Shadows House
Episode 4

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Shadows House ?

When you deprive people of power, what happens? That's perhaps a more existential question than even Shadows House merits, but we certainly do see one answer on display this week: sometimes the powerless seize it wherever they can. That seems to be the case with Barbie, the so-called “Star Bearer” we met last week. If the subtext is to be believed, Barbie's in charge because of her Shadow Master, not anything she's done herself, and she's likely to be very aware of that. Rather than building up her own strength among the dolls by being a good Star Bearer, she's taken a different route, preferring to be a tyrant among them and proving her authority by abusing her power.

That's what lands Emilico, Shaun, and Rum in trouble. Barbie is mid-rant about someone who hasn't been doing their cleaning well (leading to the scorches and phantom) when little Rum breaks something and makes a mess. Instantly Rum turns her ire on her, lambasting the doll as a good for nothing who is bringing the entire system down. When Emilico tries to defend her, Barbie vents her spleen on her as well, and then Shaun “accidentally” pushes Barbie, cementing his place among the outcasts. Even though Barbie is well aware of the dolls' limitations – for example, Shaun's eyesight is poor but he can't wear glasses because his Shadow Master doesn't – she still blames the others for things they can do nothing about, more invested in proving her own power and dignity (so to speak) than in being a good partner to the others. She's a vicious little thing, and the fact that she's been named after one of the most famous dolls of the 20th century may indicate to viewers that she, more than anyone else, is nothing more than her mistress' plaything.

Barbie's behavior, and that of Ricky, the doll who is setting himself up as her willing lackey (and who, it must be noted, was named by his master after himself), as well as a few things that Shaun and others say all indicate that Emilico really is an outlier among the dolls. When Shaun mentions that dolls are taught “from the beginning” that they shouldn't worry about trivial things – with “trivial” looking to stand in for “not about the Shadows” – this seems to be news to Emilico. While it's entirely possible that Kate simply didn't tell her this, given how different her attitudes and behaviors are from the rest of the dolls, it seems more likely that something didn't take in her creation or retraining. Emilico's naivete and sunny personality aren't unheard of, as Barbie's comment about her being one of those sunshine ones attests, but it is still markedly different even from the cheerier ones like Mia.

That pluck might be her saving, however. Not only is Kate growing more and more anxious and upset the longer Emilico is kept out of her room whenever she wants her there – which does make sense, if we consider that not only is Emilico her main human interaction, but also ostensibly her “belonging” – but Emilico's intelligence and intuition are spot-on. When she discovers the hidden service corridor where Rum has gotten stuck, she not only saves the other doll, but also manages to solve the mystery of where the excess soot is coming from, exonerating herself and her team, but also using a lot of natural cleverness to put things together. Of course, it could also mean her discovering things that she's not meant to know, like the fact that there are pipes in a locked attic in a largely unused or forgotten service corridor, and that those pipes take the soot from each Shadow's rooms and pipe it…somewhere. Is the outside world then a hellscape of soot, possibly as a reference to Victorian London? What if Emilico really isn't supposed to know what's going on behind that wall? The more this story unfolds, the more sinister it feels – like a soot-stained fog slowly closing in with grim inevitability.


Shadows House is currently streaming on Funimation.

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