sacrifice. But for the deity, it is worth it. For God, it was worth the tortuous death on a cross. And in this series, as shown through a conversation where she’s brought to tears by her father understanding Lain’s love of humanity, it’s worth it for her, even for a humanity that understands so little about the nature of communication and love.
Lain’s ultimate choice doesn’t end her life, nor her connections with loved ones, but it does end—for the most part—her physical relationships. It was a choice Lain struggled with, perhaps for years as reflected in the scene in which Alice is now an adult (if time does have any sort of meaning for Lain), but it’s one she’s ultimately happy to have made—the conscious decision of a deity who in giving so much also lost so much, all for a people who didn’t deserve it. And in that final act, Lain shows both what it means to be human and what a godly love really is.
Present Day. Question Time.
- Layer 13 effectively takes shots and structure we’ve become to be used to seeing at set times and moves them around (ex. Present day. Present time!), jarring the audience and creating a momentum toward Lain’s final decision.
- Alice is unrecognizable at first as an adult, not because a marked change in hair or clothes, but because we know her as a girl in the series, and in the final scene, she’s become a woman. The scene is bittersweet—since she can’t quite remember Lain, though the latter is satisfied with their brief reunion.
- It’s remarkable how gifted storytellers can take a basic theme that might seem kitsch, like “robot learns to love through a friend,” and turn it into something powerful, meaningful, and even brutal. In that way, Lain reminds me a whole lot of T2: Judgement Day. Yes, Lain and Schwarzenegger—one in the same!
- And kudos to the director and animators, as well. The entire series is heavy on exposition, and particularly this episode, but the action keeps moving in interesting ways, so the episode isn’t near as slow as it might be.
- Lain > Evangelion when it comes to the “inside your head / determine fate of all humanity” endings.
And that’s it for our 20th anniversary series for Lain! Thank you for joining along. If you missed any of our articles, feel free to browse through our Lain 20th Anniversary series, which also includes an interview with Jasmine Rodgers of Boa and the remaining episodic posts for the show. You can also stream Serial Experiments Lain on Crunchyroll.