DARLING in the FRANXX Episode 14
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 14 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
It may have only taken over half of the series' run, but Zero Two is finally starting to feel like a character in her own show. After last week's stellar outing gave both our heroes and the audience some much-needed context for Zero Two and Hiro's relationship, “Punishment and Confession” pumps the brakes to deal with the ramifications of Zero Two nearly killing Hiro (again). What makes this episode different from before is that we get more time in Zero Two's personal headspace; instead of relying on either frank exposition or vague shots of brooding silence, episode 14 of DARLING in the FRANXX strikes a much more balanced approach to characterizing its leading lady, now that the plot has made it necessary. With Hiro bedridden for most of the episode, Zero Two is desperate to see him and reforge the relationship she had forgotten they shared, but Ichigo is having none of it. Zero Two is sequestered off to stew in her guilt and anger, while Ichigo uses her position as the squad's leader to essentially claim Hiro as her own.
As we hear Zero Two's thoughts and understand her motivations more clearly, Ichigo is positioned as the antagonist to her goals. Because of this, we get a real feeling of Zero Two's rage and isolation for what feels like the first time, communicating the strain of her inhumanity more effectively than before. For months now, the show has been primarily focused on how desperate Hiro is for Zero Two's companionship, with only some occasional lip service being paid to Zero Two's feelings. While Zero Two's ferociously possessive love for Hiro isn't exactly healthy, her feelings are now rounded out in a way that helps her feel like more than just a sexy plot device meant to fuel Hiro's character arc. This growth in DARLING's narrative consistency exists more on an abstract scale, unfortunately; as an individual episode of the series, “Punishment and Confession” is one of the sloppier efforts FRANXX has produced so far, both visually and narratively.
It isn't just that “Punishment and Confession” suffers in comparison to the lush animation and quality direction of “The Beast and the Prince”; this production would seem visually “off” compared to most of DARLING's other episodes. The use of alternating aspect ratios and a generally dynamic camera keep episode 14 engaging, but most of the character animation feels rigid and rough, though not in the stylistically appropriate way that works for some of TRIGGER's efforts. It isn't enough to kill the episode's effectiveness, but it can be distracting after getting used to seeing better efforts from FRANXX over the past few months.
Visuals aside, the episode's script hurts it more by serving characters well in individual moments but falling down when it comes to stitching those beats together. My biggest gripe would have to be the way the episode's central conflict is driven primarily by Ichigo's selfishness, only to have the climax brought about by Zero Two and Hiro's mis-timed misunderstanding. It's better when the drama is fueled by character flaws and personalities conflicting with one another; for as frustrating as it can be to see Ichigo trying to force her relationship with Hiro to blossom, it's also consistent with what we've seen of her character throughout the show. While you can argue that Ichigo's meddling sort of results in Hiro escaping his hospital room mere minutes before Zero Two is allowed to see him, the episode makes it feel like too much of a contrived coincidence.
I'm feeling equally mixed about the way that Hiro lashes out at Zero Two and calls her a monster after she attacks Ichigo and the others. It's not that this isn't a reasonable reaction (I'd be mad too), but I don't how I feel about this being the only interaction they have after being separated for most of the episode. It makes sense that Hiro might be paranoid and bitter about being “used” by Zero Two, but it seems like a mistake to dive right into their hyperbolic falling-out before they even have a chance to reconcile their shared memories. Sure, her growing horns and glowing eyes highlight her monstrous nature more than ever before, but given that Hiro now remembers the abuse she suffered as a child, the drama ends up coming off more forced than it should.
If I'm being especially critical of DARLING in the FRANXX, this week, it's because the series is so close to realizing some of that untapped dramatic potential it keeps building, but it just isn't there yet; it's always “two steps forward, one step back”. “Punishment and Confession” spends so much time ratcheting up the soap-opera aspects of the show that completely glosses over the one real plot detail we get this week, which is that dangerously high yellow-blood cell levels like Hiro's can lead to “saurification”. Now, it's unclear whether this means becoming a hybrid like Zero Two or a straight-up Klaxosaur, but there are clearly some plot twists brewing in any case. Hopefully this will kick DARLING's pacing up a notch, because we all know that Zero Two is going to end up rejoining the team at some point, and I'd rather it be sooner than later.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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