Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Six: Road of Hope – ***
Part One: Doctor Marcoh
This is another fairly minor episode, but one which provides important information for the main quest and finally shows us present-day Winry and her grandmother. In the 2003 series, the two main events in this episode were split into two, so again, we see Brotherhood merging minor plots to speed up its pacing a bit. As a result, the first half of the episode has nothing to do with the second and kind of comes out of nowhere.
On their way to Winry’s shop for repairs, Major Armstrong (travelling with the boys to protect them) spots a man he calls Doctor Marcoh. Armstrong explains that Marcoh was a medical alchemist drafted to help in the Ishvalan Civil War who disappeared after the genocide. They track the doctor down, learning in the process that he’s built a new life for himself with a barely-changed name as this small town’s resident doctor. He’s reluctant to talk, but reveals that he ran away in part because of his work with the Philosopher’s Stone. Apparently, the military wanted to use them in the war to enhance alchemists’ powers.
In fact, he happens to carry around in his pocket. Marcoh explains that his stone is an unrefined product that can take many forms. Ed and Al make the connection that this stone is the same as that used by Father Cornello, and beg Marcoh to give them their research notes. While he initially refuses, as they’re about to leave, he tells them where to find the notes.
The first part of the episode is technically important because it sets off a later discovery that will change the quest. However, I’m not entirely sure why, outside of a few small details dependent on the order of events, Marcoh doesn’t just tell them outright why they shouldn’t go after the stone. It’s an incredible convenience that they just happen to stumble upon someone who not only knows about the stones, but has one with him, and the whole sequence is oddly paced in part because of it. It’s not quite a deus ex machina device, but it does have a similar feel. This whole sequence is in the story mainly because A) Doctor Marcoh is a recurring character who needs an introduction, and B) because the characters need to know something.
There is no lead-in or introduction to this scene before it shows up, and almost anything resulting from it probably could have been worked into the story through other means. But it gives us a first real glimpse at the Philosopher’s Stone, so I guess there’s that. To be honest, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood seems largely unconcerned with the Philosopher’s Stones as anything other than background material after the first season, so it kind of makes sense for it to speed through their reveal.
Part Two: Winry
The second half of the episode is based in the boys’ hometown of Resembool, where they meet up with Winry and her grandmother, Pinako. While she goes about fixing Edward’s totaled arm, we learn a bit more about the Elrics’ home life and the events leading up to their attempting human transmutation. Pinako explains to Armstrong that their father left when they were young, meaning no one was available to look after them when their mother died. Pinako was something of a substitute parent for them, but they still tried to leave their old life behind by burning their childhood home. She herself took care of Winry after Winry’s parents died in the Ishvalan Civil War, teaching her the trade of automail. Through all of this, they’ve become something of a found family (which is a bit weird given Winry’s presented as a love interest for Ed, but we’ll just go ahead and ignore that).
Pinako is a fun character, a sort of snarky grandmother who has the skills and wit to back up her words, and doesn’t take flack from more powerful people sitting down. She’s not in much of the story, but she’s a good base-of-operations elder character.
Winry is somewhat more problematic. She has a traditionally masculine trade that she loves and is good at, and I think that’s kind of her saving grace. She still gets to ogle and swoon over rare automail parts in an effeminate way, and I think if the writers had focused on making her character more centered in her own interests, she could stand out as a decent female side character in the series.
However, I’m starting to notice a trend with the younger female characters in this series, and Winry’s no exception. Like Hawkeye, her own interests are hijacked for the purpose of a main male character, and when she plays a role in the story, it’s generally to support her man. Winry’s only character arc in the series is realizing that Ed is handsome and she wants to marry him. She gets kidnapped a few times, and later learns something mostly inconsequential about her parents’ deaths, but story is often eager to shove her off to the side so she can patiently wait for Ed to come back. you know, like a good housewife.
It’s a bit infuriating, really. This episode doesn’t do that quite as much — she has personality and banters with the boys, so it seems that her passive waifu characterization is mainly a consequence of the obligatory romance subplot. Appreciate Winry being a kind of okay character while it lasts.
Part Three: That’s All, Folks!
The unfortunate thing about an episode that’s basically split down the middle into two stories is that it becomes hard to come up with a third subject to discuss. Armstrong is a delight, as usual, in his enormous-man-with-a-babyface sort of way. Characters reminisce and linger on one another for various reasons, most of them are enjoyable, there’s a weird tone to it all, but everything kind of works out in the end. This is kind of a catharsis episode meant to give the audience happy feels after the pain and misery of the previous two.
It kind of works — as well as this series can hope, anyway. It isn’t a vital episode, though I do kind of wish the series as a whole explored more of Ed and Al’s home life. It’s nice to see how Winry builds the automail and the quiet moments where the brothers reflect on what it means for them to return home. The isn’t the sort of series that tries to build up a home life for its characters where they have friends and family who grow alongside them. Ed and Al only really seem to know Winry and Pinako, and those characters don’t really change much. However, you can easily imagine a different sort of story where Ed and Al have more friends at home and have to reconcile their designated lifestyle with what they’ve left behind. It’s not fair to say that the series dwells on this dynamic much, but the domestic moments in this episode give a nice atmosphere, I suppose.