“Love, Death, and Robots” has proven that nonlinear storylines and different art styles can lead to a popular, animated Netflix TV show. Each season allows creators to pour their artistry into post-apocalyptic worlds, or a scary modern future with killer home robots as volume two’s episode “Automated Customer Service” illustrated. The current season was released on May 20 and presented its usual array of fantastical narratives with eerily real characters. However, it was the final episode titled “Jibaro” that caused a stir of unrest amongst fans of “Love, Death, and Robots.”
The fantasy of “Jibaro” came to life thanks to director and writer Alberto Mielgo. The 17-minute short features nearly life-like animation that takes place in what is believed to be Puerto Rico. Although there is no dialogue, “Jibaro” is vibrant with sounds of nature, rushing horse hooves, and the distant clamor of soldiers in glitzy armor. The view immediately pans in on one of the two protagonists, who is later revealed to be deaf.
Soon, a glimmering, enchanting Siren emerges from a nearby lake and begins her murderous, seduction that leads nearly all of the soldiers to their sudden deaths. The deaf soldier and Siren are both left perplexed — one at the mysterious slaughtering of his soldiers, and the other at why a soldier is still alive. The intensity between the odd pair thickens with a strange dance by the Siren, then a kiss from the Siren’s rhinestone-encrusted lips. The possible love affair comes to a bloody halt when the soldier suddenly rips all of the Sirens’ shimmering jewels from her body, leaving a bloody mess.
The show finale then displays the soldier rushing through the forest with the bag of jewels. He stops to wipe his face in the river, but to his horror, the water is filled with the Siren’s blood. Before he recovers from his shock, the Siren is emerging from the water, distraught at her ravaged form. Magically, the soldier is given back his sense of hearing. However, this miracle is short-lived, as the Siren rings out her final call and leads the soldier to his death.
Fans experienced an array of emotions during the episode, especially since the hyperrealism of the animation and gut-wrenching trauma made it hard to decipher what the short was trying to convey. While in an interview with Deadline, Mielgo points to the episode being a representation of toxic relationships, director Alberto Mielgo wanted to create an experience that explored his story in multiple ways.
Mielgo mentioned to Screen Rant that, “I like to push the boundaries, especially visually — not for the sake of just pushing the boundaries, but to serve the story,” and this creative push involved mixing mediums and incorporating choreography to illustrate a tragic reality. Social media exploded with potential interpretations that ranged from sexual assault to the bloody history between Natives and conquistadors.
The origin of the name “Jibaro” actually refers to rural Puerto Rican workers, possibly pointing to the setting being Taino native land. The clues lie in the soldier’s armor and the Siren’s jewel-adorned skin that bleeds when stolen — a classic tale of colonialism. Since the deaf soldier ended up robbing the Siren of her “skin,” viewers interpreted her to be the representation of the “people of the forest,” of Central American mythology.
Despite the internet bursting into a frenzy of connecting visuals to historical moments, Alberto Mielgo remains ambiguous about the veracity of this meaning. He instead refers to the connection between the two characters as “two people loving one another for the wrong reason.” Although far more simplistic than the tweet threads circulating, Mielgo’s personal interpretation is genius.
Mielgo’s “Jibaro” expertly combines unique animation with a tragic romance in only 17 minutes. Whether the silent plot pays homage to Taino native mythology or a love affair gone wrong, the episode proves that when words are taken away, their absence leaves room for an audience to dress whatever cultural or romantic wounds the material leaves open.
“Love, Death, and Robots” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Adia Carter