Attack on Titan The Final Season
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Attack on Titan The Final Season ?
”What about the people who live now? How have we sinned?”
We've reached the stage in the Attack on Titan rollercoaster where the carts have cleared the first couple of hills and a loop-de-loop or two, and now the captive riders are left to wait as the chains of the machine clank and whir, and they are pulled ever so slowly to the top of another summit. In other words, “Deceiver” can be neatly divided into two halves of focus, neither of which are much concerned with action or thrills. On the one side of the divide, you have all of the political machinations churning between Eren's supporters and the rest of the Eldian Scouts and government, not to mention everything going on across the sea in Marley. On the other side are Gabi and Falco, freshly busted out of the POW stockades and hiding amongst other Eldian orphans. This is where the emotional meat of the episode is, and there's a lot there to chew on; just make sure your expectations are tempered from the get-go.
On the table-setting front, the long-and-short of it is that there is trouble on the horizon for Eldians both at home and abroad. On Paradis, there is plenty of fermenting dissidence brewing amongst the Scouts who think Eren is a hero of the so-called New Eldian Empire, and Hange discovers that Floch, Holger, Wim, and Louise have gone so far as to leak information about Eren and the Marleyan Volunteers' detainment to the general public. This only increases the pressure on Hange, so you can understand why they decide to lock up the young scouts along with Eren and the rest, and how exhausted they feel when all is said and done. There's also a conversation between Mikasa and Louise, who was one of the Trost survivors that was inspired to take up the banner of the Scouts in the years since that fateful first battle. I'll be honest, I was initially confused a bit by this scene, as it I thought it was playing up Louise's lifelong obsession with following in Mikasa's footsteps as something we should already know, but unless there are some scenes from the manga that got cut, I really don't remember her showing up in between Season 1 and now. Still, there are interesting morsels of foreshadowing to consider, especially with that fractured vision of that first meeting she had with Eren; will Mikasa's loyalty to Eren cause her to turn against the Scouts entirely?
Elsewhere, in Marley, the survivors of the assault have caught on to Zeke's scheme, and Reiner — who is back in fighting form it seems — is eager to start an immediate counter-attack, since he knows Zeke is relying on them to wait for support from the other nations that Marley has subjugated. This is maybe the weakest scene of the episode; not only does it come as a post-credits stinger, for some reason, it feels too easy to have everyone immediately sniff out Zeke's deception. I felt like Magath's behavior was suspect in the past with regards to Willy Tybur's whole scheme, so is it possible that he's in cahoots with Zeke, too, and that this counterattack is all a part of Zeke's master plan?
Maybe, but it's also just as likely that we only have a handful of episodes left in this entire series, and the story simply needed to cut some corners to move things along. Still, though AoT's somewhat haphazard methods at getting all of its pieces on the game board make “Deceiver” a little harder to love than previous episodes of Attack on Titan's Final Season, the show makes up for it with Gabi and Falco's material. If subtlety is what you're in the mood for, well, I'm not entirely sure what you're doing here – this is Attack on Titan, where subtlety goes to be munched into bits by a horde of ravenous giants. I'm more than happy to revel in the melodrama, myself, since AoT has made all of this blunt-force thematic reckoning its bread and butter these past eight years.
We begin with Gabi's rather brutal prison breakout routine, which essentially boils down to her writhing madly in her prison cell and then using a sock and a brick to bludgeon the poor guard that came to check on her (this also cues the first of Falco's “Aw geez, Gabi, oh boy…” reactions, which becomes a very funny running gag this week). Already, Gabi's feral approach to claiming her freedom is causing a divide between her and Falco, especially when she fully admits that she has no intention of surviving on Paradis; rather, she simply wants to confront Zeke and discover the truth behind his betrayal before she is captured and killed. It's a suicide mission, which Falco is obviously not on board for, what with his obsession over keeping Gabi alive, and all. The confrontation he and Gabi have on the riverside is an especially heartbreaking one, where Falco tries to convince Gabi to ditch the Eldian armband she's still wearing, since it will only serve to give them away. Gabi cannot part with it, though. From her perspective, twisted as it is by a lifetime's worth of propaganda and hate, that little strip of fabric is the only thing that separates her — a “good” Eldian — from the rest of the “devils” on Paradis.
Falco is naturally a bit more levelheaded, so he takes the reigns when a young girl named Kaya finds the two of them, panicked and helpless, and offers them a hot meal and a warm bed at her place. Her place, as it so happens, is the Braus family farm, which has become a home for war orphans in recent years. It's maybe a predictable twist of irony, but no less cruel and dark for it, which makes the hijinks that Falco and Gabi get up to during their stay that much more sad. Here, we see the two getting to be actual kids for maybe the first time in their lives: Doing some chorin', getting into hilarious fights with the local livestock, and generally living a life untainted by the burden of the Warrior Unit. It isn't picturesque or anything (Gabi's flagrant hostility makes sure of that), but there's a tenuous sense of peace, all the same. Seriously, I think all of us have, at one point or another, been Falco in this situation, who can only cry out Gabi's name in increasingly exasperated tones as his friend keeps being the worst at things.
I'll admit that I didn't recognize Kaya at first, though I should have, seeing as the history she clues Gabi and Falco to was the focus of one of my all-time favorite episodes of Attack on Titan, Season 2's “I'm Home”, which featured Sasha surviving a desperate one-on-one struggle with a Titan that helped destroy her village. Kaya's a smart one, you see, which in this case means that she could easily hear Gabi's incessant shouting about being a Marleyan soldier. Kaya doesn't rat out her newfound friends, though, not even when Gabi goes on and on about how Eldians deserve their terrible fate for all of the damage their ancestors did. Instead, she takes them to the ruins of her home, explains the horror of having to listen to every last one of her mother's dying gasps and screams, and then asks a simple question: What could she, or her mother, or any of the Eldians on Paradis have done to deserve such a fate? Gabi balks, insists that the story of inherited guilt and damnation that she has been fed her entire life is the only justification necessary, but Kaya insists. Crying, screaming, shaking, she begs her friends, these lifelong enemies that never even know of each other's existence until now, to offer some kind of explanation that could make her mother's terrible and pointless death make even a little bit of sense.
If we're looking at this from an allegorical angle, there are all sorts of questions that arise about which nation and culture that Isayama might be creating parallels to, here. Is he still framing the Eldians as historically oppressed victims of genocide and bigotry, like the Jews, Armenians, Indigenous American Natives, and so on? That would make a kind of sense, though you could easily draw the relationship to more the justifiably vilified instigators of war, who for very understandable reasons remain held to some account for the atrocities they committed, as has happened to Germany, America, and yes, Japan. Does Attack on Titan understand how fraught the line it is walking is, when it could (intentionally or otherwise) be read as trying to compare the experience of Japan's post-war reckoning with being the victims of history's most incomprehensible genocide? All I'm saying is that “The modern Japanese suffering ‘discrimination’ because the atrocities committed during WWII is just like what happened to the Jews!” is a really weird argument to make, especially considering the whole situation with Japan and Germany being a part of the Axis and all…
That said, it speaks to the raw power of Isayama's storytelling that this confrontation between Kaya and Gabi works so damned well, so long as you can take AoT on a bit of good faith and accept the broader and more humanistic interpretation of what is happening here, thematically. At the very least, Kaya's emotionally devastating breakdown presents Gabi (and any character that would think like her) with a stone-cold refutation of the “othering” that is inherent to all fascist systems. It's easy enough for Gabi to regurgitate the propaganda she's been swallowing to Falco, or to some Eldian girl she doesn't know, but it all changes when she is forced to confront to real human cost of her hatred. Even our little, monstrous Gabi stumbles and stutters when she has to look a victim of Marley's violence in the eye. Her vile arguments never made any sense to us, obviously, but now even she sounds uncertain and hollow when asked to justify the suffering that Kaya and her family have gone through. Falco, to his credit, has understood from the start. He got the picture even back when Gabi first went to board that Scout zeppelin. Kaya's mother died because a bunch of inexperienced kids botched a military maneuver. There is no righteous cause to all of this bloodshed. There is no grand, universal design to justify the killing.
If there is one throughline to consider between the two disparate halves of “Deceiver”, it's the legacy that the heroes of this war have left behind, regardless of what they intended. Eren's legacy seems to be causing no shortage of trouble and chaos in the heart of Paradis, to nobody's surprise. In Sasha's case, her bravery and selflessness led to a home being built for all of the orphans left behind in Dauper, and it inspired Kaya to fight for her people's agency and right to live, even in small ways, like she does in the ruins of that house. She doesn't know that Gabi murdered the woman who saved her all those years ago, and I don't think Gabi or Falco have any clue that Sasha's family has saved them from certain death and starvation. As for what these kids will make of the paths laid out before them, it is too early to say. If there is any hope whatsoever of breaking this endless loop of injustice and retribution, it lies with them, and we can only hope that they can overcome the centuries' worth of hateful spite that got them here in the first place.
Want to hear more of James thoughts on Attack on Titan? Check out our new podcast The ANN After Show! It streams live on YouTube on Monday at 6pm PT/9pm ET.
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