The Price of Smiles
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
The Price of Smiles ?
I criticized The Price of Smiles last week for spinning its wheels on old themes and ideas too much despite all its recent revelations. Now, however, the Beurger Squad seems to be kicking things back up, both in terms of themes and the plot getting going. That may have to do with the fact that this is the second-to-last episode of the series, so it's something of a do-or-die situation for getting this show on the road. This is a major turning point for the series, as this episode includes focus on both its Empire and Kingdom cast members, with their paths set to finally cross by the endgame.
Gale's death is a major turning point for Stella and the others on the squad. Their previous camaraderie that let them persevere through hardships is breaking down, symbolized by Huey and Stella's worldviews clashing in more direct and violent ways than before. Stella trying to find herself after this upset is a major point of the Grandiga half of this episode. She eventually arrives at a neatly paralleled version of Yuki's own desire to not see anyone die, contrasting with the death wish that Huey seems to have developed. The issue is that Stella's new outlook actually comes off more grim than optimistic, a sort of desperation to hold together what she has left. She quits her characteristic smiling and even sees the lights go out in her holographic fishbowl of childhood innocence and leaves it behind, in a metaphor as heavy-handed as anything The Price of Smiles has doled out before.
But we haven't stuck with The Price of Smiles this long for subtlety. The impression I get is that the story is now about getting Stella to this desperate point so she'll actually have a reason to want to end the war when the opportunity arrives. It's interesting to think that the show hasn't given much focus to how the Grandiga characters feel about the war, like it has Soleil and Yuki's wishes for pacifism. It's because the residents of the military dictatorship see the conflict as mere background noise, and in the case of characters like Stella, it's basically the only opportunity for a home they have. But now that structure has disrupted the found family she took solace in, so Stella has a reason to oppose the fighting. This swerve only happens because of Gale's death, but in hindsight, a lot of the breakdown in Stella's worldview had laid the seeds for this, from rejection by some of the civilians or the deaths of her comrades.
For all the crap I gave this side of the story about going through the emotional motions last week, this week rings a lot more true. The Soleil stuff with Yuki reaches for similar levels of emotional pathos, but otherwise feels like more piece-moving setup. The biggest beat is Yuki finally giving Langford's daughter the unfortunate news of his demise from several episodes ago. It's meant to be this big release, Yuki getting this major task out of the way before she heads off on a secret mission that she may not return from. It's all very sad, and the daughter's voice actress does an excellent job of wringing out tears and tugging on heartstrings, but it also feels like Yuki's delay in telling her was a plot point being deployed for maximum emotional impact. So it's firmly in line with the show's brick-to-the-face sense of subtlety.
Virtually everything else about Yuki's half of this episode is moving pieces around for the presumptive finale. The most important point is revealing Yuki's ultimate plan not to win the war, but to end conflict in general for good by deactivating the chrars. There's some contrivance to this idea that the recently-revealed Empire of Verde had an abandoned facility that just so happens to be suitable for deploying Layla's EMP-style weapon. But I guess my main issue with this plan is how it rides on only recently-revealed elements of the plot to bring about a quick and clean solution to the war instead of anything more applicable in a real-world sense. It's odd, since early episodes of The Price of Smiles had leaned so hard into highlighting the disparities in resources between Soleil and Grandiga, so it seemed like our cast might come together in a more meaningful compromise. This EMP plan feels like the writers somehow missed what they'd set themselves up for in favor of a ticking clock and a convenient plot device.
We'll have to see how that plays out. The way the show structures the two sides to finally intersect is well-done, at least. The timelines we follow are staggered so we don't realize the truck that the Beurger Squad heads off to intercept was carrying Yuki until we catch up with her side of the plot, resulting in a strong "oh snap!" moment. As with the wrap-up plan, the unsubtle emotional elements, and its use of structure, we just have to accept The Price of Smiles' choices to the very end.
The Price of Smiles is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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