The Promised Neverland
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
The Promised Neverland ?
The very last line of “130146” is a question from Ray to Emma: “You haven't actually given up, have you?”
It's something the audience is asking too, because up until those last moments, it really does seem like all hope may be lost for the kids of Grace Field House. They've overcome the shock of learning the unbearable truth of their world, they've outmaneuvered Krone and stood up to Isabella even at her cruelest, but Emma and her siblings may finally have reached a chasm they cannot cross. It isn't even the literal pit that separates the children from their freedom that threatens to break our heroes; it's something much worse. Norman is gone.
There's a brief flicker of hope at the top of the episode, when Emma and Ray take Norman's revelation about the cliff beyond the wall and go about their predictably enthusiastic hunt for a plan. They draw up maps, puzzle out solutions, and for a while it seems like this might just be one final hurdle for the kids to vault on their way out of the demons' clutches, but Norman's exhausted smile betrays his intentions. Isabella will be shipping him out in the morning, and the only way to keep her suspicions off the other kids is to go along with it. If Emma and Ray have any hope of escaping, they need time to heal and come up with a new plan – and the only way to buy that time is for Norman to sell himself to Isabella's employers. So he does.
It's devastating to see Norman go, and The Promised Neverland wrings every drop of dread and misery that it can from that. There's a sweet scene of Emma, Norman, and Ray as little kids, the latter two comforting a sick Norman and giving him some cups and a string to talk with while he's quarantined. This little toy is the only thing Norman bothers packing when he sets off with Isabella on his last day. He needs to keep up the façade of being adopted for the little kids who are still in the dark, but he knows there's no point in bringing anything else along.
Later, we get an expertly directed scene where Emma can't stand to just wave Norman off like everything is okay, so she stops just short of tackling him with a hug in an attempt to short circuit his tracker so he can escape. The camera hangs in the air of this desperate emotional gambit, and then we pull in intimately close, seeing the anger and fear that both of the children are harboring and how much it hurts them to put on the show of a happy goodbye in front of the others. The scene not only works as a dramatic climax, but it pays off nearly ten weeks' worth of ratcheting tension in the most heartbreaking way possible.
Afterwards, as Norman is leaving with Isabella, an understated but gorgeously animated cut shows the matriarch taken off guard for perhaps the first time when Norman follows her venomous platitudes by asking, “Are you happy?”. Then something unexpected happens; instead of being brought to the same miserable truck that he found Conny in all those months ago, Isabella leads Norman to a door. We don't see what's behind the door as Norman walks through, but whatever it is, it can't possibly be good.
The episode doesn't make too big a deal of Isabella's shock and uncertainty we saw just before Norman made his exit, but it's a small piece of the larger puzzle we get regarding Isabella, explicit confirmation of what we could have suspected all along. When Emma is consumed with despair over Norman's departure, Isabella comes to deliver another one of her sickly sweet performances as the nurturing mother. She coos and strokes Emma's hair as she revels in her victory, though you can tell Isabella absolutely means it when she says that it would be easier for the kids to just give up. Emma is being told what Krone should have known before she committed to her private rebellion: being a Mother for the demons is not a position of strength, but the ultimate admission of weakness. Isabella has devoted herself to being the children's Mama because she absolutely believes that there is no hope to be found in fighting back, and Emma could be just as "happy" if only the little one could figure out when to give up.
And for weeks, it seemed like Isabella had won. Ray, bleary-eyed and nearly mute with exhaustion, resigns himself when Don and Gilda beg him to continue where Norman left off. Emma sits stony and still beneath the dying leaves of the field's trees like she's already a corpse. The little ones despair, Don and Gilda are at a loss, and up until Ray's own deadline arrives, you could be forgiven for worrying that our heroes have ultimately lost.
But this is Emma and Ray we're talking about. When Emma finds Ray alone in the library the night before he's due to be shipped out, he first asks whether Emma has succumbed to despair with the tone of a boy who has resigned himself to his fate. Then he snaps his book shut with the verve of the sneaky little bastard we've come to know and love over the past ten weeks, and with renewed fire in his eyes, he asks again: “You haven't actually given up, have you?”
Emma's reaction says it all. These kids have already lost so much, and it might be impossible for them to flee Grace Field House unscathed. If Isabella thinks that Emma is the kind of girl to give in to cowardice with two episodes left in the season though, she clearly doesn't know her own children.
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