Saturday, February 25, 2012


And now for a completely dated point that I've always felt deserved some attention. During my Exile on Netflix, I caught up on Sarah Connor Chronicles, a middling sci-fi show created for the purpose of hurting Joss Whedon by making Summer Glau unavailable for S1 of Dollhouse.

With no particular summary of the larger plot, lobotomized T-800 unit John Henry, wired into a large mainframe, has killed an employee while diverting power to his own system during a power outage. His keeper, played by the delightful Shirley Manson, has asked our favorite badass FBI agent to consult on creating a moral code for the pleasantly amoral ex-Terminator.

"You want to give it commands," he says. "Start with ten."

As a viewer, I always thought the decalogue was a strange place to go with this. FBI agent is, presumably, a Christian, and Jesus' One Commandment would frankly make a lot more sense here. But instead, he suggests ten. To interpret, I've gone to the KJV, because it seems likely enough to be the source he's thinking of:

1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Who is "me"? In this scenario? The corporation? Shirley Manson? It's unclear why a machine would benefit from an allegiance to the God of Israel, or how he'd be able to infer such an obligation.

2) Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, etc.

Humans, frankly, haven't been entirely consistent with this one. I'm not sure what we should be worried John Henry might do. Does anyone else have nightmarish sci-fi plotlines about robots making graven images?

3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Humans have interpreted this one quite oddly, but again, I'm very unclear how John Henry COULD break it, or what might happen if he did.

4) Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.

If this is interpreted the way Orthodox Judaism did, it could present a real problem when John Henry has to commit suicide on Friday evening.

5) Honor thy father and thy mother.

John Henry has neither of these. He'd probably find the idea confusing.

6) Thou shalt not kill.

This is the only one anyone's actually worried about. Good call to include it.

7) Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

Scratch that, this is also a major concern.

8) Neither shalt thou steal.
I suppose this represents a concern, to the extent that John Henry is more or less impossible to intimidate with violence, and therefore largely immune to human law enforcement efforts. It's just unclear what we might worry about him stealing. He's attached to a building, for fuck's sake.

9) Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
No neighbors. Well, maybe Shirley Manson, but come on. Her own kid doesn't trust her.

10) Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

I'm not sure John Henry can even do this. It requires a fairly complex grasp of human psychology to understand how we can do this.

In conclusion, we have two, maybe three commandments that matter, and a lot of filler. Not a good program there, Mr. Decalogue.

Still, at least we don't have to worry about the robot killing machines cheating on their wives. That's a load off my mind.

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