Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode Eleven: He Who Would Swallow God – *
Audience Assumptions: None
Part One: Reversals
Woof. Here we go.
So after the previous episode impressing me more than I thought it would, the show comes crashing right back down with a whole load of nonsense. Lovely. Again, I don’t want to demean the people who made the episode, as it clearly shows considerable effort in its artistry and animation. Taken alone, it works fine. But I am writing these reviews (at least hypothetically) for the viewers, not the creators, and as a viewer myself, I struggle to find the point in this episode existing as part of this story. A lot of what comes out of it feels superfluous or contradictory, making for a distasteful viewing experience.
All right, so what happens?
On the main front, Father has become a sexy(?) blond god who can create suns in the palm of his hand. However, it turns out God cannot be contained so easily. Hoenheim has put bits of his own Philosopher’s Stone around the outside of the circle, so before the eclipse is over, he activates it. This single-handedly reverses Father’s own circle, so almost immediately after he gets them, the souls of the Amestrians escape and return to their bodies.
Scar continues his fight with Bradley, using his newly tattooed arm of creation to initiate the reversed transmutation circle, not to be confused with Hoenheim’s transmutation circle. Scar’s circle has nothing to do with Father turning people into Philosopher’s Stones, but instead reverses a block on the country’s alchemy. As has been hinted a few times, the alchemy of Amestris is “off,” tainting by Father, who has been draining it from the earth. With the new circle activated, the natural alchemy of Amestris is restored and the alchemists are stronger.
Using their newfound power, Ed and the others attack Father, trying to deplete his Philosopher’s Stone. He escapes in one of the funniest images of the show — Adonis rising through the floor on a pillar of lava, interrupting a heartfelt reunion. Scar appears to be fatally injured and Bradley dies, and everyone rushes upstairs after Father.
However, Pride holds Ed back, intent on using him as a new vessel since his body is falling apart. Kimbley returns to taunt Pride for his pitiful action, and Ed turns himself into a Philosopher’s Stone so he can break into Pride’s mind (??) and turn Pride into a foetus.
And that’s the episode.
Part Two: The Man with the Scar
There are some who would argue that knowing the ending of a story ruins it. I disagree. Novelty can create enjoyable experiences, but anticipation can be just as if not more powerful. We know in a story like Fullmetal Alchemist that the heroes win, bad guys lose, and though there are tragedies and struggles along the way, the ending will leave us on a more positive note than when we began. That’s just the mark of the genre. The difference between a good uplifting fantasy and a bad one is all in the delivery.
The show gives us barely a few minutes in which it seems that the heroes have thoroughly lost before it says, “Well, actually,” and rescinds everything that’s happened over the past episode or two. Ed and the others don’t have time to respond to the earth-shattering news that everyone they’ve ever known outside of this room is dead, turned into an immense Philosopher’s Stone. The few moments we do get are dramatic, the music cutting out and showing the empty streets, but the image fails to land because moments later, we have a goofy action scene with Hoenheim’s circle and Father vomiting out millions of souls. There’s a bit of a tonal disconnect there.
The way this episode plays out confirms the show’s preference for Plot with a capital “p,” emotional beats and character development only allowed to happen coincidentally or when they overlap with the Plot. Characterization can be plot in and of itself, and Brotherhood has a few subtler nods every now and then, but it falls into the same trap as a lot of action series in that it views its plot mainly in terms of battles, exposition, explanations, scheming, and other louder events.
Case in point, what on earth is this Scar and Bradley nonsense?
A few episodes back, after he fell into the canal, Bradley re-emerged in the chamber with Mustang and Gold Tooth, and helped Pride force Mustang to transmute. Bradley stuck around to confront Scar as the latter tried to initiate his reverse circle. I assume this fight was put on hold during the eclipse, but either way, they’re back at it now.
I take umbrage with the choice to pit these two characters against each other in the first place, as neither of them have ever interacted, so their pairing feels random. Bradley issued the order to destroy Ishval, but not only was he not there personally, he was receiving those orders from Father himself, so while certainly culpable, he’s something of a middle manager of atrocities, at least in this case. Scar should have been facing Envy, or better yet, Kimbley.
Worse still, the manner of both of their deaths, or in Scar’s case, apparent death, is entirely the wrong tone. It starts out clever, with Scar taking advantage of the reemergence of the sun to dash in when the light glints off Bradley’s sword into his eye, at which point Scar quite literally disarms his opponent. This is perhaps a bit overkill, but it’s appropriate for how the series has structured its fights so far, and it leaves Bradley unable to use his signature swordfighting abilities. Immediately after, though, Bradley grabs the sword in his mouth and stabs Scar through the belly. It’s inane. And then Bradley, who as with all the homunculi seems to only die at the plot’s convenience, grows old and gets a peaceful death.
Bradley is not a sympathetic character. He’s not an honorable warrior who fought for the wrong side, he’s an angry pissboy who likes to stab people. I don’t particularly care that he liked his wife, if a story’s system of morality is as basic as this one’s, it needs to focus on empathizing with the minor protagonists who are good but not heroic. Giving deference to a figure simply because they were important is a slap in the face to all of the lesser characters who actually were just caught in the crossfire.
On a similar note…
Part Three: Oh Fuck Off, Kimbley
Pride’s “death” is one of the most bizarre, certainly among the homunculi. He’s not killed so much as reverted to a simpler form, similar to Envy. I think the intent in this choice is to imply that Pride’s monstrous, animalistic nature is actually the manifestation of a child, an egg, something without experience and who hasn’t yet developed empathy. It’s also meant to be ironic, given he’s the first and therefore oldest homunculus.
However, I also kind of feel like the show is unwilling to hurt Pride permanently for less pertinent reasons. He looks like a child and Ed’s the one who defeats him; the optics of our noble hero murdering a nine-year-old are… not great. But the way the show opts to circumvent that image contrasts with what the show has primed the audience to expect. I do like that Ed opts to risk his life to spare Pride, incapacitating him and giving him a second chance to become a better person, but it’s uncharacteristic. Ed isn’t a pacifist and he hasn’t really pushed much to spare others. There are moments that, if build upon each other, could lead Ed to lose his taste for violence and come to want to spare his enemies, but that is very much not the arc we’ve been given for him. This scene is weakened by being bracketed between two fights, so the choice to save versus destroy Pride is almost arbitrary.
Add to that Ed’s magical manifestation as a Philosopher’s Stone and Kimbley’s brain-gouging monologue about how Pride has “shamed his kind as a homunculus,” and “doesn’t know Edward Elric,” as though he himself is any sort of authority, and the scene grates rather deeply.
It’s not poignant, it’s not satisfying, it’s not informative, and it’s not even particularly impressive as a spectacle because it’s so absurd. Well done, show, you’ve made me dislike weird things. I hope you’re happy.
Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5