Suletta Mercury, Part II: Of Maxims, Mothers, & Murder

There’s a meme going around these days featuring Miorine, Suletta and the caption: “Daddy issues make you a people pleaser. Mommy issues make you, like, a sociopath.” And after the post-credit scene of the final episode, things kind of look that way. In a few short moments, Suletta Mercury—that lovable ball of social anxiety in the form of a space tanuki—becomes a monster, splatting a man like a tomato with her Gundam. It is horrific and chilling. And it is Suletta’s mother, Prospera Mercury, who is behind it.

But what is most disturbing is not just that Prospera manipulates her daughter into killing, but rather how she does it. She does it not through coercion or threats, and not even through passive aggression or gaslighting; instead, Prospera uses Suletta’s own deepest values and the meanings by which she lives to convince her to kill. That is, she uses Suletta’s spirituality. At its heart, G-Witch is a tale of spiritual abuse. 

Suletta may not be a member of an organized religion, but she lives by a very clear set of values that define her understanding of the world and her place in it. Suletta’s gospel is this: If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two. And for eleven episodes, it serves her well! It is a guiding light, granting her the courage to overcome her anxieties. It sees her rise victorious and become a hero. What is more, Suletta is faithful to her values; she is no hypocrite! Time and again, she chooses to stand by her word and walk the walk. And it bears fruit: others see her bravery and they marvel. One, in particular, is deeply affected by Suletta’s example: Miorine sees in Suletta a radically different way of approaching life’s problems and is convicted to stop trying to run away and instead face her giants, adopting Suletta’s maxim for herself. For eleven episodes, G-Witch is a heart-warming story of the positive impact you can have by walking out your faith before others. 

And then it isn’t. Because in episode 12, Suletta’s values become the very means by which she is ensnared in her mother’s schemes and manipulated into killing. How could this happen?

The short answer is that Prospera has been grooming Suletta for this her entire life. And she’s done so by two primary means: by keeping Suletta isolated from genuine relationship, which is a classic tactic of psychological and emotional abuse; and by exploiting her authority in Suletta’s life to control how her daughter interprets and applies the “gospel” she raised her to follow, which is what makes this scenario a case of spiritual abuse specifically, a subset of emotional and psychological abuse. Let’s take a look at how Prospera uses these two tactics. 

First off, there’s a reason why Suletta doesn’t know how to do genuine relationship, and it’s because she has never experienced it. Suletta is seventeen before she attends school for the first time and interacts with others her own age. Up until then, her relational world revolved around her Gundam, Aerial, and her mother, who has kept her tucked away on Mercury. Aerial is, of course, a giant robot suit who (so far) is incapable of communicating. Meanwhile, Suletta and Prospera don’t exactly enjoy a mother-daughter relationship. There is neither intimacy nor trust shared between them. When Suletta tries to confide in her mother in episode 11, phoning her in the midst of heartbreak, Prospera is bemused and simply tells her to come join her and Aerial in the hangar bay. The implicit message here is that Suletta does not need any other relationships, but should rely only on her “family.” In Prospera’s view, Suletta’s purpose in life is restricted to piloting Aerial. So much for intimacy. 

When it comes to trust, their relationship is more a matter of authority and obedience; trust doesn’t even enter the picture. For instance, Prospera deceived Suletta for her entire life regarding Aerial’s true nature as a Gundam, not even trusting her with the truth when sending her out into the world. This is particularly significant since Gundams are not only illegal but also life-threatening to the pilot. Prospera has placed Suletta in double jeopardy with breezy unconcern. (She has also hidden Suletta’s own identity from her: Suletta is far too young to be the little girl from the prologue episode, which means that she is either an orphan whom Prospera has adopted or, more likely, an enhanced person like Elan, cloned from Prospera’s real daughter, Eri/aERIel. But I digress.)

For Suletta’s part, when she catches her mother in the lie about Aerial, she is surprised and a little confused initially, but ultimately remains unaffected by the kind of revelation that should have shaken her world. In contrast, when Miorine uncovered her father’s hypocrisy, she rebelled against his authority vociferously and has yet to forgive him the breach of trust, years later. Instead of mutual trust, which can be broken, Suletta’s relationship with Prospera is rooted in obedience and awe toward an authority figure. It is more of a master-slave dynamic than a familial relationship. 

This is where the intertextuality between G-Witch and Shakespeare’s The Tempest is quite telling: Prospera is clearly a take on the petulant, tyrannical Prospero, who is nevertheless charming in his own way (much like Prospera, in spite of the carnage and exploitation); while mobile suit Aerial, though as yet undeveloped as a character, echoes the dutiful, hardworking servant Aerial, who seeks freedom through willing service (basically a Gundam!). But the question that irked me all season was, who is Suletta? After the post-credit scene, this is now clear: she is the monstrous Caliban and G-Witch is the monster’s origin story. Though I say this half in jest, what’s interesting about Shakespeare’s Caliban is not only that he was misused by Prospero, but also that he worshipped his (absent) mother as his god, and we see a similar, albeit muted tendency in Suletta. She does not question her mother, but takes her word as truth; she obeys with barely any hesitation, whether it be a matter of wearing a certain hair accessory, shrugging off a profound betrayal, or pushing away her instinctual moral panic at seeing her mother kill several people. Suletta is following a false god.

Here’s where we get to Prospera’s second tactic: having isolated Suletta from meaningful relationship, Prospera also manipulates her spirituality, that is, her deepest values and the meanings by which she lives. Spiritual abuse is characterized by the following: manipulation and exploitation; enforced accountability; censorship of decision-making; requirements for secrecy and silence, and for obedience to the abuser; coercion to conform, creating an environment where questions cannot be asked; control through the use of sacred texts or teaching (in Suletta’s case, the maxim); the suggestion that the abuser has a ‘divine’ position (Suletta seems to have inferred this for herself, idolizing her mother); isolation as a means of punishment (or simply a lifestyle, in Suletta’s case); and superiority and elitism (Prospera’s manner virtually oozes with these things!). Every single one of these metrics applies to Prospera’s role as matriarch of the Mercury family.

But the pivotal piece in all this is the family maxim, and the fact that it is Prospera who monopolizes its meaning, interpretation, and application. This is the tool she uses to manipulate Suletta into becoming a willing perpetrator of violence. Let’s take a closer look at the pivotal scene in episode 12. 

Prospera begins by reminding Suletta of their maxim, but she reinterprets its meaning. When Suletta first explained her family’s saying to Miorine, she defined the “one” as saving your own life, and the “two” as gaining experience and pride. But here, in this pivotal moment, Prospera casually twists the maxim to justify her lethal actions. In doing so, she reduces the moral complexity of the situation to a clearcut binary: follow the maxim or do not follow the maxim. Be faithful or break faith—which would also mean losing everything Suletta knows, from her relationship with Prospera, to her worldview, to her identity, since all of these things center on living by the maxim. Prospera denies Suletta the time to think, immediately shutting down any discussion and silencing Suletta’s half-formed protests, effectively censoring her decision-making. She then enforces accountability, reinterpreting Suletta’s positionality and claiming that Suletta is now faced with the same situation as Prospera just now, wherein moving forward means using deadly force. As the final convincer, Prospera implicitly threatens Suletta with isolation, telling her that her use of violence is what will protect her most valued relationships. This interaction alone hits all the markers of spiritual abuse. And so it is no surprise that Suletta agrees that she must go forth and kill.

There’s something more going on here though as well, something that raises the stakes for Suletta. You see, only minutes before this encounter (albeit in episode 11), Suletta fails to live up to her maxim. Quite spectacularly so. In fact, a significant portion of episode 11 consists of Suletta running to gain one, rather than moving forward. She runs when she feels excluded by the Earthian gang; she runs when there is no packed lunch for her due to a misunderstanding; she runs from Miorine repeatedly—over the tomatoes, the keychains, and so many other things that all add up to perceived rejection in her naive mind. She even hides in the loo! And when Miorine confronts her, Suletta runs again, ducking and diving through the low-gravity corridors in a bumbling chase sequence. Suletta does not move forward and gain two. She runs.

Even during the eventual discussion with Miorine, Suletta fails to move forward in any meaningful way. True, she voices her feelings of hurt and exclusion, but after this initial interjection, she remains silent and frozen, letting Miorine set the agenda and even tell her how to respond to their discussion. Then the station is attacked. And so Suletta is denied the opportunity to move forward relationally by displaying courage in her conversation with Miorine. In other words, she is prevented from realigning herself with her values. 

This means that Suletta enters episode 12 in a state of disconnection, or at best, of interrupted reconnection, both spiritually and relationally. This leaves her particularly vulnerable to Prospera’s manipulations. And so when Prospera effectively offers her the opportunity to reassert her values, proving her adherence to their family maxim and her faithfulness to Miorine, her mother, and Aerial, there is really no choice. Suletta’s response is a foregone conclusion.

Hence Suletta’s sociopathic grin after killing a man. Suletta is so jubilant as she lands in that puddle of gore because, from her perspective, she has just reconnected to her values and her core relationships, all in one decisive splat of her Gundamed hand. She is oblivious to the horror of her actions because all that she sees is that she was finally able to live up to her maxim again, and to do so in Miorine’s sight as well, redeeming herself from her earlier failure. All is now well in Suletta’s broken, abused heart. Only, of course, it isn’t.

Here we see the full heinousness of spiritual abuse. This kind of manipulation goes far beyond victimization and exploitation, beyond disempowerment and isolation. It also distorts the entire value system of the abused person, and as a result, can very often implicate them in harming others. This is what happens with Suletta, whose morality hinges on someone else’s definition of right and wrong. This also means that it can be easy for outside observers to judge the victims of spiritual abuse—to blame them for their complicity, and castigate them for failing to stand up for themselves or others. This is certainly Miorine’s reaction to Suletta, and I’ll admit that it was mine initially too.   

Spiritual abuse is not something that we talk about very often. Physical or sexual abuse within a religious organization, yes—thankfully the taboo on these deplorable abuses of power has largely been broken. But conversations about the manipulation of people’s values and belief systems in ways that cause harm to them and often cause them to harm others as well? Not so much. How do we even begin such a conversation? How do we identify that this is what has happened? There are no easy answers to these questions, so it can be tempting just to shelve the issue.

And yet, Jesus spoke out so fiercely against spiritual abuse. In comparison, scripture doesn’t record any instances where he addressed physical or domestic abuse directly (though his teachings absolutely make it clear that such abuse is indefensible and immoral, no matter the context); but he condemns spiritual abuse repeatedly, reserving some of his most strident criticism and vivid warnings for this form of exploitation. 

Take, for instance, Matthew 23: an entire chapter calling out the abusive religious authorities of his day. We tend to read this passage simply as an indictment against hypocrisy, but it goes deeper than that. Jesus is calling out the spiritual abuse committed by the scribes and Pharisees. He describes how they “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders” (v. 4), making any convert “twice as much a child of hell” as they are themselves (v. 15). Jesus calls them snakes and a brood of vipers for the way in which they dare to define how to interpret and apply God’s law, picking and choosing whatever suits them best.  

The epistle of James picks up on this theme, warning that those who take up the privilege of teaching others also bear a heavier burden of accountability for their actions and words. This passage, and its emphasis on the power of the tongue, makes it clear that there is no free pass for the abuser who “only” uses words to manipulate and deceive his or her victims.  

Why indeed, Prospera?

But by far the most graphic warning comes in Matthew 18: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. […] Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!” The phrase “put a stumbling block before them” is the Greek word skandalizo, which can also be translated as “to cause to sin” or “to abuse.” It embodies the concept of spiritual abuse. But that’s not all. This warning comes immediately before two very well-known, particularly graphic verses about sin:

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:8-9

These verses are usually considered as if they stand alone, but their context is actually focused on a very specific sin: the sin of spiritual abuse, of manipulating and misleading people, causing them to stumble in their faith and commit sin in turn. Immediately after the warning in verses 8-9, Jesus reiterates that we must be mindful not to corrupt “one of these little ones.” It is spiritual abuse that Jesus is talking about as he emphasizes that we’re better off maiming ourselves than sinning.

Jesus’s condemnation of spiritual abuse makes sense. It was, after all, an act of spiritual manipulation that first introduced sin into the world, as the serpent in the Garden sought to redefine the meaning, interpretation, and application of God’s words for Eve. We see this pattern again during Jesus’s own temptation when the enemy uses scripture in his attempt to undermine Jesus’s identity and relationship with God. So although we may shy away from addressing the difficult topic of spiritual abuse, Jesus did not, and God the Father takes it very seriously. Stories like Suletta’s are like a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling us to pay attention; calling us to press into this uncomfortable conversation. The conversation is beginning, as with this hard-hitting podcast series from Christianity Today. And we need to join in.

So, is Suletta a sociopath with mommy issues? A monstrous Caliban? Is she to blame? On one level, yes she is. She has taken a life and arguably done so without cause and with shocking ease. Yet, she was a child when all this began, and her mother was her teacher, instructing her in the way she should go. It was her mother who set the stumbling block before her that day and caused her to sin. And as such, Prospera must be held to higher account than Suletta. 

As the final moments of the season play out, Suletta finds herself at a crossroads. These crossroads are not whether or not to follow her mother’s prompting to kill; that is a foregone conclusion. Instead, Suletta’s crossroads come after the final moment of the post-credit scene, as she registers the look of horror in Miorine’s eyes.

Will she face the discomfort and confusion Miorine’s expression will doubtless stir in her, and take the time to reconsider her actions, her maxim, and her mother? Or will she shut down and run, silencing the questions, holding fast to her mother’s teachings? Right now, I don’t think Suletta is capable of changing her views. I think she’ll have a wilderness period first before the scales fall from her eyes and she is able to see the true heart of her gospel and dispel the lies her mother has whispered in her ear. I just hope she doesn’t lose her faith along the way. 


Mobile Suit Gundam: the Witch from Mercury is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

claire

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