The Promised Neverland Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
The Promised Neverland (TV 2) ?
Over the past couple of weeks, we've learned that while Emma and the kids spent the last year or two farting around in dusty slum-towns and scrounging up scraps just to survive, Norman and his new crew:
- Became unwilling participants to the experiments of a devious man named Peter Ratri, along with the team of human and demon scientists at the Lamba Facility
- Used completely unexplained methods to improvise deadly explosions and overthrow the entire complex
- Discovered the incredibly dangerous and useful formula for degenerating demons into mindless animals
- Created a small army of guerilla soldiers who kill and experiment on demons at every opportunity
- (Did I mention that Ratri discovered that Norman isn't just a genius, but an Ultra Brilliant Extra Special Genius Supreme? Because he is, I guess.)
Now, we've already gone over how terrible the pacing has been for this season as of late, but the end of last week's episode seemed to imply that “Episode 8” would devote its time to explaining Norman's side of the story. Sure, it felt weird for the show to give us a whole flashback story after it had Norman spend two entire episodes telling us what happened to him anyways, but there has been an absolute dearth of drama and entertainment coming from TPN these days, so I was ready to take what I could get.
Five minutes and forty-eight seconds. Not including the opening credits, The Promised Neverland only dedicated five minutes and forty-eight seconds to Norman's flashback. It would have already been near impossible to condense the season's worth of shenanigans that Norman has lived through into a full twenty-three-minute episode, but you know what? That would have been better than five minutes and forty-eight seconds. At least with a full episode, we might have gotten some scenes between Ratri and Norman that contained, I don't know, a little bit of tension and suspense? Or perhaps a couple of touching moments between Norman and his followers that explained or even endeared us to the whole “Glorious Leader” dynamic they've got going on? That, apparently, would have been too much; instead, outside of the benefit of a score and some underwhelming animation, Norman's flashback doesn't communicate much beyond that bullet-pointed list I provided at the top of the article.
What makes the whole thing even sadder is that, when you get right down to it, there was almost nothing about that flashback that we didn't already learn over the last two exposition dumps. Okay, fine, I suppose there's Ratri's presence, along with the existence of a human-demon coalition that was working to experiment on Lamda Facility's victims. Those things should feel like big deals…but they don't. Like the pointless foreshadowing of the spooky room back in the bunker, these supposedly revelatory details are treated with all the attention and grace of – and I hate that I have to keep bringing this comparison up – a plot summary from a half-finished Wikipeda article. There's no wonder. No awe. No danger. There's no mood left of any kind whatsoever, and this is The Promised Neverland we're talking about!
So, since there was apparently too much story that needed to be covered in order to do Norman's adventures any justice, what does the rest of “Episode 8” have to offer? Well, Emma and Co. have their search for Mujika and Sonju, which is a subplot that essentially writes itself. The kids are traveling in monster-infested wilderness on a tight time limit, and the consequences of their failure could literally be world-ending. Even here, in a series that has apparently forgotten even the most elementary writing fundamentals, the race to track down the Evil Blooded Woman has to be at least a little entertaining. Right?If you find “a five-minute-long montage of the kids aimlessly wandering in the empty woods” entertaining, then sure, you could say “Episode 8” picks up steam in its second half. Otherwise, you're probably in my boat, wondering how in the hell TPN could screw up something this simple. Here's a perfect example of how badly bungled this sequence is: It is impossible to tell how far the kids are travelling, and for how long. One day becomes two days becomes four, and in a matter of maybe thirty seconds. The only reason we know that time is running out is because characters keep stopping in the middle of doing absolutely nothing just to say “Oh no, only [x] days left!” That's right: The Promised Neverland has somehow managed to apply its “tell, don't show” rule to the basic passage of time.
Space is just as warped, too, because after the kids find Mujika and survive their one mildly-interesting demon encounter, the earth is rocked by the explosions that Norman and the Lambda survivors have set off in the demon village. They're not nukes or anything, and though I'm admittedly not at all experienced with real-life bombings or the like, it seems very weird to me that the Grace Field Kids would be able to feel and hear the effects of Norman's surprise attack. They've been traveling for almost a week, and while it admittedly hasn't been in a straight line, are we to believe that Mujika and Sonju have been just a stone's throw away from our heroes the entire time? They must have been, since Emma and the others make it back to town in a matter of hours (and that is if we're being generous).
This might all sound like nitpicking, and it kind of is, but here's the thing: If The Promised Neverland remembered to be entertaining and interesting, I wouldn't notice or care about a lot of these issues. Instead, all we've got are rushed flashbacks, rushed montages, and a rushed act of genocide on Norman's part. Yeah, we all knew he wasn't going to hold up his end of the bargain, and the reign of terror he unleashes with his degenerative bombs is admittedly horrifying, and the closest the episode gets to being genuinely moody. Norman is barely recognizable as a character, so I don't really give a shit about his willingness to become a murderer of innocents, but the score and lighting manage to kind of sell the effect of it all. There's even a sequence where that old blind demon from a few weeks ago clings to his granddaughter while horrifying lumps of flesh sprout from her skull, which was honestly pretty effective.
That is, until Norman was stopped short of his killing spree when the elder demon called out the child's name: “Emma.” My eyes then immediately proceeded to roll so hard that they nearly popped out of my skull, and the damage almost became permanent when Norman looked at the literal blood on his hands and suddenly decided to regrow his conscience. Puh-lease. Did The Promised Neverland really think that pulling out a “Batman v. Martha” moment for Norman would work on us? Thank God that there are only a few weeks left to go for this season, because I don't know how much longer I can stand to watch this once-excellent series shoot itself in the foot, again and again.
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