Jump to content

Bardo Thodol

Rate this topic

Guest ZeusFaber

Recommended Posts

Guest ZeusFaber

After watching this episode on DVD for the second time, I am still left somewhat confused and unable to piece the plot together, unlike other episodes. The monk tells us: "understand, and you are liberated". I'm wondering if anyone can help liberate me. To move things along, I will condense my confusion into a few simple unanswered questions:

1. Who was behind the stem cell research and toward what end?

2. What was the significance of the red lacquer bowl(s)?

3. Why were the Millennium Group interested in both of the above?

4. Who sent Frank the computer virus, and why?

5. How do the events of this episode constitute "an apocalypse of our own creation"?

Usually I am able to understand any given episode, even the more confusing ones by disregarding a few nitpicks or making a few educated leaps or assumptions. With "Bardo Thodol" however, I must confess that I am left almost entirely in the dark. Would appreciate any help.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ModernDayMoriarty

You are not meant to understand the bowls significance - you are meant to *want* to understand it. The whole point is that wanting to know keeps you in the game - the Millennium Group's game. By teasing Frank with conspiracies and clues they can keep him interested and keep alive the possibility of getting him back.

Frank keeps pressing the dying man for information heedless of his suffering because he is desperate to know what the Group are up to. At the end he realises he should just let the man go and die in peace, telling him not to worry about what he did because it doesn't matter. The priest explains that nothing is as real or as important as it seems to us - it is just our minds creating significance and importance. The Group prey on this weakness to appear all-knowledgable and to have the answers to all these questions - by creating the questions themselves. Understand that you live and will die - nothing more. Know that and you are free as everyone who has gone before you has.

Frank can let go of the pursuit so Mabius has no power to harm him. He isn't dancing to the Group's tune. He basically tells him 'Sod you and your stupid bowl - get lost!' Meanwhile, Emma cannot let go. She yells at Watts that she is on to the Group and will find out what they are doing. So she is still in the game, she is still reacting to the crumbs that the Group are feeding her. Hence Watt's smile before he walks off. He knows that she will eventually turn to the Group for her answers because she now believes that the Group are significant. She might think they are evil but that is more useful to them than her disregarding them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Elders (Moderators)

This is the most coherent and satisfying explanation of this episode that I have ever read. In many ways it's a very intriguing episode, but also irritating because I couldn't figure out the point the writer was trying to get across - probably my wish for a "scientific" explanation got in the way by trying to figure out what was going on, rather than why. Thank you, MDM, I like the way your mind works! :clapping:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"0 nobly-born, when thy body and mind were separating, thou must have experienced a glimpse Of the Pure Truth, subtle, sparkling, bright dazzling, glorious, and radiantly awesome, in appearance like a mirage moving across a landscape in spring-time in one continuous stream of vibrations. Be not daunted thereby, nor terrified, nor awed. That is the radiance of thine own true nature. Recognize it........"


I have a very different view from MMMoriaty so forgive me as it is by no means as good an interpretation but 'once a loon always a loon' so here goes. (I bought Harsh Realm by the way, thanks for the advice it is excellent.....all hail Pinnochio.)

Bardo Thodol is one of the most profound pieces of television I have ever seen. It is one of the best in my book though I have seen it called the worst of the whole three seasons so I guess it divides by it's own elusiveness. Anyone with any alchemical background is just bombarded, and I mean bombarded, by alchemical symbolism and concepts throughout though quite why such an obscure science was chosen as a backdrop is beyond me, to almost everyone with more worldly and 'normal' interests it appears horribly incoherent and inconclusive. It tried to marry the idea of man as progenitor and God as progenitor, it was a Tibetan Mary-Shelley-fest, an alchemical wedding, a man forming life in his image, exchanging the dust and breath of God for biogenesis and stem cell manipulation. What occurs, as in all good Frankenstein homages, is a catastrophic distortion of science beyond the man-God's capabilities to reign it it. Takahasi succeeds in creating 'life' and growth in organisms beyond the scientific definition of that very concept: he creates life without any pre-requisite for its existence...

The red lacquer bowl catches the nectar of God in Tibetan ritual - the nectar being similar in concept to what the Hebrews termed Ruasch or Holy Spirit. What Takahasi succeeds in forming is life without God's nectar, a thing outside of science and far away from God. Ravaged by his own creature, in this case metastasis caused by his own experimentation, he seeks comfort and redemption in the forgiving God only there is no confession and absolution only the spiritual maxim that what is, simply is.....'I am what I am' and this could explain Takahashi's need for Frank: the need for someone who stands between the two worlds of science and spirit, as he found comfort in neither, he is a splintered man, a fractured spirit who is rejecting his science but fearing the rejection of his God. He is looking for a friend and a mediator and someone who shares the common experience of rejecting the Millennium Group.

Quite why the group seeks the bowl is decidedly unclear though there are occasions throughout where it seems pivotal that the bowl is a fractured bowl and time is given, in Frank's visions, to showing us the fragment, the bowl and some form revelatory fire. It is my theory that since Takahasi has developed the ability to imbue dead, inert matter with life then he could have encoded his research, his process into the composition of the lacquer bowl which seems apt as in Tibetan symbolism the bowl represents the receptacle for God's wisdom. Clearly he has also placed this knowledge within himself though the intimation is that 'organic' matter is corrupted and damaged by whatever science he has developed. When Peter describes the process of the making of the lacquer bowl the metals he notes are a standard alchemical formula, and there is much alchemical symbolism in this episode, for the creation of the philosophers stone: the art of marrying matter and spirit. Interestingly if the alchemical process was a success the material in the flash would turn ruby red.

I also believe that it was the Millennium Group who sent Frank the computer virus as it's message is identical to the ideologies explained by Lilly Unser in Matryoshka, that man would ultimately become the architect of his destruction, namely the Millennium Group's realisation that this was the 'truth' after the discovery of the atomic bomb, Peter Watts is to state something similar to this in a few episodes but memory does not serve me well enough to note them. It's meaning is, as Lilly describes, that man has all the tools to end his own existence without the need for any heavenly or spiritual intervention. And this emphasis on man stealing God's job description is echoed in many of the principle components of Bardo Thodol. It is also my theory that, as the Millennium group 'misused' Takahasi's research, that this process and all the stem cell associated trappings would ultimately become the 'switching on' procedure used upon James Hollis as stem cells are now being hailed as a potential cure for Alzheimer.

One of the most alarming aspects of Bardo Thodol is implied rather that trumpeted. That clinic 701 may be a Millennium group cover to allow them access to 'ripe' stem cells. The first infant cell divides and starts a cascade of reactions that turns one fertilised egg into 1,000 billion cells of more than 200 different kinds. How it does this is a whole series of mysteries, but one key to these lies in first stem cells from which all bone, skin, blood and nerves subsequently stem. These appear in the first 14 days, before the cell implants in the womb. With this realisation it is SO clear why the Millennium group is using clinic 710 to perform abortions, it wants fresh stem cells. As it is said....."We can help you calculate your conception date.." Yeah! I bet they can.

I think the reason that Bardo Thodol is set against Buddhism is no accident, cloning/recycling of life are both different means to the same end. If you read a description of the four Bardos it is a rather fitting analogy for cloning: The first two Bardos concern themselves with acclimatisation and evaluation. When the soul has reached the third Bardo they feel they have a body but when they realise this is not so, the desire one. Then comes the Third Bardo, which is the state of seeking another birth. All previous thoughts and actions direct the person to choose new parents, who will give them their next body: God does 'Dolly the Sheep'.

This backdrop of Buddhism fits neatly into the episode's discourse on science and spirit. As Frank's 'apocalypse' computer virus clearly depicts: man is taking over God's job description as author of his own genesis, and destruction. It is also interesting to note that had this episode been set against the rich backdrop of Islam, say, it would have been entirely different. Buddha categorised a fetus into eight levels as outlined in one Buddhist text, and the earliest stage of embryonic development was not included in the grouping, stem cell research could be carried out therefore without offending the tenets of the religion...the age old question: 'when is a life not a life?' seems clearly answered here.

Forgive all my ramblings but in an epsiode such as this I guess it is all down conjecture.

Anyone elso notic how Tibetan funerary rites have so much in common with those emplyed by the group in Roosters?

Big smile....eth


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest lonegungrrly1121

So, (forgive my need to nut-shell) the group wants the bowl rather in the same way that they wanted the cross of the crusifixion, to give the group the control and power over those who believe in it when the end comes? Bardo Thodol is one of those episodes that I have never really read into, this is a great thread :clapping:


(I bought Harsh Realm by the way, thanks for the advice it is excellent.....all hail Pinnochio.)

I bought Harsh Realm too and it is brilliant! I agree, All Hail Pinnochio! the Hans Solo of the TV world :bigsmile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ZeusFaber
You are not meant to understand the bowls significance - you are meant to *want* to understand it. The whole point is that wanting to know keeps you in the game - the Millennium Group's game.

Thanks, that helps. Are you saying then, that the bowl is in fact useless, nothing more than a McGuffin to tease people into the Millennium Group's mythos? If so, then why was Mabius so desperate to retrieve it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ZeusFaber
I have a very different view from MMMoriaty so forgive me as it is by no means as good an interpretation but 'once a loon always a loon' so here goes.

Thanks for your detailed and intruiging analysis. You raise many strong background points that I had not considered, many of which are potentially vital to understanding the subtle layers of the story -- which is a feature of a great many episodes that makes Millennium so special.

(I bought Harsh Realm by the way, thanks for the advice it is excellent.....all hail Pinnochio.)

Glad you liked it. Have you got through the entire set yet? I must also say how fantastic Terry O'Quinn is (as always) in portraying Omar Santiago, especially in "Cincinnatti", my favourite episode next to the pilot.

Back to "Bardo Thodol", the alchemical aspects are certainly very interesting. I can see why the stem cell research used to grow the five hands could be very powerful, but I am still a little uncertain as to the specific interest of the Group. Yes, they are eternally fascinated with such things, but how does Takashi's research help put the Apocalypse further into man's hands? With "Matryoshka", I can very much see how the atomic bomb would represent "an apocalypse of our own creation", but with Takashi's research (despite having numerous implications about playing God etcetera) I'm not sure how it directly contributes to the Apocalypse specifically.

It is my theory that since Takahasi has developed the ability to imbue dead, inert matter with life then he could have encoded his research, his process into the composition of the lacquer bowl

Whilst I agree with MMMoriaty's theory that the pursuit of the bowl is designed to perpetuate the omniscient mythos of the Group to those such as Takashi, Frank, and Emma, I also agree with you here that there must also be something specific about the bowl that Mabius persues. I think you are correct that Takashi somehow encoded his research into the bowl, as we are shown Mabius hunting for a very specific bowl, and we are told that it has some sort of strip around its perimeter (conceivably some kind of magnetic strip and/or some kind of binary code). These two theories in combination now make much more sense of this part of the episode.

However, I am still a little unsure as to the ultimate goal of Takashi's reesearch. What to the Group want to do with it, besides control it? How does it relate to the Apocalypse?

Also, the computer virus still seems strange to me. Why would the Group simply wish to send Frank the message that "we are rushing toward an Apocalypse of our own creation". It is certainly their rhetoric, recited by Peter Watts in "Via Dolorosa"/"Goodbye to All That", but why would they wish to tip off Frank at this stage when they are desperately trying to retrieve Takashi's research?

Anyone elso notic how Tibetan funerary rites have so much in common with those emplyed by the group in Roosters?

Yeah, I caught that one too. Although I don't much care for "Roosters", as you know, this element did pique my interest. Got to give an extra mention to the fantastic prayer chant by Huun-Huur Tun as well.

Thanks again for the illuminations.

Edited by ZeusFaber
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ModernDayMoriarty

I never said that I thought the bowls were useless or unimportant. I believe that one bowl in particular (the one stolen by Takahashi) is the only thing the Group at large really cares about in this episode. The bowl has some significance to the Group - that much is clear in the amount of effort they expend to get it and how much Takahashi is in fear of his life.

It is my belief that Peter Watts sends the virus to get Frank involved in the case because he knows Frank will lead him to the bowl but also as I've said, to keep the dream alive of getting Frank back in the Group. His close association with Frank and desire to win him back does not seem to be shared by the rest of the Group as Watts explains later in 'Goodbye to all that' - that he has been protecting Frank from the Group.

So the Group need Takahashi and the bowl. To find the real bowl, Frank and Emma are fed small pieces of the puzzle - the bowls and hands from the ship. Give them the clues and let them go at it. Mabius simply follows Frank right to the bowl and Takahashi. Watts meanwhile stalks about taunting Emma and fuelling her pride to find out what he's up to. In actuality, Watts is just staying out of the way so Frank can work without finding out he's mixed up in this. He correctly assumes that if baited enough, Hollis will try and go after him on her own without telling Frank - just to show she can. Therefore, both parties are kept apart and vulnerable.

The bowls... Their exact nature is never described which as I've said, acts as a powerful incentive for both characters and viewers. However, the antiques owner points out that the bowl from the ship is a fake and that this is very unusual as the Japanese don't usually deal in this kind of thing. This reinforces the notion that the bowls are part of a MLM Group plot to fool Frank into leading them to the right one.

At the end, Mabius takes what we can assume is the real bowl. He leaves behind the useless fragment for Frank however. Again, crumbs from the table meant to tempt Frank. But he isn't biting, not today. The ending leaves us wondering what the bowl was really for, was it really the only significant one etc etc. It is worth pointing out that the episode originally was to end with Watts discovering that Frank had switched bowls on him. I think this revision is Chip J's contribution to the episode. It may originally have been about shady group experiments and questing for the bowl but this way it fits into the Season far better.

Bardo Thodol is one of my favourite episodes of all the Seasons. It displays brilliantly how Frank is backing away slowly from the abyss; coming to see through the illusions and see the Group for what it is - a fading super-power desperate to cling onto its power through people's fears. Also it charts the fall of Emma Hollis - cut off from Frank by pride and indignation that he doesn't share some of his insights with her (Saturn Dreaming of Mecury, Forcing the End etc) and desperate for answers to why things happen in life, she turns to the Group and edges closer to becoming one of them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear Zeus,

Forgive me for not replying sooner, it's all go at the moment.....

Isn't all just fascinating? Bardo Thodol is so perplexing you can bet your bottom dollar there are as many interpretations as there are bowls. There is a possibilty that two scenes were cut from the final draught as the original Fox synopsis details two events that do not make it to the final version: one of which depicts Peter's anger with Mabius when it transpires he has taken the wrong bowl (it is Frank who has the 'real' one as used in the funerary scene) so I guess it does lend credence to the fact that a very specific bowl was lusted after - shame then that the MM group got the wrong one. This scene makes sense to me, if you believe the concept, because if the bowl is encoded with Takahashi's life-sustaining and regenerative science then the splintered bowl would indicate that this was not the one.

I'm not sure it is necessary to understand, or reconcile, the apocalyptic virus in terms of 'Bardo Thodol' as the final seven episodes of Season Three were intended to depict, according to pre-screening publicity, a myth-arc of vast proportions likened to the opening of the Seven Seals of Revelation. I haven't 'studied' this mytharc in detail but believe it may relate to the culmination, and perversion, of Takashi's work in Dolorosa and Goodbye and the final transformation of the eschatological dictums seen in Owls and Roosters to the newly emergent theorem seen in Matroyshka: namely that man, not God or astrological bodies, would ultimately bring about the end-times. Even so it is not impossible to accept that what Takahashi creates is 'capable' of engendering a future apocalypse as genetic tampering gave rise to the Marburg Variant that the Millennium Group believed was capable of such a thing. In real world science, harbingers of genetic advances are seen as both mankind's saviours and the architects of our ultimate demise - for each breathtaken proponent of genetic modification there is a soothsayer who warns us of the implications for man's physical and spiritual future. If you consider both the biological and theological definition of 'life' what Takahashi creates supercedes both the work's of God and man: he creates the organic equivalent of Matroyshka's atomic bomb (as Lilly Unser notes....man took God's remit from the heavens and made it his own, sowing the seeds of his potential damnation.)What is potentially catastrophic is not that Takahashi is successful in growing hands but that Takahashi is successful in create hands that 'grow' and live - life without life - and we see that what ever science has been necessary to achieve this is destroying Takahashi. It is the scientific equivalent of necromancy - an art that was, interestingly, to dog the group in it's final days.

In our world stem cell research has been hailed as the potential saviour of those ravaged by Alzheimer's. It must, as we are dealing with a seven episode mytharc here, be Takashi's research that allows the Millennium Group to cure James Hollis, and resurrect Ed Cuffle, in the closing episodes of the series.

I guess it is possible that the Group's interest in Takashi is inexplicably bound, also, to the end of Legion's seven year cycle of terror as depicted in Seven and One and the groups revelation in Dolorosa/Goodbye that they has successful incarnated the Legion associated character 'Ed Cuffle' in the mind of Lucas Barr. The Bardo Thodol, in actuality as the 'Tibetan Book of the Dead' and episodically, a study of reincarnation - much of the priests words are lifted directly from the spoken chants of the Bardo's that prepare the soul for the next stage of the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. It cannot, therefore, be coincidental that Takahashi's successful replication of this divine act as a science is sought by a group who has long since been drawn to cases of this nature. The Legion storyline begins, Biblically, with the premise that entities are capable of taking the forms of others and this replication and cyclical return is seen in numerous Group cases (The Beginning and the End, Monster, Arcadia, Anamnesis, Closure, Seven and One, Room with no View, Saturn Dreaming of Mercury etc.) It cannot be mere coincidence that the Millennium Group harnesses the ability to implant the mind/soul of another in a human form just at the timely juncture of Legions' demise in his current incarnation and his resurrection, at group hands, in the body of Lucas Barr. This soul within soul could give a deeper interpretation to the symbolism of the Matroyshka Doll and link with many Millennium characters who had an element of this in their story lines...Dani Barbakow (an old soul)...Clare Mckenna (the lost sheep passing from body to body)...Legion/Boxer/Mabius....Lucy/Long Haired Man/Annie Martin and so on and so forth. There is, I guess, no more need for the group to study these enigmas as Takahashi's science has allowed them to replicate it.

I also presumed that the use of the computer virus was not to lead Frank to Takahashi but to tie in with the notion that Legion and the Millennium Group were growing weary of Frank's reticence and would begin, in the closing shows, to resort to terror in an effort to turn his hand. I believe the virus was simply a way of making Frank aware of the group's hand in all this, a digital reminder of their interest in him and a precursor to the more drastic campaign mounted by Mabius in Seven and one.

Whatever you make of it, and as there are no certainties only maybes it's all good, it is an astoundingly good episode and part of an astounding good run of them.

Hope it's not too bizarre a post to enjoy.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ModernDayMoriarty

I think you must tread very carefully when assigning any larger mytharc values to both 'Seven and One' and 'Via Dolorosa/Goodbye to all That'. They really don't complement each other very well at all and show the difficulty that Chris Carter had with the new incarnation of his show.

Frank alludes to Ed Cuffle being dead in 'Seven and One' and yet he is alive again to be executed in 'VD'. Now, I have stated before that Frank has referred to people in jail as being 'dead' before but there is no indication he meant that in 7+1. Also, Frank gains a new brother (not even named in the episode) and also gains a new understanding of his gift and an apparent conversion to true believer in the Lord etc etc.

None of this is borne out by the 3 episodes that follow it, factually or even in spirit. Frank does not appear changed and neither does his gift or his perception of it. The Season retains its largely secular stand ignoring the intense gothic horror of 7+1. I really think that attempting to fit the episodes here into a coherent mytharc requires so much patchwork, guesswork and suposition as to be extremely unwise to attempt in all but the most basic terms.

I understand you want to stitch it all together eth but I think the arc was more in the spirit of Frank turning from his quest of self destructive vengenance than any recurring plot threads really. I think CC probably wrote 7+1 as a Season finale, turned it in and then left to concentrate on TXF. Millennium was then cancelled leaving 7+1 as an unsatisfactory 'ultimate end' episode. But it was in the can by this time and still worked broadly speaking to reinforce the arc even if it did have some unfortunate factual errors.

I guess I just think ultimately that to try and go into too much detail on what the bowls were/ apply their significance to other episodes is to miss the point of Bardo Thodol. I really think it meant to be a mystery left unexplained because of who you would have to ask/pursue to get your explanation. I'm sure your reading is accurate with regard to the bowls but I just don't think it is anything that the writers considered particularly important to the understanding of the episode. I think most people watching can make a pretty shrewd guess at what was probably going on - it's WHY it was happenning that was important, WHY we were being shown this episode.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using our website you consent to our Terms of Use of service and Guidelines. These are available at all times via the menu and footer including our Privacy Policy policy.