In my discussion last week, I ended up getting so caught up in talking about the ideological differences between Gilgamesh, Rider and Saber that I neglected to talk at all about the narrative implications of Rider’s show of force at the end. Thankfully, Tokiomi and Kirei open this week’s episode with just that topic. No matter how you slice it, there was really no need for Rider to unleash Ionian Hetaroi at that moment. Assassin, no matter how numerous, was really no threat to Rider at all but it seemed like he opted to display his Noble Phantasm more as a rebuttal to Saber’s austere nobility than for any practical, tactical purpose. Tokiomi is less than thrilled to hear that Rider’s trump card ranks in the same territory at Gilgamesh’s Gate of Babylon. He delays dealing with Rider for the moment, preferring to focus on eliminating other Servants before forcing the issue with him. Notably, with Assassin’s defeat, Kirei’s part in this war is done. Or is it?
Kiritsugu gives us a quick round up of everyone’s status at the moment – from his point of view, Kariya and Kayneth appear to be fairly easy marks but while he has no real incentive to go after Kariya, he does have reason to put Kayneth out of his misery. He hasn’t figured what is allowing Lancer to continue existing in the world without Kayneth’s mana but that shouldn’t take him too long. Kiritsugu has finally learned of Kirei’s special interest in him, reasoning (rather intelligently, I should add) that Kirei’s actions don’t make sense unless you assume that Kirei had some reason to move against Kiritsugu. For now, the show’s doing a good job of charting out the development of the antagonism between Kirei and Kiritsugu and setting up a final showdown between the two of them. The funny thing is that while Kirei is frankly obsessed with Kiritsugu, the latter just a little bemused by the priest’s attention. Sure, if Kirei wants to throw down, Kiritsugu would be happy to oblige him but why does he want to throw down so bad?
Speaking of Kirei, we catch up with him meeting Gilgamesh for another one of their wine infused counselling sessions. Gilgamesh, having finally found worthy (or as he would call them, interesting) opponents in this Holy Grail War, finally has something to take his mind off the drab, dull world around him. Unsurprisingly enough, he considers Saber an idiot too – but an idiot worthy of his attention and affection. His criticism of her pretty much sums up what Rider had to say in the previous episode – one of the defining characteristics of humanity is its fallibility. In fact, it is so much so that when people make mistakes, the common mea culpa phrase is ‘I’m only human’. Saber hasn’t been able to accept that she is only human because superhuman things were asked of her. As such, even if she achieved more than a normal human, she can’t help but beat herself up because she still didn’t live up to what was asked of her. Gilgamesh, in whatever wisdom you choose to attribute to him, sees this and realizes that it’s an unhealthy mental position to hold but of course, being Gilgamesh, he would rather just see pretty little Saber fall to pieces in her misery and failure because that’s just the kind of guy he is. The focus of the conversation shifts to Kirei next but most of it is stuff that we are already familiar with – things like what happens when a Servant is eliminated and the rationale behind killing Masters instead of just neutralizing them. The only real point of note here is that Kirei seems to have accepted Tokiomi’s bullshit that the only reason he was given the Command Seals in the first place was to help Tokiomi on his way to the Grail. Giglamesh isn’t having any of it though and shows the slightest hint of temper when Kirei implies that Tokiomi is the real leader in their dynamic. I don’t exactly understand what Gilgamesh’s response to the very existence of the Command Seals are – if, in Gilgamesh’s head, he is in charge and Tokiomi is a just a humble supplicant, then how come Tokiomi is able to exert control over the King? The scene ends with Gilgamesh asking for the results of Kirei’s investigation into the other Masters’ motivation for getting involved in the Holy Grail War. There is a knowing smirk from Gilgamesh at the end; he’s up to something, but what? It seems he is trying to ‘help’ Kirei figure out what he (Kirei) takes pleasure from but I’m curious to see how other Masters’ motivation can help him in this. Perhaps in seeing other Masters’ various motivations, Kirei will become enlightened about his own?
Oh look, it’s the Emiya household! Well, not yet it isn’t but it is the future Emiya household. Saber and Iri head off to set up a new base of operations within the city itself and we ‘learn’ that the Tohsakas and Matous are in the city too. The shed where Shirou will later accidentally summon Saber is plenty nostalgic but if you were watching this without being aware of Fate/Stay Night, you would probably think most of it was filler. After all, Iri just walks around and appraises the house and stuff but the rooms and house in general are intimately familiar to anyone who’s played the VN. I did notice that Saber was the one who drew the circle which makes me wonder if that did even more to result in her being chosen as Shirou’s Servant ten years later. We learn, sadly, that Iri is beginning to shut down, bit by bit. Like Ilya before her, she is weakening as the Grail functions take over and the human functions kick back. Hearing Iri talk so pleasantly about losing her senses and then her mind is just crushing, especially since it’s clear that if Iri had a choice in the matter, this would not be what she would choose for herself.
We switch back to Gilgamesh and Kirei as Kirei lists out the various Masters’ reasons for risking their life in this battle. Kirei is largely dismissive of most of the Masters, but that’s not really surprising given that most of the Masters are pretty bland, motivation-wise. Kayneth and Waver are written off almost instantly, since they are both pursuing little more than pride and vanity. Similarly, Ryuunosuke is also dismissed summarily because he is little more than an animal. However, Kariya is deemed to be of sufficient interest for Kirei to expand upon. He gives us the scoops – we already know most of it – but the key is that Gilgamesh notices the additional detail Kirei gives us. It seems that Kirei has let go of his obsession with Kiritsugu after finding out that the latter is just a hired hand doing another job. Whatever hopes that Kirei had for uncovering insights into his own personality by confronting Kiritsugu, seem to have been dashed; Kiritsugu is relegated to the Waver-Kayneth pile of disappointments. Kirei doesn’t quite understand what Gilgamesh is getting at and I will admit that if I were in his place, I would probably be a little confused myself. If we assume that the intended audience for this series was Fate fans then I think it is reasonable to assume that they would already know that Kirei’s passion lies in exploring human misery and bathing in the tears of tortured children. Yet, at this point, Kirei is fully aware of how immoral his inner desires are. It’s like Kirei is so deep inside the closet, he doesn’t even realize there is a closet door that he can use to come out of it. His upbringing as a priest has taught him that pleasure that comes at the price of others’ happiness is terribly wrong and thus, Kirei’s subconscious is trying its best to supress his innate personality and desires. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, is trying to undo all that training and get Kirei to embrace the darkness within and accept himself for what he is.
Gilgamesh chooses to do this by probing deeper into Kirei’s interest in Kariya. It works to an extent, Kirei is made to confront the fact that he clearly does enjoy the prospect of others’ suffering but for the moment, a breakthrough is prevented by the return of Kirei’s church training. I wouldn’t call Kirei a moral person, even at this point in time; rather, he is a man aware of morality and his upbringing has impressed upon him the importance of acting in a moral way. What I love most about this exchange between these characters is the dynamic between them. For once, I get to see a side of Gilgamesh that isn’t just boasts, arrogance and bravado – he demonstrates a keen understanding of the human mind as he begins to pick at the contradictions in Kirei’s beliefs. I also absolutely love the way Gilgamesh is portrayed here; he is lounging lazily, sipping on some fine wine and tempting Kirei to the dark side. He is the very representation, in that sense, of everything that Kirei was taught to deplore in man. He is basically Satan himself, tempting the heart of ‘good’ men (which is what Kirei is trying to be at least) away from what is right and holy. Kirei was hardly the most incorruptible of men to begin with but Gilgamesh, for his part, zoomed in on the black cracks in Kirei’s bland exterior.
The episode ends on a dramatic note – or a note that would have been dramatic if we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. Kirei’s Command Seals re-appear, which is surprising since I thought he had already used them all up. He can’t understand it either but Gilgamesh tells him it is a sign – the Grail clearly has big plans for him and that Kirei can use the Grail to find the shape of his soul. The seemingly open-ended question posed at the end of the episode is who Kirei’s new Servant will be but there is really no mystery to it since we already know that Gilgamesh and Kirei end up teaming up. Sure, Kirei could work with another Servant until the series’ end before joining Gilgamesh but I think that would discredit a lot of the work done here in characterizing the duo’s dynamic. If I had not known how the series would end, I can imagine myself dedicating a lot of page space to making cases for the various Servants joining Kirei but that just feels like wasted energy now. So instead, I’ll just sign off here: thanks for reading and see you next week for the season finale!