by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Steins;Gate 0 stumbles again in this seventeenth episode, but it also gets a lot of things right, snapping up the creative momentum from last week's uptick in quality and running with it. While far from perfect, this is the most “Steins;Gate” that S;G0 has been in a good long while. The key to this episode's success lies largely in its treatment of Mayuri, as well as how the script manages to make something engaging out of the show's prequel nature.
It's no secret that Steins;Gate's handling of Mayuri's character is one of its most glaring faults. So the amount of agency and depth that Mayuri gets in this episode is honestly a big deal. It isn't quite enough to make up for her being mostly neglected for the series' entire history, but it absolutely reenergizes S;G0's narrative momentum for the time being. When Okabe selfishly insists that Mayuri remain the naïve girl he thinks he needs her to be, Mayuri just goes to Suzuha, Maho, and Daru for answers. When she learns that Suzuha is about to go back in time to try and set things right once and for all, Mayuri decides that she's going to go too. After forty-plus episodes of Okabe being the one who decides Mayuri's fate, it's a little unbelievable to see Mayuri given this power in kind.
This decision to accompany Suzuha is also one of the most nuanced character beats we've gotten from the entire franchise. Not only does Mayuri finally admit that she's in love with Okabe, but she also recognizes that this version of him has emotionally broken down so much that he's no longer the man she fell in love with. Mayuri is also able to recognize that this is because Makise's death is a wound that no amount of chicken nugget dinners can save; no matter how much Mayuri wants to be the one Okabe needs, she just isn't. She'd rather reunite him with his true soulmate and make him whole again, even if it ends up destroying the future she wants for herself most of all.
Mayuri's existence revolving around Okabe's happiness still isn't great, but even this one scene is able to place Mayuri on more equal footing than she's ever been granted in the franchise's anime adaptations. Since the original Steins;Gate anime followed the “true” path of Okabe and Makise's romance, Mayuri's relationship with Okabe has always been ill-defined and off balance. The man's love for his so-called “hostage” is obsessive without ever being clearly romantic or platonic, and Mayuri was never given a chance to fully articulate her own feelings. Now Mayuri's actions are the result of clearly defined emotional stakes that offer insight into her own personal desires and goals. Honestly, this should be the baseline of quality for any character's development in any story, but given how inconsistent Steins;Gate 0 has been, this is a case of “better late than never”.
Unfortunately, Steins;Gate's bad habits get the better of it in the episode's second half, when Okabe goes to confront Suzuha and Mayuri before they depart in the time machine. Okabe insists that Mayuri just forget about her own commitments to validate the ongoing suffering of himself and the other Lab Members, and he does so with a near delirious intensity. Now, when you take last week's drama into account, I do think that S;G0 is intentionally framing this version of Okabe as selfish and irrational, and that Mayuri is within her rights to try and take matters into her own hands, but the episode doesn't give either Okabe or Mayuri enough time to properly reconcile this conflict.
Instead, Okabe is put out of commission by one of Suzuha's bullets, and the nameless goons of the Vague and Mysterious Evil Organization show up to kidnap Mayuri and force Suzuha into a battle over the time machine. This is the one sequence of the episode that I found outright bad; even the original Steins;Gate was only ever good at short bursts of action, and Steins;Gate 0 remains much rougher around the edges than its sibling series. Suzuha's gunfight is poorly shot and just barely animated, and none of the stabbing or gunfire carries any of the heft or tension that it should. The episode also concludes with Mayuri getting shot (again), as Kagari arrives just in time to find her mother lying on the ground.
I'm very split on this conclusion. On one hand, this is a fairly unexpected development, since the one constant of this timeline was supposed to be Mayuri's safety. Attempting to subvert the audience's expectations like this is something that S;G0 has needed to do for a while now, since much of what we know about this plot has already been predetermined. It was inevitable that Suzuha's plan would be foiled somehow, and I was glad to see S;G0 actually take advantage of its viewers' knowledge to try and surprise them.
On the other hand, Mayuri dying again would be really stupid, and it would undo so much of the progress that this episode made to shape her character into someone resembling a real person with thoughts and feelings. I hope the ambiguous nature of this cliffhanger will opt for the fake out and reveal that Mayuri isn't really dead next week. Even if it means motivating more characters than just Okabe, a series can only sacrifice the same person so many times before it becomes too much to overlook, and it's happened to Mayuri like a hundred times already. At this point I'll take what I can get and hope that Steins;Gate 0 doesn't go for Tragic Mayuri Death #101.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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