DARLING in the FRANXX
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
It's Zorome's turn at bat this week as DARLING in the FRANXX continues to develop its cast and reveal more about this world that the Parasites are fighting to protect. There's a minor thread running through the episode regarding Zero Two's sudden gloominess, but to call it a subplot would be generous; it's really just a couple of quick beats setting up for future developments. Other than that, “The City of Eternity” is Zorome's spotlight, giving him the opportunity to sneak away from the group and explore the fabled underground city that the Parasites defend in their battles against the Klaxosaurs. What starts off as a innocent romp through the city's empty streets quickly turns into something stranger and more somber.
The occasion of the Parasites' visit is meant to be a celebration. The conspicuously monkey-masked members of APE have decided to experiment with positive reinforcement and grant the Parasites a medaling ceremony in the city to honor the children's achievements. The past few episodes have gone out of their way to establish that pleasing Papa and earning his place among the adults is Zorome's primary motivation, so he literally jumps at the chance to visit the city. As is often the case in shows like DARLING in the FRANXX, things start off well until the cracks in the city's façade begin to show. The human attendee is happy to offer the children praise, but he refuses to shake Zorome's hand when the boy offers it in thanks, and when the kids all take their walk back to headquarters, Zero Two makes a point of reinforcing the city's lifeless sense of emptiness.
This is where Zorome sneaks off to explore on his own, and through a series of mishaps he finds himself in the apartment of a mysterious adult woman. This is where “The City of Eternity” really cranks up its dystopic science-fiction vibes; not only is the woman conspicuously aged, but her life in the city is uncannily sterile. She claims to have lost her interest in the taste of food, and her “partner” seems to live his life in a virtual reality chamber where he's dosed with chemicals to keep him happy. As Zorome prods more and more into this woman's life, she reveals that, despite living in an arrangement that seems to echo the old human customs of marriage, it's been so long since she has spoken to her partner that she doesn't even remember what his voice sounds like. She shakes off the abnormality of this arrangement, remarking that the relationships found in the old human society must have been more bothersome and hurtful than anything else. There are echoes of other science-fiction staples all over “The Eternal City”, from the drug-induced stupors that control the citizens of “Brave New World” to the mechanical and sterile societies found in the worlds of “THX-1138” or “The Giver”. Something is clearly off about this society, and DARLING is clearly making a point to show us that even though the Parasites have been secluded and even ostracized by the rest of their world, they are still living the lives we would recognize as more human by comparison.
This episode's small peek at how this dystopia functions is very much Science-Fiction 101, and while I would like DARLING to be a little more experimental with its social commentary in general, I'm equally wary of the way the show seems to be equating a traditional heterosexual pair in a nuclear family with the “correct” form of human experience. Nothing the show has done so far has been explicitly homophobic or specifically emphasized child-rearing, but the hints we've gotten about what lies ahead seem to venerate the benefits of heterosexual romance and reproduction without giving much thought to any satisfying deviations from that norm. Given that this is a 21st-century take on coming-of-age by way of romantic and sexual development, excluding the experiences of young people who aren't heterosexual, romantically driven, or perhaps want children depending on where the story goes—this choice will stand out more and more as DARLING bears down its chosen themes.
Those potential issues aside, the surface level storytelling of DARLING continues to be entertaining, if not fairly derivative. Zorome has proven himself more likable with every passing week, and his brief friendship with this adult woman is touching in its own melancholy way. Though the episode never outright says this, it's strongly hinted that this woman could be Zorome's biological mother, and even if that isn't the case, the show is playing the Parasite's mommy issues so heavily that the other shoe is bound to drop sooner or later. We're also seeing more of the supposed infection that necessitates the Parasites being quarantined from society, so the only thing left to see there is which trope DARLING decides to pursue. Either the children aren't sick and the infection is just a ruse meant to instill APE's psychological control over the Plantation, or the kids are victims of some kind biomechanical or genetic modification that will result in sad times for all down the line.
“The Eternal City” is an episode that exists on the border of two distinct phases of DARLING in the FRANXX's storytelling trajectory; it both serves to provide more exposition and worldbuilding for the series, while also inching our heroes further along toward the inevitable mid-series shakeups that will set the main conflict of the show in motion. It's still a well-animated and entertaining ride that raises some troubling questions about our Parasites' futures, but DARLING is taking too much time to lay out themes and plot developments that just aren't complex or interesting enough to warrant so much build-up. So far, this show has shown itself to be better at entertaining than provoking thoughtful discussion, so the more it leans into the strength of its action set-pieces and charming characters, the less risk it runs of biting off more than it can chew in the long run.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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