Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Five: Bite of the Ant – ***
Part One: Distances
This is a fun episode in many ways, and in one very large one, disappointing.
A lot of plot points are tossed around, so I’ll just give each of them a brief moment.
First, Kimbley’s attack on Briggs turns out to be a ploy, as his promise to the Drachman soldiers that he can exploit a weakness in the fort is an outright lie. The Briggs soldiers tear through the Draman army like it’s tissue paper, and this failed invasion attempt becomes the crest of blood.
Alphonse, Marcoh, Scar, and May are hiding in a small shack on the outskirts of an Ishvalan slum. They lure Envy there and battle him with help from May’s long-distance alkehestry, and Marcoh’s knowledge of philosopher’s stones. Eventually, they wear him down sufficiently to render him a small leech-like creature. They then safely store the homunculus away inside a glass jar and give him to May to take back to Xing. Before leaving, Envy teases that Ed has gone missing and might be severely injured. Al decides to head to Liore under the suspicion that the tunnel continues down there.
Back in Central, Bradley shows a rare moment of humanity when he questions Hawkeye about her encounter with Pride. He tells her that although Pride was technically assigned to him, he chose his wife for love.
General Armstrong, still pretending to be in line with the other corrupted Central officers, belittles her brother. A fellow officer in league shows her to an underground chamber filled with inanimate, manufactured bodies – the immortal soldiers General Raven mentioned.
And, perhaps the oddest of the subplots addressed in this episode, we return to East City and follow the last remaining member of the first Greed’s chimera companions, who overhears some soldiers talking about Bradley being in Central. The chimera still believes Greed to be alive, so he stows away under the soldiers’ truck in the hope of tracking Greed down.
Part Two: Green Goo People
The animation in this episode is superb. Reintroducing Envy’s monstrous form provides ample opportunity for the show to come up with creative and often macabre forms. It’s a bit intense to watch, as it combines the usual violence of the series with the unsettling bubbling human faces that line Envy’s body (and icicles… for some reason, the protruding icicles get to me), but it’s a good return to the horror aesthetic that the series uses effectively. Partway through the fight, Envy lashes his tongue out and captures Marcoh, which slows the fight down to a stalemate and also allows the human forms to claw and grip at Marcoh’s clothing, which is easily some of the most chilling animation the series has to offer.
Outside of combat, the animation on the characters’ faces, or perhaps more accurately, the timing and cinematography, lend a lot to the emotion of certain scenes. This episode has many quiet moments where characters communicate largely with their eyes and gestures.
Envy, of course, taunts Marcoh when he holds Marcoh captive, emoting false concern and glee at telling Marcoh his researchers were turned into Philosopher’s Stones and Envy intends to destroy a local village. Animating these expressions on a large dragonish beast is, I would imagine, difficult, but the show pulls it off very effectively. It’s a creative sequence as well, given that Envy is holding him with a monstrous tongue the whole time.
Hawkeye’s conversation with Bradley is just the right amount of tense and calm, showing off a human side to the homunculi that will become very important shortly.
My favorite of these quieter moments, though, comes when Scar offers the now-trapped Envy to May, holding the jar out in a gruff, insistent manner. It’s rare for Scar to offer anything to other people, both because he doesn’t carry much on him, but also because it’s not normally a part of his role or personality. It’s a bit of an awkward scene, but appropriately so, and the gesture itself seems to come from a kind place. We later learn that Scar mainly wants Envy far away from the final battle, but the mere fact that he remembers May’s motivation for being here and offers her a solution to help her family is heartwarming.
And all of these emotions are conveyed through the visuals. This is an episode that would work well without any sound or dialogue. And given how cringeworthy some of that dialogue is, perhaps it should have used less of it.
Part Three: See? Even the Show Agrees That Yoki is Useless.
This is an episode that would normally get a four-star review from me, and if its issues were isolated to one small scene or aspect, I might have given it that. However, for all of Envy’s unintentionally awkward lines, Yoki’s irritating screaming, and the pointed setups with immediate payoff, the main problem with this episode is that it makes no goddamn sense.
I hear “it makes no sense” used as a criticism far more often than is needed, usually in response to small plot holes or worldbuilding inconsistencies, so I try not to use it that often. When I say “this episode makes no sense,” I don’t mean that I wouldn’t make the same decisions as the characters in it, or that the specific type of magic being used hasn’t been exposited to us yet; I mean the plot progression and order of events is about as organized as a chess board someone has flung into the sea.
Why have Al’s team decided to take down Envy right now of all times?
Why on earth would Kimbley opt to destroy Drachma instead of using them to invade Briggs properly?
Why pretend that one of the chimeras was a double-agent?
Why show Armstrong the immortal legion, and claim that the only reason human transmutation is illegal is because the government doesn’t want anyone else to build an army?
Why bring back Greed’s chimera man after over two full seasons of not seeing him?
Individually, these questions probably wouldn’t matter, but the fact that there are so many of them belies the structural confusion of the episode. And they’re not just questions for the internal logic of the show, either; I could readily say that the Envy sequence is here because we need to bring the earlier homunculi back into the story and sow the seeds for May’s disastrous return during the end battle. This hardly excuses the shoddy flow of events. Surely there are more subtle ways to introduce Envy for this battle than just saying, “HEY, ENVY’S HERE NOW, FOR SOME REASON.”
Part of the problem stems from the show’s many characters and subplots. We haven’t seen anything of Greed, Ling’s people, Envy, Bradley, or Gluttony all season, with the action all happening up north, so reintroducing all of them very suddenly is bound to be a bit uneven. But with Envy in particular, the show offers nothing in the way of setup or motivation, which makes his appearance here almost comical. We don’t know what Envy has been doing this whole time, and while I think there may have been a moment in the last season when Envy gave Kimbley his orders while disguised as a soldier, there’s nothing to suggest that Envy is helping him track down Scar and Marcoh. Likewise, what is the motivation for the protagonists to set up a trap to kill or capture Envy? They don’t need his Philosopher’s Stone, he doesn’t have any useful information, they aren’t trying to stop him from doing anything (mainly because they presumably don’t know what he’s been doing either), and none of them have any particular beef with him that might warrant such a reckless attack. Aside from wanting to take him down because he’s a bad guy, the only one with a personal beef against Envy is Marcoh, whose researchers were killed by the homunculi in order to turn them into Philosopher’s Stones — except that Marcoh doesn’t learn that until the middle of the battle, which dulls its impact so much that the show might as well never mention it in the first place.
If you’re thinking at this point that maybe we missed a scene, well, yes, we did. A few episodes ago, the show started tacking on end-credits scenes, and I resent it deeply for it. End-credits scenes are there to provide jokes, hints, or Easter eggs, and I certainly don’t mind a creative project finding a way to encourage viewers to read the credits (provided you’re not in a place where watching through the whole thing is an inconvenience to, for instance, theatre ushers, Marvel). But you should never put essential plot points in the end credits, because not only are most people going to miss it, the placement implies a complete disconnect from the rest of the story. You’re isolating that information either way, which means if it is essential, its position relative to the plot points its essential to is completely confused.
Imagine if in The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader only revealed he was Luke’s father in an end-credits scene. That seems like it would be an important revelation for, like, character motivation or something. But isolating it implies that the main story is just about fighting some evil guy, and his relationship to the main characters is irrelevant. That’s certainly a read you could make of the Star Wars series, but it’s not one most people take because the placement of that revelation alongside Luke’s failure to stop Vader creates a direct connection between his struggle to process this information and his drive to stop what until then was just some villain. Even if the story doesn’t really change from cutting a major revelation, that doesn’t mean it was unimportant.
Anyway, the Briggs attack happens off-screen and Drachma falls in about two minutes, which means that all of that tension about Briggs being vulnerable or dangerous for the main characters was complete baloney. I guess the Drachmans are just really bad at counting, and that’s why Briggs has been so afraid of the giant not-Russia to their north all these years.