Attack on Titan Episode 28
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 28 of
Attack on Titan (TV 2/2017) ?
Three weeks in, I'm still struck by how well this second season of Attack on Titan is juggling both the pacing of its storylines and the transformation of its tone. There were worries going into this season that the reduced episode count would make for a disappointing affair, but if anything, I think the crew is using that limitation to their advantage, crafting a leaner and meaner show that trims the fat of the first season while doubling down on everything that made it great. This third episode is more transitionary than the last two, and though it's focused more on laying the groundwork for upcoming events through dialogue than action and spectacle, it isn't lacking in strong material whatsoever.
Heck, that opening scene alone ranks among the more quietly disturbing moments the series has produced so far. We don't get as much of Connie as I expected or hoped for this week, but the pre-credits scene does a lot to show just how much the grief and stress of these Titan attacks are weighing on him and everyone else in the company. The moment that really sells the scene is the soft gurgle of “welcome home” that Connie hears from the doomed Titan that lies in the ruins of his childhood home. It's another moment of subtle horror that's not only uniquely creepy, but also serves as another small clue hinting at the link between the titans and humanity. The look of sheer horror Connie gives the creature reveals just how unspeakable such a revelation would be to the soldiers who've been fighting this war.
There's a term used a lot in the discussion of horror, especially Gothic horror, called the “uncanny”. It refers to when a familiar image or idea is twisted just slightly enough to become unsettling, even terrifying. It's where the term “uncanny valley” comes from, that phenomena that occurs when something looks human enough to be recognizable as such, but falls just short enough to come across as uncomfortably inhuman. The uncanny valley effect has always been at play in Attack on Titan, making the exaggerated features and erratic movements of the Titans so innately threatening. But now that dynamic isn't just subtext – there's some kind of human component to the Titan machine, not just in anomalies like Eren or the Beast Titan, but key to the truth of what all Titans really are. The show has been hinting at this truth since the first season, but this season has elevated that exploration along with the horror of the show's entire premise. Attack on Titan isn't just aesthetically horrific anymore, it's conceptually horrific, which makes even little moments like the episode's opening scene all the more impactful.
It isn't just the opening scene, either. All of episode 28 is bathed in an inky cloak of Gothic dread, which feels both refreshing and entirely appropriate for where the series has gone. The shock and awe of that first blast of combat has finally worn off, and all our heroes have to contend with the more permanent dread of life at the bottom of the food chain. Two-thirds of the episode take place at night, and Connie's crew gets an especially effective scene of wandering around blind in pitch darkness, with every step they take bringing a new possibility of running afoul of the enemy. When they finally stumble into Ymir and Christa's gang, they're immediately greeted with the ruins of an old castle, shrouded in a thin swathe of moonlight. I can recall many instances of Attack on Titan being gory and disturbing, but I can't remember the show ever being this suspenseful before. The series is doubling down on its transformation into a full-fledged Gothic Horror Fantasy, with a dash of War Drama on the side, and I'm loving every second of it.
I'm also loving how well episodes like this one handle the show's overabundance of characters and mysteries. I'm usually pretty terrible at keeping track of an episode that cross-cuts between too many plot threads, but this episode managed to pull it off. We got Connie's crew searching for the breach in the Wall, Eren's crew investigating the connection between the Wall and the Titans, and a full reintroduction to Ymir and Christa, who seem to be playing a much bigger part in this second season than they did in the first. I do feel like Connie's story was lost in the shuffle, and the reveal of Christa's involvement in the Church conspiracy also felt like it needed an extra beat to play out, but by and large, this was an example of Attack on Titan proving a firm grasp on its sprawling cast of characters.
The most telling change of this season is probably how the naming conventions for episodes have changed. Gone are the “part one, part two, etc.” subtitles from the first series. Instead of a series of connected arcs, this season feels like one singular story, with many different strands coming together into a more focused whole. It's too early to say whether or not this new season of Attack on Titan is an unequivocal improvement over the first, but at the rate these episodes are going, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that way.
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