The Promised Neverland Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
The Promised Neverland (TV 2) ?
If you've made it this far along The Promised Neverland's second season with me, you're probably asking yourself: “Gee, I wonder if the show has found its footing after stumbling super hard for a few episodes, there?” Here's all you need to know to answer that question: After the jarring attempt at a cliffhanger from last episode, which left Norman reeling in stupefied horror at the mention of the “Evil Blooded Girl”, aka Mujika, “Episode 7” picks up by following up that shot with…Norman sitting calmly back in his chair so he can spend another ten minutes finishing up his exposition dump from last week.
In other words, no. The show hasn't gotten any better. In fact, in the interest of saving you all some time, let me just break down the entirety of what we learn over the course of Norman, Emma, and Ray's conversation right here (I promise, other than the addition of voice-acting and the bare minimum of visual enhancement, you're not missing out on anything). In short:
- A long-ass time ago, Mujika was born, and she just so happens to have no need to eat humans in order to maintain her form and intelligence. Also, she has super special blood that she can transfer to any other demon, rendering them equally immune to the effects of degeneration. The demon royalty snagged some of that sweet, sweet MuJuice for themselves, but ensured nobody else would ever have the privilege, since a populace that is dependent on human meat to survive is easier to control.
- The coordinates that Emma received from Mr. Minerva, which were meant to lead to a gate between this world and ours, are long since defunct, meaning that whole plot point was kind of pointless.
- There is one gate left between worlds, and wouldn't you know it? It was right underneath Grace Field House all along! *dun dun dunnn*
- Also, Mr. Minerva is dead. So are all of his friends. *dun dun…dun?*
- Emma, being Emma, doesn't want to genocide every living demon in the world, and she doesn't want to abandon them to a fate worse than death either, so her plan is to find Mujika, and convince her to use the power of MuJuice to just make all of the demons like her. She convinces Norman to give her and the crew five days to find Mujika and come up with a less-genocidal alternative.
- Norman, being Norman, humors Emma, but then he promises his new crew that they're totally going to genocide all of the demons anyway. The guy's got a Mengele's worth of demon corpses in his Evil Basement to prove it, too.
There's the first half of the episode for you, more or less. Now, could these narrative beats have worked more with some time to breathe, or even if — maybe sit down for this one — the show had seen fit to actually show these events happening? Maybe! The thematic stuff is sound, and it technically serves the characters' arcs in a very rudimentary way; Emma doesn't want to commit The Most Murder Ever Committed, which definitely tracks. Norman, on the other hand, sees no other choice, because as we learn in the episode's one mildly effective moment of dramatic storytelling, he and the Lambda kids are dying. Those experiments ruined them, and doomed them, and as the Grace Field kids oh-so-helpfully explain for anyone who can't quite handle the Subtext for Dummies™ level of nuance at play here, Norman's whole thing is handling things himself. Sometimes that means playing the martyr in an elaborate heist scheme, and sometimes that means killing thousands upon thousands of sentient monster-folk.
As this increasingly dire adaptation continues to prove, though, the devil is in the details, and TPN's sprint to the finish lines has apparently demanded that the vast majority of those details get chucked straight out the window. The awkward flashback to Norman's departure in Season 1 gives me the impression that we might get to retroactively experience some of Norman's side of the story beyond the endless monologuing, but so far as this episode is concerned, the writing just falls flat on its face. We're supposed to just take on face value that Norman has orchestrated a literally apocalyptic extinction event with the help of some psychologically traumatized teenagers, that William Minerva died off-screen without ever making a proper appearance in the narrative, and that there are generations' worth of backstory that we simply must swallow whole before careening off towards the final act of this whole story? In what universe would it make sense to vomit out all of that critical exposition before showing it happen on-screen?
Now, I'm aware that a lot of these pacing and narrative problems exist in the manga, too, but the show isn't doing its source material any favors by compressing its already haphazard pacing even more. It was only a few weeks ago that I was defending the series' decision to excise cut-away sequences, flashbacks, and voice-over monologuing, but dammit, I'm starting to feel I've been made the fool. Oh, and before you ask about the second half of the episode that I didn't cover: Emma and Ray go back to the hideout, where the kids talk for another ten minutes about the plan that we just spent the last ten minutes explaining, and then Emma asks Don and Gilda to help. That's it. Nothing else to write about.
Even if I thought that the thematic value of the story's developments is compelling enough to justify this horrendous pacing — and I really do not — these most recent episodes have committed the gravest error of all: They've made The Promised Neverland boring. Seriously, there's nothing exciting happening on screen, and there's nothing challenging or engaging about the very standard philosophical duel that Emma and Norman are engaged in. For the second time in a row, we've simply got a bunch of kids standing in a circle, talking about the plot and clearly outlining their differences in perspective and attitude. I'm an English teacher, and you know what we call that? A middle-school Socratic Seminar. They're not a lot of fun to watch in real life, and it sure as hell isn't much fun here, either.
Odds and Ends
•I'm not lying when I say the most emotional beat of this whole episode was the reused scene from Season 1, when the gorgeous “Isabella's Lullaby” kicks in just as Norman is being sent off to meet…some guy. Minerva, maybe? Hey, speaking of TPN's stellar soundtrack, here's a shameless plug: I recently had the privilege of interviewing series composer Takahiro Obata! It was a lot of fun, and you should check it out, regardless of how you might feel about this current season's shortcomings.
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