The following contains spoilers for the premiere of Blade Runner: Black Lotus—S1E1, “City of Angels” and S1E2, “All We Are Not,” on Adult Swim, and also references the Blade Runner movies.
Welcome, dear reader, as we begin to review the Adult Swim series Blade Runner: Black Lotus with Episode 1, “City of Angels,” and Episode 2, “All We Are Not.” Black Lotus takes place in 2032, falling between the two live-action movies, Blade Runner (set in 2019) and Blade Runner 2049. More importantly, it falls a decade after the animated movie Blade Runner: Black Out 2022. At the end of Black Out, it is stated that the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt after replicant production was banned, with the Wallace Corporation stepping in to buy them up and restart replicant production a decade later, i.e. the “now” timeframe of Black Lotus.
We start out with a close up picture of an eye, a nice nod to the original movie. We’d presume this is Elle’s eye, but it is blue, and everywhere else it appears she has brown eyes. The dome of a gilded cage is reflected in the eye, which we will see more of in later flashbacks. There are blue skies overhead, a rarity in the Blade Runner universe. Someone looms over her, but before we can even think to try to make out any details, we switch to Elle waking up in the open back of a self-driving semi-truck. She asks herself, “where am I?” and we get the title card: LOS ANGELES OCTOBER 2032.
Elle has lost her memory. It’s a little tropey, but an interesting twist perhaps on replicants and the importance of their implanted memories. She does appear to have implanted memories, though of a distant past. One in which there were trees in Los Angeles and actual daylight could be seen during the day. The only other clue she has to her past is a video recorder that was lying next to her in the trailer, but the device is locked and needs a 6-digit code.
As Elle naively works her way through the city to her “home” address, she attracts the attention of the local neighborhood gangbangers. They corner her in an alley and try to take the device. While defending herself, she gets cut across the nose and has a flashback to a different attacker telling her to “fight back” in the desert. This seems to activate her unrealized fighting skills, and she proceeds to beat the crap out of the three of them, until finally one pulls a gun and she flees.
At last, she finds the address, but everything in the neighborhood has changed. A younger Doc Badger (from Blade Runner 2049) befriends her and she makes a deal with him. He gets the video recorder opened and she’ll make sure the gang doesn’t bother him. She just needs to borrow a katana from his shop. The gang is waiting this time in greater numbers, but Elle proceeds to slice and dice her way through them, eventually killing the boss and telling the remaining members to leave Doc alone. She has more flashbacks to the desert during the fight, ending with her killing the man who was taunting her.
Back at the shop though, Doc can’t open the device, but he knows someone who can. He takes Elle to a very familiar looking apartment complex, to see Joseph (or just “J” as Doc calls him). Joseph is passed out drunk, but he knows his stuff, as we see that he unlocks the device in just a few seconds. However, he lies to Doc and Elle that it’s going to take a while and tells them to get comfortable.
Watching a news story on TV, Elle recognizes Senator Bannister in another flashback to the desert. Also recognizing the hotel in the backdrop of the news story, she snatches away the video recorder and makes her way there. She is just in time to see the Senator depart, not wanting the miss the “main event.” Elle follows him to a warehouse, taking out guards left and right to make it to the Senator’s box seat. The main event turns out to be a cage match, with two replicants fighting to the death.
In her confrontation with Bannister, Elle finds out that she is a replicant. Fresh off the assembly line just last week, in fact. The Senator and his friend Hooper, the man Elle killed, were part of a safari hunting replicants for sport. “More fun than shooting an animal,” as he puts it. The Senator puts up a better fight than any of his body guards, but ultimately Elle pushes him off the balcony to his death below.
Back at his penthouse, Niander Wallace, Sr., the CEO of Wallace Corporation, is discussing business with his son, Niander Wallace, Jr. We learn that Junior is working on a new memory product that promises “fascinating results” in time. Wallace gets a phone call, notifying him of the Senator’s death. No doubt, their relationship led to Wallace Corporation being able to restart the production of replicants. The Senator, of course, reaping the benefits of replicant hunts and cage matches on the side.
The police descend upon the warehouse, and Elle catches the attention of Officer Davis. She has to let Elle go, trusting the dragnet surrounding the area will vet the suspect, but not before catching glimpse of Elle’s black lotus tattoo. Elle tries to duck away down an alley, but is spotted. As she makes her getaway, she is beset with a flurry of flashbacks from the hunt and the two realities intermingle to her panicked confusion. She manages to escape the police and finds herself on a rooftop—where Joseph is somehow waiting for her. He raises a gun and shoots Elle, knocking her to the ground.
Black Out was the fan favorite of the three animated Blade Runner shorts that were released in 2017 prior to Blade Runner 2049. Many of the same folks involved with Black Out are also behind Black Lotus. So there was initially a bit of excitement about this first foray of the IP into the television series format. That excitement had died down quite a bit as trailers have been released.
The animation on the background scenery is beautiful, and they do hit the right mark on capturing the look of the original film, but not quite the feel. It’s somehow missing something. Just not gritty enough, perhaps? The soundtrack is full of modern electronica pop that appeals to virtually no one in the fan community, however its songs are relegated to the opening and closing credits only. The score that plays during the episode is hitting a Vangelis vibe quite nicely, and might turn out to be the highlight of the show.
The big complaint though is the animation style of the people. There is no doubt that it is falling just on the wrong side of the uncanny valley, with apt comparisons being made to The Polar Express. The people look plastic and the body-capture movements are often jarringly clunky. That said, upon second viewing I found myself noticing it less, and it could turn out to be something we’ll get used to as the series progresses. Perhaps it is even fitting that everyone looks fake in a world where we’re always wondering who is human and who is not.
Overall, for me, the jury is still out. There’s definite potential here, but I want to see where they go once they (hopefully) expand past the tropey premise of reconstructing Elle’s memories. The background is very Blade Runner, but the foreground has yet to come into focus enough for me to be sure yet. We’ll see what the weeks ahead have in store for us.
That’s all for this week. Please let us know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below.
All images courtesy of Adult Swim