Serial Experiments Lain Episode 2: A Social Tragedy and Accela

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The first episode established the sense of seemingly paradoxical alienation that comes from a world now interconnected through the Internet – Chisa’s suicide that opens the episode makes a poignant visual remark that although the world may have an instantaneous means of communication through Internet protocols (cell phones allow for texting, and computers can communicate across great distances), it can still be an oppressively lonely environment where few people have the inclination to reach out. This reflects the life of Lain herself; she rarely communicates with her father, aside from a somewhat curt short conversation where the father helps set up her Wired computer at home, and that alienation makes Lain feel alone, abandoned in a world where technological advancements allow for greater communication between individuals and cultures but people do not capitalize on it. She is a bit of an enigma narrative-wise – the only people she speaks to regularly are friends from school, and her reserved nature contrasts with the outspoken and brash “Lain” seen attending the club Cyberia early in the episode. That “other Lain” who appears briefly during the initial Cyberia scene can be seen from the perspective of an unnamed man who consumes a mysterious substance called Accela – comments displayed in the episode describe Accela as something that has the same legal restrictions and difficulties for access that drugs have, but is technically not classified as an illicit substance.

As the shows depicts Accela’s effects on the man’s perception of time, it also reveals how menacing and frightening it can become to casual users – the man ultimately kills himself after shooting two others at episode’s end, and the opening bits of dialogue speak of some mysterious person pressuring another to agree to taking Accela. This reveals the nature of social expectations and how external pressure can override one’s initial reservations; the man who swallowed the “drug” may have exhibited a reluctance to taking Accela, but felt intimidated to try it at least once, ultimately becoming a victim to social coercion. Cultures that achieve a significant degree of stratification and social mobility (such as what can be seen in modern societies) may also develop a concomitant idea of what it means to be accepted or cool within different demographics – pressure to excel socially and be perceived as a welcome member of the “cool crowd” can persuade people to try dangerous behavior they may otherwise avoid under different circumstances, and the man shown here with the Accela may have folded to take the “drug” as a means of demonstrating he’s cool enough to be around the hip crowd. Clubs like Cyberia can have spurious behavior, anyway; in this particular case, it shows that social pressure to conform or appear “cool” in the eyes of one’s peers can convince someone that an illegal or immoral act can be a good means of achieving social status, and loneliness can be a mitigating factor in one’s receptiveness to it. One of the pieces of dialogue (shown as text on the screen) reads “Cyberia? I don’t come here because I want to” – this may seem unusual, but it helps reveal the undercurrent of engaging in bad behavior to either conform to a standard of cool or avoid consequences. Whatever his motivation may be, the man is framed as being alone, isolated from everyone else; the other attendants of the club appear to be together, either as couples or people enjoying the same activity (dancing, in this case), while the lone drug user in the corner takes Accella without any company.

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Social isolation, and a need for companionship and relationships in a world still struggling with an ability to communicate (despite a technological implement seemingly removing the physical barrier of distance that would prevent others from meeting in real life) can influence people in profound ways – places like clubs appeal to the social aspect of humanity, where one can possibly communicate with many others through a shared interest. The Internet, which became a monumental piece of cultural connection in the 1990s and later, serves this same communal element; people can speak freely in an environment with little to no real social restrictions, for although traditional rules of engagement still ostensibly apply to the Internet, people feel as if they can behave more openly and sincerely in places like forums. In fact, the “other Lain” we see in the episode represents a more wild and sociable version of her – this person, whoever it may be, displays the possibility of Lain having a more open attitude, being someone who has no reservations about having a rough attitude. She only appears for a few seconds (and through the perspective of the drug user), but this brief image contrasts severely with the introverted and quiet Lain we see for most of the series; it’s as if Lain can be a different person at different times, depending on how comfortable and confident she feels in expressing herself. Lain herself is shown as mostly alone in this episode; shots of her walking to school or using the Wired computer show her practically without friends, and the mysterious “men in black” who appear in one scene add an aura of conspiracy to the series. Who are these men in suits that watch Lain as she makes her way to school, and why are they so intent on being around her?

The whole issue of the “other Lain” may speak to a breaking down of social expectations and the ramifications of the Wired seemingly being able to influence reality – that the drug user kills two others, and then himself, briefly approaches Lain before doing so, and he yells about a “scattered god” and how the Wired should not interfere with the “real world”. His seemingly hysterical rant reflects the deleterious effects of socialization and the pressure to function in a society that seems to be fundamentally broken – drugs are rampant, people behave in all sorts of ways, and the enigmatic Wired network seems to be bleeding into reality with remarkable ease. The “other Lain” who appears in the club may very well be a prescient view of Lain as she might behave without social inhibitions – one of Lain’s classmates remarks that young people patronize Cyberia at night, which is unusual in the face of drug use. The classmates she hangs out with see this doppelganger as her social opposite, and describe her as such; that someone so physically similar to her can be so severe and aggressive in public is remarkable. One of hte classmates even facetiously remarks that someone like Lain must “do a 180” personality-wise when at a club – thus, we have two possible social states for Lain, one reserved, the other sociable and brusque. It might reflect a danger of showing a much more aggressive self when one dispenses with social graces; Lain has the capacity to display a wilder side when caution is not an issue, if this other girl shows any indication.

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The final scene shows the tragic consequences of the drug user seemingly rebelling against a mysterious force that is coercing him – he somehow recognizes Lain, connecting her to an unknown “scattered god” and the ubiquitous Wired that forced him to act in a particular way. Lain’s comment of “we are all connected” reinforces the Wired’s status as a social network that connects everyone equally; no one can seemingly escape its grasp, and people can be intimidated into committing such horrible crimes as murder rather easily. The man unfortunately took his own life, perhaps to escape his fate – to him, Lain likely represents the dangerous side of the Wired, where people can be manipulated on a whim by someone with little regard for social expectations. Connections can run deep, and one’s psyche can be irreparably damaged by seemingly random encounters – people can exhibit far greater social influence than they might realize, and this man likely met Lain somewhere previously. Devastating events such as this murder-suicide reveal the dangers of social upheaval – one’s entire life can be upended in an instant, without chance of recovery.

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