Last week was exciting wasn’t it? We got a whole bunch of things happening all at once – Gilgamesh making his debut, only to whisked off before his grand finale; Berserker going ham in general and Rider overseeing the whole affair. Oh yeah, Saber and Lancer did some things and said some stuff too but the first three Servants were clearly the highlight of the episode as far as I was concerned. However, last week’s episode ended on a defused note – each faction parted ways, some amicably, some less so and you get the sense that it’ll be some time before all of them gather again. Nevertheless, I am quite keen on seeing what the various characters make of the information they gathered from their first big meeting – has anyone identified any potential weaknesses or anything else that the audience might not have? Rather than a battle royale, I’d expect smaller fights between individual Masters and Servants to break out now so that in the end, they would have culled their numbers just as Gilgamesh wanted.
We don’t pick up exactly where we left off though; when we last saw Saber and Irisviel they were reflecting on what a tough fight they had ahead of them. This week however, opens with a much lighter atmosphere – Irisviel, for what appears to be the first time, is driving on open roads and from Saber’s expression, Irisviel appears to be auditioning for Fast and Furious 8. Before we cut to the OP though, we see Caster make an appearance in the middle of the road. When we last saw him, he was convinced that Saber was Joan of Arc and he was absolutely overjoyed that his saviour had been reborn at the same time as him. Caster, as smooth as any deranged 15th century mass murderer can be, opens with “I’ve come for you, O Holy Virgin”. There is an almost comedic pause after this – neither Irisviel nor Saber knows what the fuck is going on. Seeing her bafflement, Caster gets increasingly agitated. He introduces himself but of course, Saber has no idea who he is. Saber, true to her honour code, gives him her name and title but Caster, ironically, thinks that she has forgotten her ‘true’ past life and gone mad instead. The whole thing comes across as almost comedic but not quite – while Caster’s protestations are sort of humorous (his weird voice only adds to that effect), there is also this sense of foreboding to the scene. Knowing what Caster is capable of and knowing how deeply disturbed he is, he seems to be a powder keg that could go off with the slightest spark. Still, the Saber class is known for its insane magic resistance so I can’t say I’m too worried for Saber. Caster pretty much loses it when Saber rejects his projection of her identity – she is not Joan of Arc, no matter how much Caster’s own twisted fantasies want her to be – and starts demonstrating the full extent of his /b/-like autism by pounding the ground and cussing out God. It seems that Caster’s wish for the Grail was Joan’s (I’ll be calling her Jeanne from now on, to keep consistent with the subs) revival – but when he triumphantly states that Jeanne’s revival is proof that the Grail has been awarded to him, he pushes Saber a little too far. It’s not hard to see why she’s pissed – first of all, he’s just ranting and raving at this point, trying to convince her that she’s someone she’s never been but then he goes and declares himself that War’s de facto winner. Saber fires off a warning shot (or a warning slash, if you prefer) and tells Caster to kindly get his shit together and fuck off. Caster finally snaps out of it, realizing that Saber means business, and somewhat ominously tells her that he will be making ‘preparations’ before visiting her again. Saber notes that it’s a good thing that they didn’t duke it out right then and there – her arm is still out of action thanks to Lancer. In the shadows, one of the many Assassins has been watching these events unfold; Kirei and Tokiomi now know Saber’s identity as well as Caster’s. Was it a mistake on Saber’s part to so openly state her identity? Perhaps, but honestly, I very much doubt this current crop of Servants (Gilgamesh excluded) has a decent chance against Excalibur and with Kiritsugu not being a limited Master like Shirou, there’s nothing keeping Saber from being a little more liberal with her Excalibur usage.
As Caster makes his way dejectedly back to Ryuunosuke, he finds that his Master has been hard at work (possibly literally) crucifying little children. Far be it from me to balk at graphic violence, but it does seem a touch egregious here. Yes, we know that Ryuunosuke and Caster are psychopaths; do we really need to see so much evidence of it, so regularly? Anyway, Caster’s in a foul mood and totally ruins one of Ryuunosuke’s carefully arranged child corpses declaring war on God. Caster’s proceeds to give us a rough outline of his philosophy and it’s not as utterly deranged as you might expect. In Caster’s eyes, God is unconcerned with morality; God will not lift a finger to punish even the worst of humanity. How exactly Bluebeard has reached this conclusion given the way his life ended is unclear but I guess he blames his execution on mankind’s notion of justice as opposed to the more divine sort. Yet, and I’m not sure if I’m getting this part right, he does believe that there is a God and that this God has power – he attributes ‘Jeanne’ not recognising him as a sign that God is keeping her true identity locked away. His next few statements confuse me though – he wants to commit further atrocities as a way of showing Jeanne that there is no God (or at least no God that will act to save Caster’s victims) but it’s unclear what he hopes to accomplish by doing this. If Jeanne’s soul really is locked away, I guess he thinks that he can free that soul by shattering ‘new’ Jeanne’s faith in God? Throughout all of this, Ryuunosuke is rather lost – I’m fairly sure he doesn’t care about any of this soul or Jeanne or God stuff. For a moment though, he’s excited by the prospect of Caster showing him new ways of inflicting pain and death but then his excitement dims when he realizes that Caster is now prioritising “quantity over quality”. It seems that Caster will be prowling the streets of Fuyuki for young children in order to prove his point to ‘Jeanne’. I really don’t know how to feel about this Master/Servant pairing. Caster seems to be the better of the two characters to me – he is menacing in his insanity, and unpredictable to boot. Ryuunosuke, on the other hand, bugs me. His character should be that of a mass-murderer with deep-seated issues but really, he comes across as a perfectly nice, well-adjusted man who just happens to like killing little children. The thing is, these two things are not supposed to reconcilable – well-adjusted child killers aren’t a thing, for fuck’s sake! The character might work as a concept but in its execution it just feels like an attempt to make a forgettable character seem edgier. A further problem this creates is that there is no tension when Ryuunosuke does his thing. When I just saw him crucify the kids, I didn’t think “Oh my god, this guy is insane, what will he do next?!” but instead, “Yeah, yeah, I get it, you like killing kids”. That is not the reaction you want your edgiest characters to elicit from the audience. I guess at some point, I subconsciously stopped thinking of Ryuunosuke as a character and began thinking of him as more of Caster’s accessory.
Kayneth, on the other hand, is a character who does work. He demands an explanation from Lancer for letting Saber off the hook not just once, but twice on the same night. We talked a little about this last week – while I may not personally like Kayneth or his ethics, I can’t deny that I agree with their efficacy: ‘All’s fair in love and war’, after all. As such, I find myself siding with Kayneth when he irately asks Lancer to explain himself – they let Saber slip through their grasp and on top of that lost a Command Seal, surely Lancer owes Kayneth an explanation at least? I should clarify at this point that it isn’t that I don’t sympathise with Lancer at all but the whole battlefield chivalry is a ridiculous notion to me. I can’t think of a single battle in any era where soldiers fought each other on a strictly one-on-one honourable basis. Wars are messy, violent, bloody affairs and a knight as experienced as Lancer seems to be, should know that. Lancer’s short reply only annoys Kayneth further but then his wife, Sola-Ui calms him down by telling him that now that Saber is effectively crippled, she can be taken out at any time. You get the feeling that Kayneth is a little intimidated by his wife because he doesn’t offer much more than token resistance to her blatantly incorrect claims. The notion that Saber is easy pickings as a result of Lancer’s cut is laughable of course, and none of Sola-Ui’s post-fact rationalizing changes the fact that Lancer gained his faction nothing by pursuing his honourable course of action. Worse, Sola-Ui mocks her husband for failing to act despite apparently having an enormous magical advantage over the other Masters. Kayneth’s speciality is necromancy and somehow that has allowed him to split the duty of Master with his wife. She provides the mana and he possesses the Command Seals, presumably letting both Kayneth and Lancer function at full capacity all the time. While that isn’t particularly over-powered, it is a neat little perk. I won’t lie though; the more Sola-Ui speaks, the more I hate her. For one, she seems to be defending Lancer without him doing a thing to deserve it. She also is attacking her own husband for not risking his life in a meaningless show of force: which Master was Kayneth supposed to attack, exactly? Irisiviel, who isn’t even a Master (though, admittedly, they don’t know that)? Waver, who was clinging for dear life to Rider the whole while? Kiritsugu and Kariya, who they didn’t even know were there? Lancer shuts Sola-Ui up though, telling her not to insult his Master. It’s a strange, tense moment; suddenly, Sola-Ui is apologising and Kayneth is sitting in uncomfortable, stony silence. There is a close-up of Lancer’s mole – ah, that explains a lot. It seems that Lancer’s ‘curse’ is coming into play and that Sola-Ui’s defence of Lancer was motivated more by affection than logic. Kayneth is naturally feeling both marginalized and threatened by this whole affair and that might just explain why relations between him and Lancer are less than warm. I guess Lancer’s defence of Kayneth should speak well of him, but honestly, I’m not feeling in a particularly generous mood towards anyone’s misplaced sense of chivalry at the moment, so no brownie points for Diarmund.
Just then, alarms go off and Kayneth gets a phone call; there is a fire on the lower floors. Kayneth, to his great credit, immediately identifies it as a ploy from Saber’s Master and an attempt to force Kayneth out into more neutral territory. He has rented out the whole floor of the hotel and filled it with every kind of insane magical trap he knows. We don’t know just yet if this is Kiritsugu’s doing (it’s pretty funny picturing Irisviel setting fire to the place, though) or a coincidence, but really, this has Kiritsugu’s MO written all over it. Lancer is sent to deal with Saber and that, more than anything, could spell trouble for Kiritsugu. We get confirmation seconds later when Kiritsugu uses a Jedi mind trick to convince the office grunt in charge of post-evacuation roll-call that he (Kiritsugu) is actually Kayneth. The building evacuated, he gives Maiya the go-ahead. The go-ahead to do what, you ask?
TO BLOW THE ENTIRE FUCKING BUILDING UP.
Yup, you read that right. Team Kiritsugu decided that it wasn’t going to bother sneaking through Kayneth’s incredibly well-defended lair – instead, they’re just going to force him out. I don’t even know how to react at this point, really. It’s a brilliant plan from start to finish – the evacuation minimizes the collateral damage and it seems that Kiritsugu predicted that Kayneth would see the fire as an attempt to draw him out and countered it with an absolutely outrageous play. Maiya states that there was no activity from Kayneth right until the end and Kiritsugu further states that there is no way Kayneth survived a 150m free fall but that does nothing other than confirm that Kayneth survived. Despite the sheer awesomeness of this scene, it would be altogether anti-climactic for Kayneth, Sola-Ui and Lancer to all die at once, like this. However, that said, this act single-handedly established the lengths that Kiritsugu would go to in order to win this War. In case it wasn’t clear before, he is not fucking around. He isn’t in the clear just yet though; he gets some kind of gut feeling and tells Maiya to withdraw but it seems that Kirei has already found her. Kirei seems a little stunned by the audaciousness of this act and seems to be revising his opinion of just how very dangerous Kiritsugu is. Kirei is very keen on finding out where Kiritsugu is and is about to put Maiya to the question (effortlessly dodging/blocking her bullets along the way) but she drops a smoke grenade and makes a run for it. Or did she? Kirei notes that it wasn’t Maiya who dropped the smoke grenade after all – was Kiritsugu able to make it all the way to the building to save her? It seems unlikely since he looked to be a good distance away but it’s unlikely to be anyone else. Just then an Assassin materializes (to Kirei’s consternation since he told them to stay in spirit form – he’s learning!) and informs him that they found Caster.
Risei, Kirei and Tokiomi have a quick meeting to decide what to do about Caster. Caster and Ryuunosuke have gone and kidnapped fifteen children during the night and are clearly acting without any regard for the secrecy that the Mage’s Association and Church want to operate in. All three men agree that something needs to be done about Caster but Kirei can’t send Assassin to handle Caster since Assassin is fundamentally useless and for some reason Tokiomi doesn’t want to see Gilgamesh and so Risei decides that he will ‘mobilize the other Masters’ to kill Caster. I’m going to assume that it means that there will be a bounty for whoever kills Caster but the question is, why would any Master bother? Sure a bounty is nice, but going up against Caster doesn’t just come with the risk of facing Caster himself but also with the risks of exposing your strengths and weaknesses for the world to see and opening yourself up to a backstab from other Servants and Masters. It would have to be a really special kind of bounty in that case, wouldn’t it? It’s also pretty hilarious that Risei pretends that the rules still matter at all though, especially given his own role in undermining them so thoroughly.
Kirei returns to his rooms, only to find an unexpected visitor there: Gilgamesh. This is Gilgamesh at his most mellow – he is reclining on a sofa, sipping some fine wine and complimenting Kirei on his taste in home décor. There are a bunch of (presumably) empty wine bottles all over the place though it’s unclear if they belonged to Kirei or were brought im by Gilgamesh. I don’t think I remember Kirei having any particular taste for wine (Mapo Tofu on the other hand…) so I’ll assume that Gilgamesh brought some bottles over to share – after all what kind of house guest doesn’t bring something when he visits? (The worst kind, that’s what). Kirei doesn’t seem surprised by Gilgamesh’s presence but then again, Kirei has rarely shown emotion of any kind in Fate/Zero so far. Gilgamesh, like many other frustrated trophy wives, is tired of his partner. Tokiomi’s summoning met the right conditions and so Gilgamesh felt compelled to respond, but now that he’s actually here, it turns out that Tokiomi and Gilgamesh aren’t much of a fit at all. We saw hints of it last week when Tokiomi withdrew Gilgamesh just as he (Gil) was getting started and it seems that while there is no bad blood between the two per se, Gilgamesh simply doesn’t get his Master and his ambitions. There’s a bit of exposition as the pair talk about Tokiomi’s desire to reach the Swirl of the Root and what that means. Gilgamesh dismisses the entire endeavour as pointless – perhaps because he knows something we don’t about the Grail’s ability to grant such a wish or, more likely, because he simply doesn’t care about such things. It seems to be more of the latter, really; from what Kirei explains, Tokiomi is interested in the world beyond this one (the World Exterior, Kirei calls it) but as we all know, Gilgamesh’s chief concern is the World Interior. In his mind, all of the World Interior is his kingdom and as such all the treasures and wonders in it belong to him. This World Exterior nonsense is beyond his realm and so he just dismisses it and leaves it to lesser men. Kirei explains that Grail’s omnipotence allows it to alter any aspect of the World Interior but shouldn’t Gilgamesh already know that? I mean, all the Servants, ostensibly at least, were summoned by the Grail because they coveted it at some point, right, or had some wish that they wanted fulfilled above all else? None of this part of the conversation is really that interesting to me though, at least not compared to what follows – we get down to Kirei’s reasons for fighting in the War and explore his general lack of desire.
Kirei is certainly an odd choice of Master, if you think about it. He doesn’t desire the Grail; indeed he doesn’t even desire anything he could use the Grail to get. You get the sense, however, that when he does begin actively pursuing the Grail, it won’t be for any material (or as he calls it, to Gilgamesh’s face no less, vulgar) pursuits but rather to answer some deep spiritual questions. Why is Kirei the way he is? What is it that he wants and why does he want it? If it seems strange for a character to be asking such questions of an external object (the Grail in this case) remember that this is basically the whole idea behind Kirei’s entire character. It is a case of one of Nasu’s character behaving more like a concept than as a living, breathing person. Even in Fate/Stay Night, Kirei’s motivations stemmed more from the corruption in his soul than from a clear, tangible source (like childhood trauma, etc). Like me, Gilgamesh is fascinated by this creature that seeks no gain but denies itself pleasure. Gilgamesh asks some pointed, armour piercing questions – why does Kirei reject pleasure as something sinful and corrupt (this is a question that could be asked of any of the Abrahamic religions, really) and why does he think that pleasure and sin are connected? Gilgamesh states that some people derive pleasure from good deeds while others derive pleasure from sin and can’t help but think of characters like Bluebeard, Kirei and Shirou. Bluebeard does seem to get some kind of pleasure from the sin of murder while Shirou derives his pleasure (after he sorts out his personality issues) from helping others. Kirei’s instinct, however, tells him that pleasure is wrong and while that might just be his super religious upbringing talking, it might also be his subconscious telling him that he really does belong in the Bluebeard camp, as opposed to the Shirou camp. Gilgamesh, glad at the opportunity for meaningful conversation, sits Kirei down and tells him that anyone can experience pleasure. Kirei’s ignorance of what gives him pleasure, then, isn’t the result of a defect but rather a lack of self-awareness. He tells Kirei to take some time to find out what it is that gives him pleasure and in the meanwhile, Kirei can sample the material world the way Gilgamesh does. Kirei rejects this but does agree to gather intelligence on Gilgamesh, who is suddenly much more engaged in this Holy Grail War business. He hopes to find more interesting characters than Tokiomi and I’m quite confident that he will, mostly because that’s not a particularly high bar to cross. Kirei ends the episode thinking about Kiritsugu.
I’ll end week’s write-up with some quick thoughts about Kirei and Gilgamesh and the episode as a whole, since I’ve said my piece about Team Caster earlier. It feels like Kirei sees Kiritsugu as a mirror through which he (Kirei) can learn more about himself. At this point, of course, he has not yet learned that he and Kiritsugu are really nothing alike beyond their superficial surface similarities. When he does finally learn it, what will his reaction be, I wonder? Will he feel betrayed and led on? Or will that be the final blow to whatever semblance of a conscience he has right now, the blow that will lead him to eventually pull a Bluebeard and kill a few dozen children below his church? Kirei’s arc is easily one of the most interesting in this series and I can’t wait to see how Gilgamesh’s influence affects it. Speaking of which, it is always entertaining to see Gilgamesh’s hopelessly arrogant take on things. His lengthy scene in this episode doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know from his brief appearances in FSN but I’m all for finding out more about how Gilgamesh sees the world and how that perspective influences and shapes Kirei’s. The episode itself was a great balance between plot progress and character development. I really enjoy the dynamic within Team Lancer – there is a lot of potential for drama there and I’d be surprised if Lancer’s curse doesn’t play out over the course of the series and bring his dysfunctional team down with him. Still, all of it pales in comparison to Kiritsugu’s outrageous attack on Kayneth. That plan of attack from its conception to its execution was a game-changer for me – it changed what was previously a more muted, fantasy-based War and turned it, somehow, into something bigger. I think what impressed me the most about that particular scene was the way it was executed. At first, you think that Kiritsugu was going to be out-manoeuvred but then you realize that Kiritsugu has out-played Kayneth instead by simply thinking exceptionally outside the Magi box. It raises my expectations of future episodes and I have every confidence that the series will continue to deliver.
Lastly, my deepest condolences to anyone affected by the attacks in Paris. You are in our thoughts.