I recently finished watching (er…binging) Jonathan Nolan’s Person of Interest. I won’t spoil anything—it’s five seasons, highly recommended, available on Netflix, etc.
One notable feature is that the writers went into the final season with more than an inkling that it would be the final season. As such, when the series ends, it ends. The finale does not lack for, er, finality.
What surprised me was how much I was affected emotionally. Whenever this happens, I try and discern why.
It will not reveal too much, I think, to say that while the show is about a lot of things, the part that gets you where you live is its treatment of relationships. Everyone in the cast has been through hell, and they have mostly gotten out of it by virtue of their association with each other.
And it is hell. Recurring themes of the show are guilt, loss, despair, and isolation. No character escapes.
But, in the end, this only serves to throw the…well, not happy, exactly, but good portions of the show into stark relief. Having seen them at some very low lows, the characters’ achieving merely “medium” becomes that much more meaningful.
And meaning is the thing, isn’t it? As opposed to happiness. If the ruling progressive order represents a refrain of “Hey man, just be happy! Whatever you want—fake affirmation (social media), fake pleasure (porn), or fake achievement (video games), it’s yours! Every circuit in your brain—there’s an app for that!” then Reaction (at its best) represents a refusal to disconnect from the real world, and instead seeks to take a risk and attempt to live in and improve it.
Even this is a victory. Moving from pleasure to sorrow certainly doesn’t feel great, but sorrow (as opposed to simple pain) is at least conscious.
There’s a strange feeling that occurs when leaving a world that, though now inconsequential, left its mark on us. It’s evoked by the end of Inception; I felt it on the plane home from my two-year mission; I suspect it occurs immediately before and after death. It’s not exactly happy or sad; more of an attempt to grapple with the enormity of what we’ve just experienced.
Cyberpunk was the prediction that, contrary to the shiny Jetsons flying-car-and-atom-power utopian future, technology and capitalism would dissolve our social structures, atomize us, and destroy meaning. Post-cyberpunk might be described as the “Alright, so then what?” response, pointing out that despite this, humans will continue to be human and crave meaning. It’s no accident, I think, that this genre is popular among a motley internet group of tech-awares dissatisfied with modern malaise.
Go love someone.