by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
The Reflection ?
Maybe it's because I've spent all summer getting my brain melted by Twin Peaks: The Return, but I couldn't help but be struck by a thought this week as I watched The Reflection. This is what a superhero show would look like if it were directed by David Lynch. Hiroshi Nagahama is obviously not as concerned with working in the realm of pure surrealism, and his motivations feel very different, but results end up bearing some uncanny similarities to Lynch's work. The emphasis on extensive slowly-paced dialogue, the obsession with an exaggerated yet very specific vision of Americana, and the general disregard for easily connected narrative dots are all choices that Lynch and Nagahama consistently indulge. Even the title of this episode, “Beef or Fish”, comes from a throwaway line featured in The Reflection's slowest moving subplot (the Japanese girls), and everything about their arc in this story mirrors how many of subplots were handled in this year's revival of Twin Peaks.
All of this to say that what might have been considered flaws in The Reflection's storytelling have come to feel more like quirks of its character, if only by pure force of time and stubbornness. The show still isn't perfect, but it delivered one of its best episodes to date this week, despite the fact that barely anything happened in it. It was an exercise of pure mood, with the episode making very effective use of Metal Ruler's flashbacks, a healthy dose of rain and nighttime shadow, and a selective use of its admittedly limited score. Even though X-On, I-Guy, and anyone else who isn't Eleanor get only a handful of lines apiece, their characters feel more present and fleshed out now, which is a testament to how well good cinematography and shot composition can compensate for a thin script. Lisa doesn't speak a single word this week, but her single reaction moment against the bits of X-On's past we finally learn is one of the most effective moments of the entire episode.
This is all good news, because we get very little to work with plot-wise. The gist is that Metal Ruler and Eleanor duke it out for a few minutes before MR makes a deal: If Eleanor joins Wraith, then the rest of the Louisiana abductees go free. MR even gives Eleanor a token of her trust: a flash drive containing information about X-On's shady past. Before she can make up her mind, Eleanor has brief conversations with both her masked companion and the shadowy government lady who's been following X-On around since episode two. Sensing the lack of trust X-On has in her, and determined to do the right thing, Eleanor may have decided to accept Metal Ruler's offer. Meanwhile, I-Guy takes out his grief on some Reflected thugs, and the Japanese girls get on a plane.
Give or take a few more characteristically drawn-out chats, that's really all there is to this episode. What many shows would take care of in ten minutes or less gets drawn out for a full half-hour here; whether this is a concern of production issues or a deliberate writing choice, I cannot say. Regardless of the factors that went into making it, what shocked me the most was just how invested I was in this episode. Metal Ruler's flashback indicates that she was hit with the Bad Guy Cloud just as she was being stabbed in a mugging; not only is the image of the blade in her stomach wrapping its metal tendrils around her body incredibly striking, it also makes her the second Reflected character to be borne of the Evil Smoke despite being a victim, rather than a predator. This, combined with Eleanor's struggle to figure out how to be a hero when the people around her are so morally gray, make for some excellent character writing, which isn't what I expected The Reflected to focus on when it started two months ago.
What's more, it finally looks like we'll get to learn more about X-On and what his past has to do with Wraith's goals. Despite my misgivings about his lack of traditional character development, I can admit that he has grown on me overall. His brief bouts of surly standoffishness and the recent scenes depicting his genuine concern for his friend's safety are small but effective glimpses into his character. The Reflected has managed to overcome its animation and direction struggles to become a surprisingly engaging character drama, just one that happens to involve '60s-style American superheroes. I'm eager to see where it goes next, especially if X-On will finally get some time in the spotlight to show us his true self.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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