I mentioned in a previous article how the development of Messer’s character in Macross Delta was interesting and troubling in equal measure, how he was depicted as a poor mentor and yet also an interesting self-destructive figure. That episode 10 continued his story was to its credit; the ideas hinted at in episode 9 were the sort of plot points that could not be handwaved away or pushed to the back. However, the episode also introduced another plot development that – as so many of Delta‘s developments do – left me with an interesting mixture of concern and intrigue.
The episode introduced Berger, of the Epsilon Foundation – some unknown organisation working alongside Windermere to aid their mission and develop some device – the “Sigur Valens” – to this end. I am not sure if Delta needed a secret society and conspiracy plot; although Windermere were hypocritical and really quite evil in their knightly aesthetic, they were an interesting faction – a young race which had come upon an ancient power they understood well enough to use to conquer numerous planets, and used this to claim legitimacy and a close connection to the precursor race. There was a self-awareness to them – they were an ungainly, inconsistent mess of evil empire cliches that suited their presentation as a self-styled conquering force fighting a war based on quite probably suspicious grounds. To learn they are either being manipulated by, or working alongside, some apparently human secret society that is helping them master their precursor race weapon is a little staid.
I would not want to say for certain if the fact Epsilon’s delegate is called Berger is an intentional reference but there is only one Berger that comes to mind in a discussion of cultural power and interpretation – John Berger, author of Ways of Seeing. This book says the following; “History always constitutes the relationship between a present and its past” (Ways of Seeing, p4), and “Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world.” (ibid., p143) Dwelling too much on scouring Ways of Seeing for readings of the presentation of Windermere and Epsilon in Delta is probably a fool’s errand (I doubt there is the same level of intertextuality as when Eureka Seven evokes Greg Egan) but at the very least one can see the way the book in question discusses the power of historical legacy, pop culture and advertising as very Macross-like. I would recommend the book (and Howells’ Visual Culture) as good entry-points to cultural criticism for anyone interested in reading beyond what Macross offers about pop culture as a social force. In the same way I would highly recommend Barthes’ Image Music Text as a good entry point to ideas of intertextuality and connotative meaning – something I have constantly referred to in discussion of Delta‘s use of franchise references.
This was an episode of two halves, however, and its greater part was Messer’s fate. I discussed previously the difficulties of moving on with his plot in any logical or reasonable way; he has painted himself as a self-destructive liability resigned to being a martyr, and so having him continue to fight for any length of time until such a point as drama would have him die would feel cheap and melodramatic. Instead, not an episode after recognising his failings he is removed from combat duty, sent away from the area of Var risk, and returns only to die fighting. At first this seems sudden and unsatisfying; he has shown signs of development as a character, and his story could go interesting places as someone rehabilitating after a past of mind control (indeed, this argument of culpability for crimes committed out of consciousness is explored interestingly in the recent film Captain America: Civil War), and now he is dead precisely how he predicted he would die – a noble sacrifice fighting the White Knight.
In balance, though, this turn of events is both a good end for Messer and a good raising of the stakes; it may feel cheap to discuss character death purely as a means of other characters “getting good” (the old canard of a loved one dying to “make it personal”) but the way Delta framed his death – an Area 88-esque flight into overwhelming odds as his love, Kaname, sung for him followed by one of the most intense dogfights of the series and a crucially unsentimental death simply worked in the melodramatic, over-the-top way Macross needs to work. This was not some long-drawn-out tears in the rain scene, no promising Nanako to take her to the beach or dramatically tearing out the reactor to send the dinosaurs to hell, but two fighter pilots playing chicken and one shooting truer than the other. The pilot who initially hated the concept of duelling but came to respect his enemy dies in a fair fight after having turned the tide of battle for his allies. The episode had been about him coming to terms with having to stop doing the one thing he loved – flying combat missions – and ends with him flying one last mission.
This is, in balance, the turning-point episode for Delta; Messer’s story is over, and it has been shown to have been about his building up a legacy. He showed that Delta squadron simply do not have what it takes against a technologically superior and more skilled foe – one so superior even the most talented member of the team proved inadequate. The episode did this in a way that was not grimdark in its perfunctoryness – it was not a cynical, arbitrary end like some Game of Thrones character killed in humiliating fashion, not was it a slow death of coughing up blood in Kaname’s arms, it was simply a soldier doing his best. Messer was Delta‘s consummate soldier, shown in his final episodes to be struggling to come to terms with his health issues and inability to continue as a pilot, and so his ending was as good as it can be. On the other side, the reveal of Epsilon calls a lot more into question about Windermere’s methods and motivations; did they approach Epsilon for help in their ideological war, or did Epsilon lean on them as the most interesting horse to back in their own mission to destablise the UNS?