What a strange episode to go out on.
The flipside of faking its audience out with four separate episodes that could have served perfectly as a season finale but manifestly and decidedly weren't is that the episode with which the original broadcast run of Sunrise's first Dirty Pair does actually sign off on comes across as more than a little underwhelming. It's an off-week and, annoyingly, it's a week that's off in pretty much all the ways we've already talked ad nauseum about. The closest analogue is “Nostalgic Blues Makes a Killer Soundtrack” (and it's about a murderer to boot) in that it has a handful of really great ideas mixed in with a few too many sour notes to elevate it above mediocrity. My biggest complaint is, as usual, Kei, whose characterization has by this point shot entirely past “less competent than Yuri” and landed square in “lowbrow comic relief, nothing more”. Literally nothing Kei does in this episode either advances the plot or hints at a potential meta-reading: Yuri does all the legwork, figures out the whole case all by herself and her attitude towards her partner can be summed up as “Aw, look! She thinks she's a Trouble Consultant! How cute!”. And then there's Gooley, who's back to patronizing his top agents. And who I am by now beyond sick to death of.
The case itself, on the other hand, is somewhat interesting and the episode has a decent sense of humour, at least towards everything that isn't Kei. There's a serial killer who poses as a salesman going about murdering young woman and carving weird symbols into their forehead. The murders seem to follow a pattern, and the Angels are staked out in a condo that's the next likely target. As they pass the time, they're visited by not one, not two, but three salesmen, plus a police officer, all of whom have stupefyingly obvious motives and means. The first guy is a middle aged pervert who sells lightsaber kitchen knives (yes), the second is a “ladykiller”-type who sells novelty electrified bras and moonlights as a petty thief, and the third is a twelve-year old boy who has a blind hatred of all women because his mother was a bad person. Meanwhile, the police officer comes in midway through the episode to round up the suspects and generally disagree with Yuri's deductions, so he obviously turns out to be the killer. Or rather one of them, as it turns out it's really two twin brothers playing chess with each other and the murder weapon looks like Freddie Kruegger's glove, so there's that. Yeah, whaddya want from me? I have little sympathy for the generic and formulaic whodunnit structure.
Neither does Kei, actually: She name-drops Agatha Christie in the teaser for this episode that ran after “Something's Amiss...?! Our Elegant Revenge”, even going into a campfire scary story voice to tell us “Now you can be Agatha too!”. In the episode proper, the camera will occasionally cut outside the condo at random to show us a thunderclap and a flash of lighting for no discernible purpose and there's a lot of dramatic pacing back in forth in a circle while the suspects are seated around a table. Reading this episode as a parody of the banal Christie-style detective story, and it is a pretty good one, does also help alleviate some of its moments that are a bit too offbeat for my tastes, in particular Kei's attitude.
The thing about Agatha Christie's stories and the intellectual tradition they were a part of, as famously skewered by Raymond Chandler in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder”, is that they were seeped in unreality. Not performative artifice, but dishonesty and falseness. Chandler's big criticism of the classic detective story basically boils down to them being unrealistic, which is to me a somewhat hollow argument, but he hits on something inescapable with his comment that “The poor writer is dishonest without knowing it, and the fairly good one can be dishonest because he doesn't know what to be honest about.”. This is a bang-on account of what's going on in those dime store murder mysteries: They are indeed inaccurate and misleading in regards to why perps commit murder and how homicide investigations work, point taken, but that only gets us so far (Chandler is, of course, a pioneer in the “hard broiled” mystery tradition, which has its own problems, namely that, far from being more authentic, it bald-facedly glorifies patriarchy).
The real issue in play here is that these are substanceless escapist fluff stories people elevate far above and beyond the readings they're capable of sustaining. And that's inauthentic, not just in a basic sense, but a moral and ethical one. The danger here is a certain kind of spectacle, the kind Debord rails against: That idea that people could latch onto the warped and deformed version of reality these stories depict and actually try to build a coherent philosophy around them. And this can cause real material harm: Alan Moore frequently talks about how the world, in more ways then one, is really our idea and conception of what the world is. In one of my favourite quotes he says “There are books that have devastated continents, destroyed thousands. What war hasn't been a war of fiction?”. When we become detached from a true and authentic (meaning sincere) conception of the world, this is when Debord's Society of the Spectacle kicks in with its passive, unaware subservience to artifice and commodity fetishism. This, far more then its lack of fealty to representationalism, is the problem with the Agatha Christie school.
So, given its own self-aware relationship with artifice and detournement of it and its dedication to the sincere and true cosmic self (not to mention its own detective story heritage), Dirty Pair tackling Chandler seems like a no-brainer. Through their magick, art and craft, Kei and Yuri are here to usher in a new era for humanity by showing us the importance of ideals and kicking us onto a path to material social progress. And, given the nature of their situation this week, it's little wonder that Yuri leaps into the proceedings with aplomb and Kei can't take anything seriously. Remember, as a Piscean, disappearing into unreality is a reoccurring issue for Yuri, so it actually makes a lot of sense that she'd take centre stage here. Now after all that, it seems like this episode has the makings of something I should absolutely adore, so why did I come away from it feeling indifferent?
I think a good portion of it is due to the fact that while it sets all this up and has summoned all the proper marks and symbols, it never quite manages to follow through on all of them to deliver a coherent message. It never seems to move beyond straightforward parody, and I know Dirty Pair can do a lot better than that. Dirty Pair can run through genres all it wants, but it has to do a little bit more then just point out all the silly little cliches to be truly effective. When it's been at its best, this show has used its ability to transgress narratives to then sublimate and reshape them into something fresh, new and helpful, and I don't *quite* get the sense it's pulled that off here. There's also the reoccurring issue of Gooley and the paternalistic attitude he represents, and that does hurt the story for me. Being a puppet for Elenore City's Mafia-controlled drug cartel really should have been the end for him: That the show's kept bringing him back time and time again, on the one hand making him and everything he stands for increasingly horrifying and indefensible and on the other making him a sympathetic masculine authority figure is probably the most egregious and problematic flaw of this incarnation of Dirty Pair.
(There is one moment of unabashed brilliance in this episode I have to point out though: In the opening scenes, the camera shares the PoV of one of the killers as he stalks and murders one of his victims, all while audibly breathing very heavily, before cutting away at the last second. It's genuinely disturbing, and is a blatant attack on the normalization of male gaze in cinematic media. If somebody ever tells you Dirty Pair is exploitative, show them that. Its a lovely bit of postmodern cinematography of the sort that will only go stronger and more pronounced in the other Dirty Pair anime works.)
All in all, I have to say “Are You Serious? A Condo is a Dangerous Place to Live” is an episode I enjoyed thinking and writing about a lot more than I did watching it. There really is a lot to recommend here, moreso in any of the other mediocre off-week episodes: It has everything it needs in place to be classic Dirty Pair, but never seems to actually attain that level. So we're left with a feeling that the show ultimately hasn't quite lived up to its own ideals and potential.
Man, that's a depressing note to end on. There's gotta be more to it than that...