by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 8 of
One of the more understated issues with Listeners' episodic storytelling is that, despite spending half a dozen episodes following them, Echo and Mu have remained pretty underdeveloped. They're likable personalities, and can bounce off eachother and the myriad supporting cast well in most scenarios, but besides learning to be more trusting towards eachother they're virtually identical to where they were in the premiere. Consistent character writing's all well and good, but our deuteragonists have had to spend so much time reacting to the wacky rock'n'rollers around them that the audience hasn't gotten much time inside their heads since their pit-stop with the Valentines in episode 3.
Thankfully, “The Real Me” helps remedy that a bit. Following last episode's example, it once again slows the pacing down enough to let the characters actually talk about their feelings and worries, rather than just infodumping. When the pair are suddenly whisked away to Londinium by the charismatic Tommy Walker and all but conscripted into his plan to re-open the gate that supposedly swallowed Jimi Stonefree 10 years ago, potentially bringing their journey to an end, it triggers a good bit of contemplation for Echo and Mu. Echo's conundrum is the simpler of the two – he's realizing he's in love with Mu, and has to pluck up the courage to tell her, or at least ask to stay by her side even after they've found Jimi and unlocked whatever secrets are hiding inside her memories. It's a straightforward conflict that suits such a plain boy, but it's nice to see him doing some real introspection for once and deciding to take action. Mu was the spark that made him admit he wanted more than a life of numb safety, and now he's internalizing that lesson and putting it into practice.
Mu's problems are decidedly heavier. While excited at the prospect of finally meeting her mysterious brother, she's also apprehensive about what it could mean for unlocking her memories. What if the person she was before Echo dug her out of the scrap heap is completely different from who she is now? Would that mean Mu, as she knows herself, would just vanish altogether? It's all very existential, and quite in line with the episodes namesake song, itself a bombastic plea for true understanding of one's self. Mu ultimately decides to step forward and face whoever she really is, but that question becomes way more muddled when somebody else decides to make her who he wants her to be.
Tommy Walker is decidedly different from his namesake, as he doesn't so much as touch a pinball machine this whole episode. And rather than starting a 70's cult he's gone a different route and formed a child army, decking them out in Mod fashion to evangelize in the streets of Londinium when they're not being indoctrinated within the walls of the Watchtower. The audience can tell from a mile away (and from the end of last episode) that he's not on the up-and-up, but it's still interesting to see him subtly push Mu into following his plans, before throwing all subtlety out the window and just drugging her to get her to activate his retrofitted version of Jimi's Equipment and launch a god damn (sound) wave motion cannon into the Earless horde. Rather than trying to bring Jimi back from wherever he's gone, Tommy's decided it's better to just recreate him, whether his vessel wants to or not. Which I guess within the classic rock metaphor means he's trying to create Woodstock '99, and that's perhaps even more evil than the manipulation and genocide.
Jokes about terrible music festivals aside, this episode feels like confirmation that Listeners has found its footing now that's it's done with the broad set-up. Our leads both get important moments that make them feel well-rounded, and the overall conflict feels much better defined than the previous globetrotting. I also have to mention the climactic laser-blast and its accompanying buildup: the lyrics to “All Along The Watchtower” has never felt so ominous, which is saying something. Hopefully this is a sign of what to expect going into the 3rd act of the series.
Listeners is currently streaming on Funimation.
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