Attack on Titan
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 58 of
Attack on Titan (TV 4/2019) ?
Despite the portentous title drop, “Attack Titan” is a deceptively low-key episode that pumps the brakes on the action in order to give both the characters and the audience time to reckon with everything we've learned during the bombshell flashback to Grisha's origins. It's actually the kind of story that I love to see from Attack on Titan, one that gives the show a chance to flex its dramatic and comedic muscles in a more naturalistic manner, delivering different kinds of standout moments that remind you how damn good this series can be even when it isn't focused on spectacle.
As far as juicy new morsels of plot are concerned, the Grisha portions of the episode still have a lot to offer. After Grisha understandably asks Eren Kruger why he waited until after his comrades were murdered and his wife had been Titanified to transform, the Owl gives his own backstory monologue. His story isn't much different from Grisha's, it turns out; he too lost family to Marleyan persecution, and throughout his life as a double agent, he's killed many of his own people in order to maintain his position and keep the Eldians' fight going from the inside. He saved Grisha because he thinks that he intimately understands both the hatred and self-destruction that infects the soul through war, and he wants to give Grisha a chance to start over. He tells him to find a new life and build a new family, to establish his mission for liberation on the foundation of love rather than hate, lest all of the Eldians repeat the same cycle of violence and betrayal that got them on top of this wall in the first place. It's powerful stuff that serves to reinforce the core of empathy and self-reflection at the heart of Attack on Titan's story, which helps me contextualize its irresponsible appropriation of real-world iconography as ultimately well-intentioned, despite the accompanying discomfort.
We also get some fascinating (and grim) revelations on the rules of becoming a Titan Shifter. There are Nine Titans whose powers can be passed along to people of Eldian blood, with the Founding Titan being at the center of it all. The whole reason that Eren is privy to the finer details of what Grisha experienced is because the Founding Titan forms a kind of psycho-spiritual fulcrum or “coordinate” that binds the memories and souls of all Titans. This explains why the power of the Founding Titan can manipulate Eldian memories, and how Eren can have such vivid flashbacks of his father's life before coming to the City. That power comes with a price, though – another reason that Eren the Owl gifted Grisha with the power of his Titan, the titular Attack Titan, is because anyone who inherits this power will only have thirteen years to live. After that, their abilities must be consumed by another, or they will be randomly transferred to an unborn Eldian upon death. This means that Armin's resurrection comes with a thirteen-year expiration date, and Eren has only about eight left by now.
It's not all doom and gloom, however – “Attack Titan” is filled with some delightfully sweet and funny moments too, which are all the more important when the stakes have been raised so high. I cracked up when Hange called out Eren's dramatic title drop of “Shingeki no Kyoujin”; what seems like such a cool cut-to-commercial moment would look bizarre to anyone not watching through a TV screen. I laughed doubly at Levi brushing this off as Eren's puberty running wild, and then again when Hange and the military court did the same thing near the end of the episode. It's easy to forget when so much Serious Business™ is going on, but Attack on Titan can be surprisingly funny!
It can also be heartbreakingly earnest, like we see when Queen Historia receives Reiner's letter from Ymir. I hope we get more time to work out their relationship in season 4, because this moment with one of the show's best characters was great but all too brief. More than anything, I appreciate that Attack on Titan doesn't shy away from being explicit about Ymir's feelings. She refers to her message as a love letter and says that her one regret is that she was never able to marry Historia. While making the one explicitly queer character we've met so far such a tragic figure is somewhat unfortunate, I will never turn down an opportunity to shut down the tiresome “They're just good friends!” argument. And judging by Historia's wistful response to her friend's unconventional proposal, there's no reason to believe Historia doesn't reciprocate those feelings.
More than anything, I live for the moments in Attack on Titan that can delight and shock longtime fans in equal measure. These can be small reveals, like when you realize that all of those little exposition excerpts the series has been using for its interstitial eyecatches came from Grisha's notebooks. Or they can be scenes that send chills down your spine in their implications for the characters or the story at large. In this episode's final moments, as Eren is contemplating how his connection to Dina might play into his future relationship with Historia, we cut back to Eren Kruger, who's just about to give Grisha his dose of Titan Serum. He explains the necessity of fighting onward and finding a family to anchor him to the world, but then he says, “To save Mikasa, Armin, and everyone else, you must see it through.” Grisha has no idea who Mikasa and Armin are, and even Eren wonders whose memories just bled into his own. It could be nothing more than a sly easter egg, but the implication that these Titan memories can travel through time is such a cool and unexpected wrinkle that I can't help but feel giddy just thinking about it. At the very least, it's a powerful reminder of how deeply our heroes and the Titans are connected, across a cycle of war and redemption that they've been caught in for generations. It's difficult to say whether they'll be able to make it out of this war intact, but after everything that's happened across these three seasons, I'd like to think they have a fighting chance.
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