Fair warning: this post contains Tsar Bomba-sized spoilers for the eighty-second episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and comparatively minor ones for the subsequent episode. If you have any interest in watching it, and you haven’t seen the eighty-second episode, don’t read this.
Recalling Poplan’s remarks at the Battle of Vermilion some thirty episodes ago, I think it is fitting that Yang was killed by a cunning plot, executed when he was isolated from his friends and under the effects of sleeping medicine. Anything less would have felt too cheap. ‘Cheap’ is the word I have in mind because, while Yang’s death wasn’t too easily achieved to bear, it was easily achieved. As Walter von Schenkopp despondently pointed out, Yang wasn’t killed by Reinhard and if Yang had to die he deserved nothing less.
Yang was Reinhard’s equal as a military thinker, but I feel he was Reinhard’s superior in character. Although Attenborough jokingly defined the motivation of Yang’s forces as ‘foppery and whim’, it’s usually been Reinhard who’s acted out of a desire for personal satisfaction while Yang has been reluctantly fighting for ideals. (To be fair, Reinhard appeared to have an ideological beef, as well as a personal one, with the system he replaced. Since he took power, however, that hasn’t been an issue.) There is an underlying assumption here that ideals are somehow inherently superior to personal motivation, but we’ll let that lie for now.
Anyway, Yang was the comfortingly modern moral centre of the story, and now he’s gone. There are few other characters that we can trust so easily; the two that spring to mind are Julian and Frederica, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that they both had greatness thrust upon them in episode eighty-three.
When I covered the fall of the Free Planets Alliance I noted how the Earth Church (‘Devilish Dangerous Terrorist Terraism‘), alone among the show’s factions, are unambiguously portrayed as bad guys. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a very Twentieth Century epic: it’s an epic of titanic political clashes, and it’s materialistic, in the philosophical (‘nothing exists beyond the physical’) rather than in the moral (‘possessions are the ultimate good’) sense – materialistic in the same way that a Marxist is materialistic. The only potentially metaphysical event I can recall offhand is Kircheis’s intervention in Reinhard’s dreams in the eighty-first episode, but even that might simply be a product of Reinhard’s own mind (he doesn’t strike me as being a particularly stable person).
The Earth Church cult is the only faction whose leaders (excepting the ones who are just in it for the power, money &c) don’t have motivations which can be explained with reference to the physical. Reinhard seeks to ‘win the universe’, Yang fights for ideals which are meant to be applied to real political structures, both heroes’ subordinates usually align themselves with their leaders’ interests and the lesser villains usually act out of self-interest but so far we don’t have much of an idea of what the Terraists really want (apart, as I said, from the venal ones).
The other frightening people and groups in the Legend are frightening because they present a threat to characters we care about. Like the Gelut assassins in Flag, however, the Terraists are frightening because they are inscrutable, and they’re associated with irrationality. We learn almost nothing of their doctrine, though we see the suicidal bravery of their brainwashed and drugged followers. The same irrationality is present in Yang’s assassin, who stands there shouting and waving his arms in the air after firing his first and only shot, and of course in Andrew Fork, who is a bona fide madman spirited out of a psychiatric institution by the Church for their nefarious ends.
Now that I’ve written the above, it may be that everything about the Earth Church will suddenly be explained, so I can only really say that this applies for sure to the Earth Church in the first three seasons, but it’s interesting nevertheless. The only other instance in the Legend of what looks to my occidental eyes like religious practice is the Imperial habit of making reference to Valhalla and the Norse pantheon; there’s very little to tell us whether this is genuinely belief or is simply a ceremonial form of words, but either way it doesn’t seem to motivate action so even if it is genuine, it’s still faith denatured. [I think a slightly Latinate, Miltonic arrangement is appropriate there.]
BONUS: Julian asking an important question surrounded by older, higher-ranked men: