Attack on Titan The Final Season
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Attack on Titan The Final Season ?
"Do you know how to tell a good lie? Sometimes, you've gotta mix the truth into it."
When it comes to war, branding is everything. Especially in the case of conflicts fueled by nationalist fervor, there's nothing like a solid label or two that helps spark the fires of battle and bloodshed, and all the better if you have an icon that the masses can use to help recognize them. The reality of war is messy, brutal, petty, stupid, contradictory, and often times very boring. Maybe there's some territory or resources that are ripe for the plucking, and it's worth sacrificing a few thousand troops or so to pluck them. Treaties always make for a great excuse to throw bodies and bombs at a problem that might lie thousands of miles away, far from the minds and eyes of the civilians back home. These days, there's quite a lot of money to be made just in keeping the wheels of war turning ad infinitum; as long as the bullets and bomb casings and jet planes and tanks are being manufactured and sold at a premium price, the finer points of who is fighting whom, and for what reason, might as well be irrelevant. Still, if you want to get men and women to enlist — since conscription is a pretty bad marketing strategy, if we're talking about long-term optics — you've got to make certain that the branding is on point. For those soldiers, not to mention everyone else who is pitching in to fund such endeavors, the fight cannot be a matter of convenience or inconvenience, or of debatable moral ambiguities. It must come down to life, or death. Nothing less will suffice.
That said, it becomes even easier when the stakes really are life or death, and you cannot fault the Eldians of Paradis Island for their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect their homeland, and their freedom, from the hateful and oppressive bootheels of Marley. Yet, there's something about the way that soldiers like Floch Forster have been speaking of Eldia's prospect, as of late. Like gunpower, it sifts and spills through the lips of each of the angry citizens that are ready to mob the Paradis government, as they rally behind Eren, the new Savior of Eldia, and echo Erwin Smith's old battle cry: “Give your hearts!” Hange and the other Scouts have seen signs of the coming storm, and we've seen it too, ever since Floch first raised a joyous cry for the future of the New Eldian Empire.
So, this is why it is both terribly shocking and utterly predictable when, as Armin and Mikasa are still reeling from Premiere Zachary's refusal to allow them even a moment to see Eren and attempt to talk him down, a bomb tears Zachary and his office to shreds, taking a trio of Military Police Officers with him. Eren is a hero of near-mythical status to these people, and with rumors swirling that Zachary and the rest of the military were planning on forcing Eren to give up the Founding Titan to a more obedient host, it was only a matter of time before all of that gunpowder exploded. Later, the stunned scouts are informed that Eren Jeager has escaped from his cell, and that a rebellious coalition of Scouts and other military personnel have banded together in order to carry out the schemes of the Brothers Jeager. These insurrectionists are dubbed “the Jeagerists”, and just like that, the War for Paradis has a new faction to contend with, with Eren serving the de facto leader that is holding the future of every Eldian hostage.
There's a reason why, in practically every modern piece of fantasy and science-fiction pop culture, “Empire” is used as shorthand for the villainous powers-that-be. It's because, in a very real sense, empires truly are inherently evil things; they have to be. Fighting a desperate war of survival against the tyrannical powers that would destroy you is different from establishing an empire; to become an empire, a people cannot simply survive. Empires demand submission, and subservience. They must take as much as they can, from as many peoples and places as they can, by any means necessary. There is no room for justice in an empire, outside of what will best serve its own interests. There is no room for compassion if it means affording humanity and agency to the othered enemies who would challenge the empire's ambitions. If Eren truly is fighting for the glory of the New Eldian Empire, he might well and truly be lost.
Except this is Attack on Titan we're talking about, so of course it isn't as simple as “Eren Bad; Everyone Else Good.” The conniving Yelena freely admits to Dot Pyxis that she spoke to Eren on Zeke's behalf, just before he commenced his unilateral invasion of Marley. The stark fanaticism in her eyes makes it clear that she is unquestioningly devoted to Zeke's plan, and Pyxis' report gives Hange, Armin, and Mikasa reason to suspect that Eren is being manipulated. Then again, Pyxis is the one who offers Yelena that sage advice about how to tell a compelling lie, and he is awfully quick to vindicate Zachary's martyrdom and concede to the Jeagerist's demands. Pyxis claims to use their position as leverage, but it's impossible not to suspect that, when Floch tells the newly freed Eren of the supporters hiding in the upper ranks of the Military, Pyxis might be chief amongst them.
So who precisely is manipulating whom, and to what end? The Azumabitos have their own agenda that Mikasa cannot seem to work her way out of, and it is also dependent on the successful execution of The Rumbling. Plus, thanks to Onyakopon's cooperation, Hange has launched their own investigation that leads the Scouts back to all of the oddly specific service positions that Yelena secured for the Marleyan POWs. The Braus clan, along with Gabi and Falco, have just arrived at one such establishment, and at the very end of the episode we learn that Pieck is hiding in wait just a few feet away, herself.
When it comes to war, branding is everything. The simpler, the better. Gabi's brainwashing is proof of this; the Marleyan propaganda machine has worked for a century to keep the likes of her loyal to the cause, and ever willing to give their hearts to the empire. The Marleyan Good versus the Eldian Evil. Now, it seems that Eren and his followers have inverted the cause, only to arrive at the same effect. The Eldian Good versus The Marleyan Evil. There are so many citizens and soldiers now willing to give their hearts to the Eldian Empire. As Hange and the other Scouts race to uncover the truth, the question that “Guides” would have us ask is, “Who else is going to end up caught in the crossfire?” I fear we'll know the answer to that before too long.
Odds and Ends
• There wasn't anywhere else to put this observation, but I couldn't help but point out how nice it is to see Hitch again. The scene where she teases Armin for getting a little too close to ol' frozen Annie was delightful, though her sudden reappearance couldn't have come at a worse time for her, on account of all the murder and all. She avoided one bombing, for now, but we'll have to see how long she holds out.
• I forgot to add this correction to earlier write-ups, but let it be known that I recognize the error I made in describing Mikasa's tattoo as a marker of her Ackermann lineage. It's really a maker given to her by her mother as a symbol of their Azumabito heritage. That does seem like it'll end up factoring into the plot somehow, given Mikasa's scene with Kiyomi, though we'll have to wait a little bit longer to find out more.
• Here's another detail I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention: Zachary's assassins used the goddamned Shit Chair, of all things, to sneak the explosive into his office. That has to be some sort of weird poetic justice, I guess.
• If you are in need of even more Attack on Titan discussion and analysis, be sure to check out the ANN Aftershow! We stream live on YouTube every Monday at 5:00 PM PST/8:00 PM EST, and the show is archived as a podcast on iTunes and Spotify.
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