Anthologies Never was most popular in science fiction. From Netflix (Black mirror and LDR) at Disney + (What if…? and Star Wars: Visions), the format gives streaming services a quick and easy way to deliver endless entertainment without engaging in costly multi-season stories. It also allows directors to explore many different stories and subgenres without needing to engage in anything for more than 20 minutes.
But before you can even watch shows and movies on your computer – not to mention your smartphone – a sci-fi anthology has paved the way for some of the best shows in the streaming age. In 2003, two pioneering directors set out to tell a different kind of story, one that could fill in the gaps and crevices of a beloved film while pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.
The result was The facilitator, one of the best and most underrated science fiction anthologies of all time, and one that helped pave the way for some of our favorite new shows. You can watch it now on HBO Max, but before you do, here are a few things you should know first.
The influence of Japanese anime on The matrix has always been obvious – Wachowski credit classics like Ghost in the shell and Akira as a part of their main inspiration. So when the director duo traveled to Japan to promote their film, they took the opportunity to meet some of their favorite anime makers.
The result was The facilitator.
The facilitator consists of nine animated short films set before, after and during the events of The matrix. The Wachowskis wrote some but not all of the short films and did not direct any of them. The English version also includes voice work from much of Square Enix’s English cast. Final Fantasy X, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as their original Matrix characters.
Like any true anthology, The facilitator explores various forms of storytelling. Animation style, tone, and setting all change from episode to episode. In Program, two freed humans discuss their allies’ betrayal of the machines while training in a beautifully rendered simulation of feudal Japan. In another, a star athlete runs so fast he’s able to briefly see the truth behind the Matrix without ever taking a red pill.
Many of these stories have nothing to do with the main characters of The matrix and its future suites (Animator came out directly on video in 2003, just a few months before Recharged presented in theaters). But the anthology’s most memorable story is mandatory for anyone who really wants to understand the franchise.
In The Second Renaissance Parts I and II, a poetic narrator tells how robots first rose up against humanity, fought for survival, and ultimately enslaved their former masters. If you haven’t seen The facilitatorI’m not going to spoil this surprisingly curvy prequel, but I will share one of its best visual flourishes.
Here is a photo of the robots visiting the United Nations before and after defeating humanity.
Before their victory, robots design themselves and dress to look like humans, but in the end, they evolved beyond humanity. The narrator does not have to say it out loud; the animation clearly shows what happened. (Also, they are holding an apple in both pictures.)
The facilitator is full of smart moments like this. It’s also shockingly violent and sometimes unexpectedly funny. And just like The matrix and the films that followed, it’s also a bit uneven.
But that’s the beauty of an anthology. Not all episodes have to be perfect, as long as there is something for everyone.
The facilitator is now streaming on HBO Max.