The Promised Neverland
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
The Promised Neverland ?
Last week's episode ended with Norman calling out Ray as the traitor working for Mama, but though he plays dumb at first, it doesn't take long for Ray to drop the act. Norman has him cornered. The scheme to trick Don and Gilda into incriminating themselves was a feint – Norman fed Ray a false version of the plan, meaning he's the only one who could have told Mama of the location of the rope they hid. So with everything out on the table, two of the smartest children at Grace Field House have themselves a confrontation.
Having served primarily as a pragmatist so far, this extended sequence is Ray's first opportunity to shine as a character in the same way Emma and Norman have, and the scene's excellent and surprisingly understated direction absolutely nail it. There's a swinging POV shot from a clock's pendulum at the top of the scene, which was too self-consciously flashy for my liking, but the rest of the scene is sustained by simple yet incisive framing and editing, the kind that makes it look easy for an incredibly dense info-dump conversation to be both engaging and revealing. Ray makes it clear immediately that while he is indeed the traitor, this isn't a new situation for him – he's been working for Mama for years, and everything he has done has been in service of furthering his own goals. He's known about the demons and the awful fates of his family, and he's used Mama's access to technology from the outside world to secretly devise a means to deactivate the tracking devices planted in the children's ears so he can devise an escape of his own.
The real truth that Norman is that Norman and Emma have been pawns in Ray's game this entire time. They only discovered the truth themselves because Ray planted Conny's bunny and suggested they try to return it to her, and he would have let them in on the truth sooner if Emma wasn't so damned insistent on saving absolutely everyone. This is the one wrinkle that Ray can't abide and his sole condition for telling Norman everything: he has to lie to Emma and ditch the other children when the time comes. Ray has devoted his life to saving his two best friends, but only them. Don and Gilda might be useful enough to bring along, but Ray won't let his friends die because of Emma's desire to protect her siblings. It's cruel, calculating, and a perfectly logical way to approach the escape from Grace Field House. Ray leaves the room with a confident smirk, and Norman sits stone-cold and alone, trying to comprehend how to right all the tables have just been turned.
The conclusion to this scene is one of my three favorite moments of the episode, and yet another prime example for why eliminating the internal monologues from the manga was the perfect choice for this adaptation. As Ray and Norman collect themselves separately, Takahiro Obata's eerie score tumbles in and out of taut string arrangements, with the two boys' expressions slowly shifting. The episode gives us no insight into their thoughts, instead forcing us to read Ray and Norman's faces and interpret them as best we can. Ray's triumphant grin recedes into something that betrays his own uncertainty, and Norman chokes back something resembling a laugh, or maybe it's a sob. It's a perfect little character moment, and an improvement on the source material in my opinion.
My second favorite moment is for purely aesthetic reasons, where Norman dreams of the others lying dead and ruined in the wake of Ray's calculated mercilessness. The blood red flowers bloom from the children's chests, illuminating the inky blackness of the underground dark – this is where Norman finds himself, despairing as his family soaks in the wet and rot of the demon's lair. Ray's shambling corpse taunts Norman's weakness before a monstrous maw swallows them all. With all of the show's emphasis on psychological thriller elements, it's easy to forget Neverland's roots as a fable of otherworldly horror, so it's good to get a powerful reminder.
My third favorite moment comes when Ray casually reveals his true machinations to Emma, which initially sends both her and Norman into a comical tizzy, before Emma closes in and grasps Ray's hand just a little tootight. She knows he doesn't want to rescue the other children, and she's smart enough to figure out that Ray's experiments with deactivating the trackers must have required some children to be tested on. Of course, it would follow that these kids may have been shipped out early because of Ray's meddling, and Emma simply can't consider the notion any further. She squeezes Ray's palm hard enough for us to hear his joints creak, and with an uncharacteristically terrifying expression, she makes it clear that Ray will never use their family like that again. With so much focus being put on the boys this week, I was glad to see Emma get a scene that gives the episode some much-needed levity while reminding us that our main heroine is not to be underestimated, even if she remains the heart of the group.
The final third of the episode dials things back to set up more story that will lead us into next week. Emma, Don, and Gilda discover the whereabouts of a hidden room in the walls surrounding Mama's living area, and Ray reveals that this must be where she makes her daily reports to the demon headquarters. Don, already getting tired of being excluded from the main trio's plotting, joins up with Gilda and decides to take the initiative in breaking into Mama's room himself. The episode ends with Don and Gilda finding the secret door, but only just before someone arrives to catch them red handed.
There's actually a lot of material that the anime cut to get to this sequence, and while I see how most of it could easily be shuffled off to later episodes, there's one key change to this scene that actually flips it around in such a way that even I don't know how things will play out next week. Consider me excited to find out how this cliffhanger gets resolved, along with all The Promised Neverland's new fans. The wait will be agonizing, but the payoff will doubtless be worth it.
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