Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots promised a hardcore series for “mature, messed-up” adults. The first season, comprised of 18 short films, running anywhere from five to 20 minutes in length, deals with topics ranging from a sentient, planet-conquering dairy product to various forms of supernatural and technological war.
Produced by Tim Miller (Deadpool) and David Fincher (Alien 3), Love, Death & Robots delivers on the “mature, messed-up” vibe in some of its shorts, while others explore more nuanced stories. But a pressing question remains: Where exactly do the individual aspects of the title come in? Which of these 18 shorts should you watch if you aren’t into hardcore gory violence or gratuitous exploitation, and you just want some good old-fashioned love, death, and robots?
After plowing through season 1, we’ve broken down each short film by those categories, as well as their general enjoyment factor. Beware: our takes are mediumcore and for mature, mildly messed-up adults. (Also, they contain a few spoilers.)
In the underground world of “beastie” fights, Sonnie is unbeatable — as long as she keeps her edge.
Love: After a gladiator-esque “beastie” fight, in which two monstrous creatures battle each other to the death while being controlled via mind-link by their handlers, there’s a racy seduction between Sonnie and a younger woman. The scene is full of slightly uncomfortable lingering shots of each woman’s body that make it hyper-voyeuristic. There’s something resembling love between Sonnie and her “beastie.”
Death: There’s plenty of death in “Sonnie’s Edge.” Maybe not in quantity, but in excruciating, close-up detail. In addition to the brutal “beastie” fight, where the monsters tear into each other and don’t hold back at all, someone gets their face essentially ripped off and stomped beyond recognition. Two more people die in equally gruesome ways.
Robots: Sonnie has a connection with her “beastie” and a bunch of biomedical enhancements, but that’s the closest thing we can count as robots.
Does it work? The series’ opening short functions much in the way that that first episode of Black Mirror (the one with the pig sex) does, startling viewers right away. Outside of those shock-value moments, the handling of sensitive content (e.g. a grossly sensationalized gang-rape revenge fantasy) is a little clunky.
Long after the fall of humanity, three robots embark on a sightseeing tour of a post-apocalyptic city.
Love: We don’t get much romantic love, so much as the love of three friends going on vacation together. We never learn why these three robots are friends, or what sort of occupations they’re taking PTO from, but they clearly have a bond.
Death: “Three Robots” takes place in a reality where humans are wiped out. The characters stumble across many human corpses that have rotted away to skeletons. Since they are tourists, the bodies make excellent destinations.
Robots: Yes! Three, to be exact. They each have different functionalities, designs, and personalities, with an interesting relationship to the human world. It’s fun to see what they think about humanity, and how the world has changed since mankind’s downfall.
Does it work? It’s hilarious to watch the three robots rationalize some of the more bizarre things about humanity. This short is a light-hearted, welcome break if you decided to start with “Sonnie’s Edge.” Even though it’s humorous, the short still manages to make a commentary on the human condition. Also, there are cats. What more could you want?
After seeing a brutal murder, a woman flees from the killer through the streets of a surreal city.
Love: Since there’s very little actual love in Love, Death, and Robots, we’re also counting “sex and nudity” as love for the purposes of this survey. After fleeing from a murder scene, the main character of “The Witness” stumbles to her workplace, which appears to be a kinky club of leather-clad denizens. She’s a dancer, so in addition to the background characters in full-on fetish-wear, there is a very long scene of the main character performing a sexy dance. Wrapped in a long blanket, she dances until it eventually comes off to reveal her nude body. She spends the rest of the short running for her life with her boobs out, because as we know, this short is for mature adults.
Death: There isn’t a lot of it, but the main character witnessing a particularly brutal murder through her window — a gunshot followed by a beating — kickstarts the plot. She runs away from the scene, but the murderer is on her tail.
Does it work? The storyline is enthralling, except in the really long sexy-dance scene, where its grip loosens a bit. “The Witness” has one of the best twists of the whole batch.
A community of farmers use their homemade mechs to defend their families from an alien invasion.
Love: There’s camaraderie and love between the farmers, as they band together to protect their land and animals from aliens. Out of these farmers, there are two couples, showcasing the first instances of romantic love in this anthology.
Death: The farmers kill a bunch of aliens, of course, and see a few human casualties as they hold off the swarm of aliens threatening to destroy their farms.
Robots: Do you consider mechs to be robots? Well get ready for MECHS USED BY FARMERS TO STOP ALIEN INVASIONS! HECK YEAH! Three mechs in total. One piloted by a middle-aged farmer named Hank, one piloted by a younger man, and one by a badass old lady who doesn’t take shit. Hank’s wife serves as their mission control.
Does it work? The whole concept of farmers piloting giant mechs is the sort of offbeat, zany idea that really shines in an anthology. The butt-kicking action has as much fun as it has heart and tension.
“Sucker of Souls”
Unleashed by an archaeological dig, a bloodthirsty demon battles a team of mercenaries armed with… cats?
Love: Perhaps the older archaeologist has a love for ancient history? The mercenaries tagging along on the dig are just in it for the money. The bloodthirsty demon they accidentally awaken has a love for blood and gore.
Death: There is, indeed, death! Particularly gory and body-horror-filled death, not super-surprising, given that the murderer is an ancient demon. All in all, a person’s skin ripping off his body and his skull exploding is pretty shocking. The death prompts the rest of the characters to appropriately freak out and try to defend themselves.
Robots: None. But there are cats. Much like The Mummy, this unholy creature is quite shocked by felines.
Does it work? The creepy monster combined with the claustrophobic setting of the tombs makes for a chilling experience. The animation is one of few 2D-animated films of the bunch and is quite lovely — while being scary as hell.
“When the Yogurt Took Over”
After scientists accidentally breed super-intelligent yogurt, it soon hungers for world domination.
Love: Not particularly. Does a sentient yogurt’s love for world domination count?
Death: Alluded to as world leaders ignore the yogurt’s warnings and the world crumbles.
Robots: No, but the sentient yogurt that may or may not want to take over the world and destroy humanity is its own form of artificial intelligence.
Does it work? This is perhaps the shortest and most bizarre of all the Love, Death, and Robots installments. It’s moderately funny, and ultimately gets quite bonkers. Extra-scary if you’re lactose intolerant.
“Beyond the Aquila Rift”
Awakening after traveling light years off course, a ship’s crew struggles to discover just how far they’ve come.
Love: This is a love story. One of the travelers who awakens from his light-speed-induced coma reunites with an old flame of his on a desolate space station. As they rekindle their romance, they launch into a very long sex scene that involves champagne, multiple surfaces, and a whole lot of grunting.
Death: In a certain way. No one explicitly dies, but death might be better than what does happen…
Robots: Briefly, there is an AI dispatcher. It’s this dispatcher’s error that catapults the crew off-course and veers them to the isolated space station.
Does it work? “Beyond the Aquila Rift” is hard sci-fi comfort food, coupled with overly long CG sex. It doesn’t necessarily rock the boat on its concept, but it has a well-structured, engaging narrative.
The son of a spirit hunter forges a bond with a shape-shifting huli jing.
Love: There is a powerful, pure bond between the two main characters, which is easy to forget as the short pelts viewers with ridiculous nudity. The huli jing shifts from a fox to a human, and spends a lot of time in her half-transformed nude form (where, for the record, she’s the same age as the narrator, meaning she’s a young teen at most). Eventually, as an adult, she’s forced to resort to prostitution after Britain eradicates the magic from Hong Kong, so the short shows both her adult naked form and a glimpse of the naked man who has bought her services.
Death: In addition to a few deaths — causes include sword impalement and ripped limbs —the huli jing also recounts the trauma she’s faced. We get a scene where she’s naked and strapped down, subjected to forced body modification without anesthesia, in order to turn her into a perfect cyborg sex machine.
Robots: “Good Hunting” offers a refreshing steampunk take among the more cyberpunk aesthetic of the rest of the series. As the British arrive in China, the industry (and robots) they bring wrecks the natural landscape and magic, forcing change upon all the people. Though his father’s way of life is dying, the main character discovers that he’s pretty handy at fixing up these steam-powered contraptions.
Does it work? This one really emphasizes violence against female characters, bordering on torture-porn when we have to watch the female lead writhe naked as a man saws off her leg. Ultimately, the exploitation aspects detract from the overall tone and message. As with “Sonnie’s Edge” before it, the short muddles a message of revenge by homing in on the heroine’s pain and naked body.
The animation, though, is particularly captivating, partly because it encapsulates a different genre than the rest of the shorts. The Industrial Revolution slowly destroying what makes a land magical and speeding up to where steam-powered robots are possible is fascinating. If you’re one of the more hardcore, messed-up adults out there, perhaps you can witness the stunning word-building and animation and ignore the more brutal elements.
Ugly Dave calls the garbage dump home, and he’s not about to let some city slicker take it away from him.
Love: There’s familial love between Ugly Dave and the creature in the junkyard. Dave also loves his dump.
Death: The creature in the dump ends up killing a few people.
Robots: We’re not sure what the junkyard creature is, but probably not a robot.
Does it work? Take the basic plot of Up — mean city developer wants to move a grumpy old man off his property — add a lotta swearing and a smidgen of death and supernatural creatures, and you get a fun breather between some of the heavier episodes.
Deep in Afghanistan, two Marines with supernatural powers face a threat from one of their own kind.
Love: The two marines at the heart of the story, both werewolves, share a connection, as they’re ostracized from the rest of their unit. They make crude jokes, but they’re always there for each other. They share several long glances, which made me want them to kiss. But they don’t. Still, maybe love.
Death: Werewolf Marine #1 stumbles across a brutally massacred unit, and swears revenge against the wolves responsible. The whole thing culminates in a gory fight to the death.
Does it work? “Shape-Shifters” feels anticlimactic and drawn-out. Pitting werewolves against werewolves undermined the sense of fantastic racism that Werewolf Marine #1 felt at the hands of the normal humans in his unit. You’re never really sure who the bad guy is — are we mad at the humans for being racist against werewolves? Are we mad at the other werewolves for killing Werewolf Marine #2? Are we just mad at everyone? Why are we still cheering for the United States military if they’re mean to Werewolf Marine #1?
It’s long, the animation is not particularly captivating, and there isn’t anything unique about the narrative besides the fantastic racism of the U.S. military toward werewolves.
Stranded in orbit, an astronaut must choose between life and limb before her oxygen runs out.
Love: Respect and friendliness between co-workers, I guess? Alex, the astronaut in question, communicates with another co-worker over the comms as she handles her solo mission. They gripe about how corporate is cutting their funding and only sending one person up at a time. Might be dangerous.
Death: This side of “Helping Hand,” more so than the other shorts, feels like a spoiler, so all I will say is that it is an intense life-or-death situation as Alex floats in orbit, with her suit damaged, and makes some drastic decisions.
Does it work? The high-stakes, life-or-death scenario is gut-wrenching. Think Gravity meets 127 Hours. The narrative is tight and tense. Alex faces pretty intense choices as her oxygen starts to run out, and watching it all unfold is very stressful.
After their car breaks down in the desert, two salesmen take a dreamlike voyage to the dawn of time.
Love: Just friendliness between co-workers who get stranded in the desert. One is older and more world-weary, the other is younger and brash. They bond as they figure out what the heck to do. One of them gets naked as the dreamlike voyage commences, a primordial sea sweeping around them. We won’t say which one.
Death: Yes. The dreamlike voyage gets a little too immersive — and there are consequences.
Robots: Again, none!
Does it work? “Fish Night” is one of the most beautiful works of animation in the anthology, from the golden-swathed desert landscape to the moments when night falls and the dreamlike descent into the dawn of time begins. The final scenes are transcendent. Plotwise, it all kind of drags, but it’s well worth looking at.
After the drop-ship Lucky 13 lost two crews, no pilot would fly her... but rookies don’t get a choice.
Love: The ultimate bond is between a pilot and her ship. A rookie pilot is given an unwanted ship, but she pays it special attention. The ship then grows to care for her and her crew. It’s actually pretty emotional! She refuses to trade it for a new, sleeker one because she trusts that good ol’ Lucky 13 will take care of them. Each time a soldier gets on the ship, they pat 13’s nameplate.
Death: “Lucky 13” does take place during a war, so there are battlefield casualties. The enemies die more often than the protagonists’ allies.
Robots: Depends on how you regard Lucky 13. Draw your own conclusions by the end.
Does it work? “Lucky 13” might make you tear up a little thanks to the most captivating love story out of the whole anthology: a pilot who grows to care for her unloved ship and the ship who grows to care for her crew. Instead of focusing on the brutality of the war at hand — which a lot of these shorts set in a military environment do — “Lucky 13” observes something more specific, and it pays off.
The renowned artist Zima recounts his mysterious past and rise to fame before unveiling his final work.
Love: The love between the enigmatic Zima and his art. According to the tale, Zima spent over a century creating art, starting with large landscapes to giant murals, then shifting to massive blue works of art. Zima details to the reporter narrator later on that, at one point in the past, he had love for a little girl and the robots she created.
Death: “Zima Blue” plays with this in a most masterful way. Saying more would be too much.
Robots: Zima has undergone intense cyborg modification so he can create art on distant planets and in extreme environments; he recounts the story of a girl and her robots.
Does it work? Absolutely, 100 percent. If you watch one short from this collection, it should be this one. “Zima Blue”’s evocative, yet succinct storytelling, coupled with its unique animation style, is the standard I hoped the entire anthology would reach. The story of Zima is fascinating, and it ends with a specific elegiac quality.
A gang of cyborg thieves stage a high-speed heist of a heavily armored convoy.
Love: The gang of cyborg thieves have sharp-tongued repartee that can only come from years of friendship. They clearly care for, maybe even love, their newest recruit.
Death: A high-speed heist, unfortunately, warrants casualties. Since they are cyborgs and they are battling other robots, these casualties come in different ways, involving a lot of metal shattering and explosions.
Robots: Yes! The main crew are all cyborgs and they have a robot buddy who handles their missions from afar.
Does it work? “Blindspot” is probably the least “adult” of the batch, save for some swearing, but that doesn’t detract from it at all — it has the feel of the earlier Samurai Jack seasons, reveling in action without being overly gory, which means the focus can be more on the character dynamics instead of sensationalized blood and guts. The action is pretty tight and taken up to the next level, considering all the characters are cyborgs. Unlike some of the other, more depressing twists in this anthology, the little aha! moment in “Blindspot” turns the mood positive.
A young couple moves into an apartment and finds a lost civilization inside their antique freezer.
Love: The main characters — played photorealistically by Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead — are a couple moving in together. One makes a bad joke about having a lot of sex now that they live together. They celebrate their move with a bottle of wine, which prompts them to open the old ice box left by their landlord, where they find a tiny civilization inside.
Death: As the day goes on, the freezer civilization rapidly progresses through time, which implies lives are lost along the way. Then there’s the cataclysm.
Robots: Not officially, but it’s safe to assume the freezer civilization develops robots as it reaches an advanced technological age.
Does it work? The interaction between the main couple is a little stiff, but this is one of the shorts with a zany concept that you just want to see through. It takes a sec to get going, but once it does, it’s intriguing to see just where the freezer civilization goes and what happens with it.
Want to see Hitler die in a variety of comically fantastic ways? Now you can. Welcome to Multiversity!
Love: A multiple-universe app that lets people see how history would’ve unfolded under different circumstances shows Hitler dying in multiple deranged ways. One involves overstimulation by orgy. This prompts a sexual revolution by a band of sexy aliens, and a whole lotta sex and nudity.
Death: Six alternate deaths of Adolf Hitler! They range from the mundane (getting run over by a carriage) to the ridiculous (that orgy), and each catapults the world into a different set of grandiose situations, culminating in the most ridiculous of them all.
Robots: Surprisingly, yes. One of the deaths involves time-traveling robots.
Does it work? “Alternate Histories” has a very over-the-top and ridiculous sort of humor that might not hit with all audiences. If you’re the type of person to find a race of squids taking over the world as the consequence of Hitler’s death hilarious, it’ll be hilarious. If that’s making you raise your eyebrows, you might find the whole thing a bit cringey.
“The Secret War”
Elite units of the Red Army fight an unholy evil deep in the ancient forests of Siberia.
Love: The soldiers of the Red Army connect on the deepest level as they venture deeper into Siberia. They come upon villages destroyed by demonic ghouls and must band together in order to defeat the ancient evil.
Death: A hell of a lot of it. The ghouls they’re attempting to eliminate have wrought death and destruction across Siberia. Some of the army takes the fall. Some of the demons do. There’s a flashback to the intense dark-magic ritual that awakened these demons, which involves a naked woman being sliced open. (She’s already sliced in the flashback, but we see her guts.) The entire short takes place in World War I, so there’s references to other bloodshed as well.
Does it work? The historical Russian setting makes “The Secret War” click, as is the focus on the supernatural instead of aliens (nothing wrong with aliens; there are just a lot of aliens in this anthology, some better than others). But ultimately, the short drags on, as the battles go on a bit too long. The best scene involves the unit resting by the fire and sharing a quiet moment. Whenever the script focuses on them and the evil they face — instead of the mature, messed-up violence — the short is absorbing.
Love, Death & Robots is currently streaming on Netflix.