Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode 14: Those Who Lurk Underground – ****
Part One: Hey Guess What? Bradley’s a Bad Guy! We Definitely Couldn’t Tell That From the First Episode.
First, a quick note on seasons. Technically, this series doesn’t have seasons because it was released as weekly episodes continuously through its run. I did not know that when I first watched it on Netflix or wrote these reviews, and Netflix has used various means of designating seasons for the show. There are natural breaks in the series, so for the sake of convenience and so that I can split parts of the narrative up more effectively, I’m going to designate seasons based on the opening credits. Technical process, I know.
Anyway, according to that method, this is the last episode of Season One, and it rounds off the first part of the series pretty effectively. A continuation of the last episode, it doesn’t quite hold up as well in its writing or composition, but it is fun. Ed now having figured out Greed’s weakness and Izumi here to join the fight, Greed promptly peaces out, losing all interest in defeating Ed. Same, man. Same. He catches up with Alphonse and the snake chimera controlling his armor, which sounds impressive until you realize that they’ve been progressing at the speed of about one foot per few seconds with Al resisting. Despite his protest about being kidnapped (which are I suppose merited), Al switches teams rather quickly when Greed is attacked by none other than King Bradley. Not only is he concerned for Greed’s safety (again, same), but he promises to protect the snake chimera when Greed and his crew start to lose the fight.
Again, this setup is wonderful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long, and the characters meet some surprisingly grisly fates. This is easily one of the most disturbing episodes in its imagery, and I’m including the flashbacks in there. The other chimeras hold out against Bradley’s forces for a while, but when Bradley gains the upper hand against greed by landing blows before he can heal or shield himself, the chimeras rush in to help. They are promptly dismembered.
The animation for the fight isn’t especially spectacular, but it does stand out for being gruesome, if nothing else. Its fast pace also lends a good energy, especially since in this fight, we’re rooting for Greed and he’s not faring so well. It’s quite unsettling to see a character, even a villain, killed over and over again seemingly without sustaining any permanent damage, and while the fight doesn’t use that to its advantage much, the supernatural abilities of the one character make it unique among the combat in the series so far.
Bradley also uses a technique that I find clever from both a narrative and animation standpoint, and I’m surprised the series doesn’t use again. The homunculi have red patterns on their bodies — ribbons with circles superimposed. Stabbing swords through all four of Greed’s circles knocks Greed out, and would presumably do the same for the other homunculi. Bradley even brings extra swords into the lair, seemingly for this specific purpose, aiming to bring Greed back to the mysterious Father character.
Part Two: NO NOT THE BEST CHARACTER!
Why is Bradley so quick and blase about fighting a supernatural creature? To no one’s surprise, he’s a homunculus as well; his ouroboros tattoo is hidden behind his eye patch most of the time. Well, I suppose Greed is surprised, but we later learn that’s because Bradley, or Wrath, is a recent incarnation.
Back in the pipe-filled lair of Father, the homunculi assemble. There are seven of them, obviously, some of which are mentioned to be away on their own little missions. Together, they make of a strange immortal family, headed by the character they just refer to as Father. Greed is the defector of the family and apparently a regular troublemaker.
So much of a troublemaker that Father opts to melt and DRINK him. What a disappointing end to a fabulous character. I’m genuinely bummed by that.
It’s unfortunate to see Greed axed off as a minor villain, especially when he had such potential in the previous episode. That’s a lot of work building up a set personality and characteristics for someone who was just going to die an episode later, and the same is true for his chimera companions. At the same time, though, it’s not necessarily a bad move. Greed’s personality comes through right to the end, and him getting melted is impactful. It’s a visceral demonstration of just how cruel the homunculi can be — that they wouldn’t just execute a character like Hughes as part of their plan, but they would readily torture one of their own as well. It also makes Father intimidating in a way he hasn’t ever been before. I wouldn’t cut this scene entirely — I just would have liked to see the series wait a few episodes to explore Greed as a character a bit more.
To be fair, the original series did that too. Mistakenly.
Part Three: Wait, So Are the Elrics Related to the Homunculi, Then?
Even though the audience has been tipped off to the idea that Bradley is the bad guy, and now knows him to be inhuman as well, this information remains hidden to the protagonists. Alphonse witnesses Bradley’s brutality firsthand, the man even stabbing Al’s internal ward and leaving him bloodsoaked. Of course, as Al was apparently being kidnapped, this is framed as Bradley doing his civic duty and apprehending criminals. Yeah, the protagonists are about as sharp as marbles when it comes to this particular plot.
The fight between Greed and Bradley only takes up the first half of the episode, though. The other big plot development is Alphonse retrieving his memories of the door of truth when the snake chimera’s blood gets on his seal. It’s an incomplete memory and mainly just gets Al to the same level as Ed and their teacher, so I can’t call it a cop-out or much of a convenience (especially considering it comes about from such traumatic circumstances). It doesn’t yet further the plot, and it doesn’t come in to save the day. However, the idea that Al lost his memory of the door of truth (and, if I’m being honest, most of the concept of the door of truth too) doesn’t sit quite right with me. It’s incongruous with the relatively straightforward rest of the world, and while I realize the plot needs a dramatic starting point, I think it’s stronger the less they show of the the door and the eyeless puppet man beside it.
That Al gets his memories back so shortly after the characters realized they were missing also weakens the plot point. It’s just padding when it comes down to it.
The episode isn’t a total loss by any means. It follows anime logic, sure, but it has a few compelling emotional moments and decent animation. The introduction of a mysterious Father who rules the homunculi and appears to be their creator adds a new layer of intrigue – not in the least because he resembles Edward’s father. If he is the Elrics’ father, the entire situation becomes more complicated. The episode comes across as unsatisfying, but a decent send-off for the first season. Or the first part of the series, anyway.