I do think that these 50-minute-long episodes are the way to go—whether or not they would have altered the flow of the series in general for better or worse, you have to acknowledge that the prologue, episode one and this season finale have been some of the best work and the best to watch. They can let interactions and worldbuilding draw out without it taking up valuable space, paint a greater story arc within one timeslot, balance action with quiet scenes, and achieve a much greater emotional pull when you give the viewers the cute, everyday life segments and then, before the day is done, swoop in and take it all away.
Shirou’s been asked on a questionably platonic three-way date by Rin, who he’s also endured the shock of seeing half-asleep in fluffy cat pyjamas, but it soon becomes clear that the inherent faux pas and embarrassment in that is the least of everyone’s worries. First, though, we get to see this “date” in motion, which turns out to be a Rin-guided tour of the town in an attempt to get Shirou to lighten the hell up. Nothing like compulsory fun, right? They do end up easing into it, though, with banter about Shirou needing to grow taller (“You will,” Rin assures him. And how could she be so certain?), tea and cakes, window shopping, and discovering that the cuter-with-glasses aesthetic doesn’t entirely suit Shirou (though it also serves as a neat little reference to another orphan boy wizard).
The one who’s having the most fun actually appears to be Saber, despite declaring that she’s only there as a bodyguard and the other two should ignore her. It’s subtle, but we do get the sense that this is Saber the Person and even Saber the Kid coming to the surface, discovering strange and delicious modern food (behold! The bun is shaped like a fish!) and revealing her childish competitive streak through baseball, while also having it come across as adorable character development rather than being degrading. Which is always lovely to see, since that’s an issue that her character handling can definitely have. Saber loves food, Rin loves messing with Shirou, and he actually gives himself a day off, though you have to wonder if he’s really into it heart and soul or still feels, like he said to Rin, that he doesn’t deserve any more wishes or happiness. It feels like an important thing to express.
While the kids are being kids, Taiga is off on her own “date”, which turns out to be visiting and cleaning up Kiritsugu’s grave and filling him in on all the gossip. As ridiculous and macabre as suggesting this is a date is, we see a softer, more sombre side of Taiga all of a sudden, even if she is recounting to the ghost of her old family friend with her usual matter-of-fact effervescence. Apart from it being stated that Taiga’s been around since Shirou was a kid and is chaperoning him now, we don’t really know much about her relationship with the Emiya family, least of all that elusive and inspirational scruffball Kiritsugu.
It seems Shirou’s not the only one who misses him terribly, and I’m glad this got hinted at since it gave Taiga a little more depth. Is she always so bubbly as a coping mechanism? Does she spend so much time with Shirou because he and his dad took her in when her own family life was less nice? Is there an unrequited teenaged crush in the mix?? I’m worried for her, now. Get me inside Taiga’s brain. That sounds like a fascinating and colourful place to visit (but perhaps not to stay).
Yes, Taiga is important—we actually get a shadow of a sense of this, of how much she, Shirou and Kiritsugu actually meant to each other, when Caster sidles in and grabs her as a hostage. Along with some conspicuously computer-animated skeleton golems, this time made of water and ice, she hijacks the trio’s bus ride home and warps them into a haunting bounded field and delivers a proposal. Shirou is propositioned to give up his command seals to her and save Taiga, thankfully not just because Caster has a morbid interest in collecting magical oddities but because she has the greater goal of gathering a magic burst and summoning the Grail straight-up.
Isn’t that against the rules of the War? Well, it’s the Fate verse, so rules are made to be broken in awesome ways, and Caster’s Noble Phantasm is literally called Rule Breaker, so it seems no one’s having that argument with her. There’s flying, there’s magic, there’s bold declarations from Shirou that he’d never help someone like her who does so much harm, and there’s a horrifying whirl of light and howl of pain from Saber as Caster captures and stabs her in the chest. Rule Breaker is a funky dagger that nullifies spells—thus, with one strike, Caster has broken the contract between Saber and Shirou, and taken his command seals for herself.
Ordered to attack, Saber stabs Shirou through the shoulder and creates a kerfuffle, allowing Archer enough time to break through the field and do his thing, fashionably late as ever. They may have gotten out, but they’ve left Saber behind, all the happiness that had been gradually breaking through her cool mask shattered and replaced by a look of absolute heartbreak. And, to boot, it’s finally explained that Shirou’s healing abilities were directly linked to her, so now that they’re not together his stab wound is going to have to get better the old fashioned way.
What does this mean for his alliance with Rin? Archer brings it up once again, and Rin points out that he seemed to have a soft spot for Saber in the first place, so he’s one to talk. Perhaps he knew her when he was alive? Archer says he still doesn’t remember who he is, a claim that’s holding less water every time we revisit it. Even Rin giving him a personality analysis doesn’t break down his demeanour. It’s time to get serious. They fly off into the night to try and sort this thing out once and for all, leaving Shirou fumbling around injured in the dark in his sick room, where, again, his painful selflessness comes into play—he stumbles and knocks over a jewellery box, is lying on the floor clearly in incredible pain, and his instant response is to apologise for making a mess.
And also to notice a strangely familiar red gem, which lets it click in his mind that Rin was the one who saved his life back at the start. Another debt he feels he has to repay, another misguided bolt in his fragile sense of purpose, another cross he feels he has to bear, another reason he needs to step up his game and justify his existence.
And when he lurches through town to try and give Rin the help he owes, despite bleeding everywhere and staggering in excruciating pain, the result is nil: in his current state, he’s not even a Master, so he’s absolutely powerless. If he tries to compete, he’s dead. Rin, far from asking him on any more dates and back in Mage Mode, can promise that. What could be more painful for him to hear?
While he’s writhing around having a crisis of self-worth, Caster’s gone on her own excursion (after leaving Assassin on guard and breaking open his ribs when he gives her lip, which he does not have as much of a problem with as he maybe should. The implication that he’s used to it tells you something about their relationship as well as cementing that Caster’s quite terrifying) to the Church, where Kirei is quite offended that she’s broken in, broken the rules, interrupted his prayers, and set a bunch of golems on him. If you thought the overseer was all talk, you’re in for a pleasant surprise—in beautiful, dramatic (and again, conspicuously CG’d) slow motion, Kirei lays waste to three different monsters at once with his bare fists.
Kirei’s battling with skeletons (to an as yet unknown result, though he didn’t look like he was doing so good), Saber is being carried around under Caster’s cloak, Caster’s laughing her maniacal, princessy laugh (and according to Kirei she’s an actual princess, so it may be more fitting than I give it credit for), Lancer is watching the whole thing from a tree with no apparent intention of helping, Berserker is hanging out in Ilya’s room, Shinji is following our golden friend around with a look of slight helplessness, Shirou is on the ground and among the stars at once, and Rin and Archer are soaring of into the night to who knows what fate. Everything’s come together and everything’s a damned fine mess.
Now this, this was a fantastically crafted episode and a great season finale, not being so rude as to end on a total cliffhanger, but setting the game up on its now cracked and ruined board and proposing that we see how on earth things are going to progress from here. The dynamics we’ve become interested in have shifted, the characters we’ve come to know (and maybe love) are in peril and pitted against each other. We’ve become familiar with this city and its magical undercurrents over the past 13 episodes and now we fear for it.
It had its pacing issues and its ups and downs, but I feel like this series has come into its own, and as of the second half we’re really going to get into the guts of things. It may have felt like a long buildup to a great climax, only to be made to wait for more, but I’m too excited to complain. Gather your swords and your conspiracy theories about Archer’s true identity, and I’ll see you in April!