The Promised Neverland
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Promised Neverland ?
At last, we have arrived at The Promised Neverland's scorching climax. “130146” is an absolute firebomb of an episode, chock full of drama and suspense and moments that make you just want to punch the air in excitement. I can only imagine what we might be calling the episode if the show hadn't settled on using calendar dates for every single title. This one could easily have been “The Gang Starts a Fire”, or “The One Where Emma Cuts Off Her Own Damned Ear with a Scalpel”, or maybe: “Six Easy Steps to Faking Your Own Self-Immolation and Planning a Jailbreak”.
Maybe the numbers work just fine, though. After all, the ticking clock has been a recurring symbol from the beginning, ever since Emma and Norman first grabbed Conny's rabbit and quickly learned that their own lives have come pre-packaged with sell-by dates. It makes sense that even the titling convention of the episodes would be just another reminder that every second these children spend not actively fighting for their freedom brings them one step closer to having their brains served up as a delicacy for un-nameable demons.
This all brings us to the gasoline and the matches. Last week, it only took a glance between Emma and Ray to know that their broken resolve was merely an act that needed to be maintained so Isabella wouldn't catch wise to their true intentions. However, despite the preparations, Ray remains convinced that it won't be enough for the kids to be fast, or strong, or ready for a long journey. Even as the tables and books get soaked in gas, both he and Emma know that Isabella would let the whole house burn if it meant protecting her product, so Ray does what he's been planning to do for years, ever since he learned the truth about the world: He douses himself in petrol too. If anything will stop Isabella in her tracks, it's the prospect of her most prized human stock going up in flame while she's in charge.
It's a little redundant to sing the praises of The Promised Neverland's direction and shot composition at this point, but there's just so much this episode does incredibly well. The set is awash in the deep blue lighting that's been used so often to contrast the usual sepia hues of the house's interior scenes. When Ray holds the flickering match up to his face, the only other color we see is the pinprick of flame reflected in his pupil. Discounting dream sequences and the general look of the demons, this is one of the most surreal cuts of animation we've gotten all season – there are certain shots where Ray looks positively monstrous, which is especially interesting when you consider that the adults are usually the ones whose features get distorted like this.
The episode does a great job of preserving the cliffhanger nature of the scene by cutting away to Isabella at the exact moment Ray drops the match. Even having read through this part beforehand, I was still on the edge of my seat, purely by virtue of its stellar execution. Of course, Ray doesn't go up in flames, and the way the last half of the episode plays out is simply delightful, largely because it gives Emma some much deserved time in the spotlight.
Emma may be too optimistic for her own good sometimes, but she's just as clever as anyone in Grace Field House. She didn't just recruit Don and Gilda to keep up the training for the younger ones; she took steps to bring the other kids in on their plans months ago. Everyone knows now, and they're all in. Seeing Emma dive forward and catch Ray's match is exhilarating, an oasis of joy in the middle of so much despair and fraught tension, and the whole breakout scene is a perfect testament to Emma's status as the true heroine of The Promised Neverland.
Ray's pragmatic plans come from the kind of no-nonsense nihilism that's often lionized in stories like these, where the heroes must sacrifice their humanity and decency in order to survive. Emma has never had any patience for that nonsense though, and her gleeful machinations this week are simply another extension of her unshakable commitment to her own principles. She's in the business of saving her siblings, not throwing them to the wolves for her own sake. She learned her lesson about treating the others like pieces on a chessboard when they brought in Don and Gilda. When she takes charge of the escape, we get the same shot of fire reflecting in her eyes, but the context is completely reversed. Where Ray was resigned to a pyrrhic death, Emma's about to burn the whole place down with her conscience and her family both intact.
The little ones help create a plausible Ray facsimile made of meat and rope (to mimic the smell of a burning human body), and when Isabella comes running to meet the library's flames head on, Emma doesn't hesitate to do what needs to be done to throw Mama off the trail. She slices off Ray's ear and then her own, which distracts Isabella just long enough for the children to make their long-awaited triumphant escape. It was glorious when I first read this part in the manga, and it's glorious here too. The show does an especially great job of capturing Isabella's total breakdown. The Promised Neverland has never been afraid to play up Isabella's frighteningly composed menace for all it's worth, but as Grace Field House burns to the ground, her face nearly cracks apart with fury. After so many months of watching Isabella take so much smug pride in outmaneuvering the children, there's nothing quite so cathartic as seeing her be completely fooled.
Emma and the others have their lives, they have each other, and they even have the gift from Krone that Norman left behind: a set of keys and that strange looking pen. But this isn't quite the end of the season, so not everything can go completely right. Someone is missing. Little smiling Phil is still with Isabella, and Isabella knows what we've all learned by now: Emma's not about to leave until she gets her brother back. Mama might be backed into a corner, but it isn't checkmate yet, and there's enough time left in the game for her to make one final gambit.
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