by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 16 of
How would you rate episode 17 of
I marked episodes 14 and 15 down a bit because the battle encompassing both felt stretched out. Episodes 16 and 17, contrarily, have no such problem. In fact, given the amount of narrative and thematic ground they cover, this may well be the most tightly-written part of the series.
Consider all the juicy little morsels in play here. While the battle resolved on the river, Maya snuck up on Sola and severed her arm, then kidnapped her, hence putting the El-Melloi team at a great disadvantage. They are not totally done because at the same time Kayneth acquires a Command Seal, then kills the priest overseeing the tournament, hence unwittingly upending the elaborate control that Tokiomi had on the Grail War. A further complication that Tokiomi doesn't ever find out about is that Kirei secretly carried Kariya home and was apparently at least stabilizing him in the scene between the two in episode 15. That's not at all practical for Tokiomi; in fact, it's rather ominous, as it means that Archer's insidious undermining is finally breaking through to Kirei. Episode 17 goes on to show all too clearly what the ultimate consequences of that will be.
On another front, Saber, who still does not fully understand how Kiritsugu operates, thinks that she is finally getting a chance to finish her honorable due with Lancer, who is fresh off of shaming and insults from Kayneth. Instead the whole thing is just a scheme to keep Lancer distracted while Kiritsugu boxes Kayneth into eliminating himself from the Grail War. Even on a rewatch, I am still surprised that Kayneth actually cared enough about Sola to be desperate to keep her alive, even if it meant dropping out of the war, and clearly he was too emotionally shaken up to not consider the loophole in the geas: it only bound Kiritsugu, not someone who had been told to finish the job beforehand. The forced suicide of Lancer which results is one of the whole series' ugliest scenes and leaves one of the strongest lasting impressions of any scene in the series. It was a fantastic visual and verbal expression of a man betrayed.
Kiritsugu's “discussion” with Saber afterwards is also meaty. His remarks about how honor is just an excuse to get people to die on a battlefield, and how battlefields are hellish rather than glorious, are especially cutting, even damning. His ideal world is a world without honor and of the blood and suffering it entails. It is another harsh lesson for Saber, another strike at her idealism. Whether or not he's right is debatable.
The other big event, which crosses over into episode 17, is the increasingly frail state of Irisviel. She was not maintaining her stance and distance because she was upset at Kiritsugu; it was all she could do to stay standing, and she doesn't want Kiritsugu to know that. The later conversation she has in the car with Maya reveals that her albino appearance is not her true form, and she won't be able to maintain it much longer. The clock at the end of each episode is ticking down as much for her as for the Grail War as a whole. But hey, Saber now has a motorcycle, right? And that's pretty cool.
The rest of episode 17 involves the follow-through on the betrayal that anyone who has already seen Fate/stay night knew had to be coming. In fact, in retrospect just about every non-Irisviel aspect of the episode sets up circumstances for F/SN: how Kirei winds up becoming Gilgamesh's master, how he turned into the twisted bastard that he is in F/SN, how he became associated with Rin, and how Rin got the book she has in F/SN. I can fully appreciate why Kirei so thoroughly entertains Gilgamesh, as Kirei's transformation over the course of this episode is compelling. Kudos also to the art team for the splendid shift in color and shading as Gilgamesh talks to Kirei one final time. That's a great visual representation of a soul whose dark desires are getting the better of him. Also remember the revelation later in that scene that none of the Servants – not even the winning one – are meant to survive the Grail War; they must all die in order to fully manifest the Grail. That is, I think, the first time that Archer's arrogance has been completely thrown off his attitude, and it was very satisfying to watch.
At the end of the day there are still four Masters and four Servants left, just not entirely in the orientation that the war started in, and things are heating up once again.
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