by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Last week's episode was heavy on the pathos but light on developing the plot, serving as a detour that hammered home some already familiar emotional beats. It was certainly effective, but when Okabe wakes up in his hospital bed this week, the specifics of his journey to the alpha worldline remain important only to him. The only thing that truly matters is that he switched timelines again by accident, and even though he made his way back, there's always the lingering worry that something might not be as he left it.
This tension lies at the heart of this episode. One intense confrontation between Okabe and Suzuha aside, episode nine is more table-setting for things to come, so it feels like another lull in the show's momentum, where the big picture of the plot is still too fuzzy to keep the show feeling fresh without falling back on some heightened character drama. Okabe returns to his conversation with Yuugo as they try to suss out who was responsible for the New Years' attack and Amadeus' shutdown, though it leads to little more than empty speculation. Katsumi, Mayuri's cosplay friend who also goes by the name of Fubuki, seems to have some sort of latent Reading Steiner memories that have carried over from Okabe's jaunt across space-time, but she's such a thin character at this point that this simply comes across as more teasing for the truly interesting stuff that's hopefully coming down the pike. Maho also moves in with Faris, which is cute, but there's not much else to say about it yet. Honestly, S;G0's plotting is still vague enough that there isn't even much for me to speculate on – I think Okabe is right to suspect a mole in the Future Gadget Lab's midst, though since the mole is almost certainly one of the new (less interesting) characters, I doubt the eventual reveal of their identity will be all that shocking.
In lieu of more impactful plot development, “-Pandora's Box-“ instead sees Okabe and Suzuha get involved in a lengthy, heated exchange on top of the building where the time machine is hidden, with Suzuha becoming so frustrated over Okabe's refusal to involve himself willingly in any more time travel that she draws a gun and grazes his cheek with a bullet. It's a fairly well-directed scene, but it suffers from the same sense of aimlessness that drags down this entire episode. Given how much of a detour last week's adventure was, Suzuha's anxiety over the oncoming arrival of WWIII feels like it arrives without much buildup. The argument they get into also comes off somewhat listless, trading in predictable hypotheticals about the inevitability of the War's outbreak that feel hollow given what the audience knows about this story's conclusion. Essentially, Okabe (and later Daru) are trying to convince Suzuha that time travel will only muddy the beta worldline's waters, and that the FGL should instead be using their knowledge of future events to try and prevent America and Russia's technological arms race from breaking out in the first place.
This is sound logic, but we've also seen that Okabe will have to change world lines to set things right before the end. The whole point of S;G0 is to break Okabe away from his current stubborn refusal to engage in time travel. I can appreciate indulging in the irony that will eventually lead to Okabe's shift in perspective, but I wonder if the series will be able to do this for fifteen more episodes without feeling repetitive.
I will admit that I appreciated seeing Daru and Suzuha get to behave like a real father and daughter unit this week. Steins;Gate 0 has so far played Daru's father figure status for laughs, and while he still busts out his obnoxious Creepy Dad jokes, there's a genuine sweetness to how he's growing into his role as a mentor and caregiver. Daru is a pervert and a doofus, but the reflective moments he and Suzuha share at the end of the episode make it more believable that he will eventually become the man that Suzuha has come to love and respect so much.
In the end, this wasn't the strongest episode of Steins;Gate 0. Though it wasn't without its moments, I can't help but feel that the show has spent enough time getting into Sad Okabe's head and could stand to get things moving at a more propulsive pace. The original Steins;Gate could get away with the protracted length of its rising action phase because the lighthearted tone and fun character interactions made it work as a slice-of-life comedy before the green banana gel hit the fan. Steins;Gate 0 has been a darker science-fiction story from the get-go, and I think it's high time to start indulging in more thriller and less filler. We all know where the story is headed in the end, so the best thing S;G0 can do is make the process of filling in the blanks as interesting as possible.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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