by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
The longer Steins;Gate 0 goes on, the more I become convinced that this series didn't need a full 24 episodes to tell its story. I'm still enjoying the story overall, for the myriad of faults that have sprung up over the past eleven weeks, but S;G 0's needlessly protracted and uneven plotting is doing this series absolutely no favors. The original Steins;Gate also suffered from an infamously slow-paced first half, but I found myself enjoying those first dozen episodes much more than S;G 0's, primarily because so much of the Steins;Gate world was shrouded in mystery, and the slice-of-life stories paired unexpectedly well with the sense that something strange and dangerous was waiting for the future gadget laboratory somewhere down the line. S;G 0, on the other hand, can't seem to make up its mind as to whether it wants to emulate its predecessor or drop the pretense and just get on with its high-stakes science-fiction thriller story. It's this indecisiveness that's starting to drag this iteration of Steins;Gate down for me, despite all the individual elements working in its favor.
Take where we are in the plot, for example. After wasting a few minutes with the awkward and unnecessary twist of Daru being the one hacking into Kurisu's laptop for Maho, Okabe at last lays everything out for his diminutive new friend—time machines, phone waves, WWIII, the works. Right after Maho is finally brought into the fold, the gang of mysterious agents return to hold her hostage in exchange for Kurisu's computer, which contains the information needed for world governments to begin work on their own time machines. While this series' characteristically muddy and uninspired visuals rob the scene of some tension, there's real stakes to be felt here, and I was interested to see how the characters were going to get out of this mess. When another cadre of soldiers pops up to open fire on the first group, destroying Kurisu's laptop in the process, I was genuinely excited, certain that S;G 0 was going to charge full speed ahead with its story.
And then our heroes immediately return to Faris's apartment to talk about how much they've been hurt by Kurisu's death some more. To Steins;Gate's credit, we do spend some time with Maho, who struggles to even move in the wake of such a traumatizing incident, but all of the goodwill this moment builds up is wasted when we immediately move into a gag involving Okabe accidentally seeing her naked. Steins;Gate has always mixed sitcom shenanigans with its headier story beats, but this is the show at its absolute clumsiest. In general, there just hasn't been enough connection to how any of this will lead to the conclusion we saw back when Steins;Gate first aired in 2011. Sure, there's been plenty of talk about World War III and government conspiracies, but I'm hard pressed to recall the last time a character made a single active movement in the plot beyond having another overdone conversation. Even the show's single instance of world-line traversal so far was an accident that has remained completely unexplored.
As far as Okabe and Maho's relationship is concerned, I'm glad to see that the show is focusing mostly on the friendship they've built through their shared grief, even if Maho is becoming more overtly attracted to Okabe at the same time. Honestly, while I totally get how these two would bond given their current circumstances, they share almost no romantic chemistry; if anything, it would make more sense if it turned out that Maho was also in love with Kurisu. Seeing Okabe remain relatively steadfast in his love for Kurisu is reassuring, but I wish S;G 0 would find some more interesting ways to communicate this outside of seeing him act silently forlorn.
What's especially odd about this episode is how final its ending feels, with Maho, Alexis, and Amadeus returning to America for the time being as everyone else bids them farewell. It's a sweet scene, but it can't help but ring somewhat false, given that we know the show still has thirteen episodes left in its run. The episode also includes some token foreshadowing as to which of the Lab Members' friends was behind the counter-assault; there's a wink to it being Yuki, though Judy Reyes is also conspicuously hiding her hands in a concluding scene. To be honest, the season's new characters are thin enough to where I still don't much care who is revealed to be a traitor; I just want to get to the point where characters are actually betraying each other. Episode 12 was the original Steins;Gate's game-changer, so I can only hope next week's episode of Steins;Gate 0 will follow suit.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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