Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Twelve: Upheaval in Central – ***
Part One: That Musty Stang
Last episode of the season! The previous one felt like a better ending point to be honest, but these are fairly arbitrary anyway, and the screaming upside-down people creates a… unique cliffhanger, at least.
We’re back to the format of split teams, which makes it a bit easier for me to designate my review sections. Since he takes up the first half of the episode or so, let’s start with Mustang and his men.
They have launched their attack on Central but are refraining from killing or seriously wounding the other Central soldiers. It’s a coup, but the nice sort. The idea of course is to ensure that Mustang doesn’t look like a usurper but a moral liberator, which isn’t a bad thing even if it is a bit of a publicity stunt. I’m all for not-murder. Not-murder is highly preferable to its opposite. It does fall a little bit flat when your allies are on a completely different wavelength and just assassinate anyone who stands in their way, so I am a bit suspicious that the show just wants to have its cake and eat it too, here. What fun’s an end battle if there’s no blood, right?
Arguably more pressing for the sake of the story is what the actual plan entails. Hey, quick question: Where the did they find the Fuhrer’s wife?
I’m serious, I genuinely missed that scene. I think there may have been something in an end-credits sequence, but the one in the previous episode had her already captured, and made it sound like they had kidnapped her somehow.
…What? How? Like, functionally, it doesn’t really matter because all that’s really important in the scene is that they use her to bolster good will and make it look like they’re actually opposing a more subtle insurgence, but I cannot get over this. You would think, if this is Step One in the plan, we might like to see how it happened, because I have so many questions. Does she not have body guards? Did they just brute strength their way into the entire palace and then… what, take her to a weird warehouse on the outskirts of town? Why? Isn’t Central Command connected to the palace, and aren’t they trying to work their way to Central Command? What could they possibly have said to her to make her think that she’s not being kidnapped?
Again, none of this is especially important, but it kind of feels like it should be, doesn’t it? Essentially, at this point the plan is for Mustang to cause some chaos but not do any harm himself, and garner support from the people for his humane invasion. He wants to make it seem like he’s on Mrs. Bradley’s side, and by extension, her husband’s, but he’s also trying to get to Central Command, I assume to unite with the Briggs soldiers and take the physical seat of power. If this was the plan all along and they’re not making it up on the fly, they are astonishingly lucky that General Grummin killed Bradley even though that appears to not have been part of the plan. They are also astonishingly lucky that Pride, who they know is a Homunculus, was not only out of town when they kidnapped Mrs. Bradley, but is now trapped in a large earthen dome that I don’t think they know about. It would seem that the success of their plan was entirely contingent upon these things somehow.
The importance of strategy in a piece of fiction is generally proportional to where the emotional focus of the piece is. For Ed’s part in the narrative, the emotional focus is on his success, but the Mustang subplot trips over its own feet a bit here because it can’t decide if it wants the audience to be emotionally invested in the political maneuvering, or if it wants us to just be happy for Mustang’s success. It mostly comes down on the latter, but enough of the plot is focused on the former that it creates a dissonant mess where the plan is not structurally sound (or even all that palatable on its own), and also Mustang has no idea what he’s doing.
He kidnaps Mrs. Bradley, but then seems to have no idea how to get to Central Command after that. Are the Briggs soldiers working with him and his crew? Hypothetically, yes. In practice, I sincerely doubt it. Mustang can’t be in control of them if he’s to have a clean image, so they just seem to be operating on their own, for his mutual benefit. He did definitely help get them here, but the episode makes it sound like they’re mostly operating on suggestion over actual orders.
By far and away, though, Mustang’s response to the resupply wagon is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve seen in this season. The van arrives, and not only is he shocked by its appearance (I do love a tactical ice cream truck), but he also seems surprised by what’s in it. He has no idea who’s supplying his weapons, which is played for a resonant emotional moment, but also makes him look like a bit of a dunderhead. Like, it kind of looks like they drove out of the city so that Mustang could send one of his men up a telephone pole just to speak to the man supplying the arms that he, Mustang, ordered for the coup that he is supposed to be in the middle of leading right now. I mean, it’s a cute moment, but buddy, time and place.
On top of that, he also almost seems surprised that Maria Ross is still alive, even though he, Mustang, was the one who personally faked her death. Come to think of it, the framing of Havoc is similar, even though the last time he spoke to Mustang was, I believe, like five episodes ago, in a hospital bed. It very much sounds like Mustang thought up until this moment that both of these people had died. Friend, no, they’re fine. You of all people should know that.
Part Two: Day of Black Sun This is Not
Ed’s group, meanwhile, have apparently been camping out at the forest edge for the past six hours or so, waiting for… smoke? Gunshots? It’s unclear why they are not already in the city. I definitely took that morning scene from the previous episode to imply that they were on their way down then, not waiting until some time around noon before they too enter the fray. I mean, they get there pretty fast, but what on earth were they waiting for?
His band are going directly after Father while Mustang takes over the functioning government. They opt to use the passage at one of the laboratories from before, splitting up to cover more ground so that Hoenheim is all on his own. He takes Lan Fan with him, mainly so that he can set her loose to go after Ling and Greed, but the way the scene plays out, it seems more like he just wants to face Father alone without looking suspicious. Again, we return to the idea that Hoenheim may not entirely be trustful. It’s a very pointed setup throughout the series, and I swear, I cannot remember any point where it actually pays off. Hoenheim isn’t being controlled by Father, nor is he trying to, I don’t know, supplant Father (spoilers, I guess). I continue to find this choice odd.
And that’s basically where we leave the characters because we’re only one episode into the finale. Ed gets a nice moment where he uses his sway as a State Alchemist to take down the laboratory’s guards, and his father assigns him Scar as a buddy for the tunnels, so we might get a nice little bit of interaction there in the upcoming episodes.
Part Three: Get Pumped for the Immortal Legion! (It’s Really Not Worth it, Trust Me.)
The last major group we have is Olivier Armstrong and the Briggs soldiers. And a couple of loose parties, I suppose.
As Mustang has hinted at, they snuck the Briggs men into the Armstrong mansion in the weeks leading up to this day (without, I might add, informing her brother). Now they’re let loose on the city, killing Central soldiers indiscriminately.
To… what end, exactly? I assume that they’re here mainly to bolster Mustang’s numbers and cause enough chaos that it can draw attention away from him. They’re also likely making their way toward Olivier, who is herself in Central Command along with the other officers who are in on Father’s plan. She’s continued to play participant to gain information, and, in-line with Mustang’s other allies, is turning on them during this uprising. There’s a weird little note about the other officers thinking they have her hostage, or her men hostage, but I think those lines are in here mostly to introduce the brutality of the Briggs soldiers. Unlike Mustang’s men, they have no qualms about lethality, nor does Olivier herself.
I do think that this undermines whatever the series was going for with Mustang being a benevolent revolutionary, especially since I don’t recall that the show ever addresses this difference in philosophy. Armstrong is explicitly working with Mustang in some capacity, though distantly, so it’s not unreasonable that she and her soldiers would choose this course (especially given their personal philosophies). It’s just a bit weird that the episode treats both of them with equal admiration.
There are a couple of ominous portents of what’s to come tone-wise, surrounding the morality of the different factions. First, we finally get some new theme music, and it’s an almost garishly patriotic-sounding choir. Maybe this isn’t the first time we’re hearing it, but it’s very pervasive and distracting, and I do not like it. A little bit when the ice cream van arrives would be fine, but it plays through what feels like half of the entire episode. It’s genuinely a bit hard to hear the characters talking over it, and does not discriminate between Mustang, Ross, Havoc, or the Briggs soldiers.
The second portent is the sheer dunder-headedness of the Central Officers, who end the episode by releasing the unfinished Immortal Legion. I get that they’re supposed to be callous and probably gullible, but you do generally want your antagonists to put up some sort of fight. That is the point of them, after all. These people seem like they have jello for brains, at one point even pointing out that Olivier’s killed a man about thirty seconds after it happens. Guys, you are military, dead bodies should not surprise you, especially if produced by a person you think you are holding hostage somehow. I’m not in least impressed that they opted for the Immortal Legion. I am somewhat surprised, though, that the show even bothers to show us these numpties if it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about corruption or overconfidence or anything like that. These aren’t regular soldiers who have bought into Father’s evil plan, they’re just bad nincompoops.
It’s still too early to tell how the show intends to weave together its disparate plotlines. The simplistic evilness of the officers suggests to me that the show is not actually that interested in exploring morality, which doesn’t bode well considering the show has been at least tangentially concerned with just that for the last four seasons. The chaos of the plan itself also points to the show being more interested in pithy zingers than a coherent stratagem. I’ll give the episode three stars because the emotional moments generally work well enough, and because this is the first episode of the fight, I don’t want to judge its logical fallacies too harshly. It’s not that important right now that the invasion makes sense beyond a basic sense of “stop the bad guys,” but it will be interesting to see how the choices made here are (or more importantly, are not) addressed when all of this wraps up.