Assassin vs Archer couldn’t really be called a battle so much as a surprise parade of humiliation and death from above, but this episode is a fully-fledged duel between heroes. It’s safe to say things are finally kicking off, as a varied cast of characters sneak in from all sides to watch Saber face off against the newly introduced and exceptional Lancer. Heroic Spirit or not, how much upper body strength do you need to expertly wield two spears? No wonder this guy has biceps the size of Jupiter’s moons.
Yes, friends, here we’re treated to an appetiser for the entrancing fight choreography the series is full of. Again, though perhaps not as overtly so as their later production, we get a sense of weight and solidity to the duellists facing off with invisible sword against dual spears. Though there’s plenty of the air of the fantastical too—they leap and bound, sparks fly, they lay waste to the makeshift arena that’s been made out of the city’s shipping yards. The Servants exude a sense of otherworldly power, in comparison to the humans (magical or not) that are watching from the wings, through sniper scopes in the case of Maiya and Kiritsugu (who are looking decidedly more relaxed than when we last saw them, even smiling and half-joking, Our Hero with his already-messy hair looking even wilder. So something happened in that hotel room, and you cannot convince me otherwise).
Also keeping an eye on things is one of the Assassins, which Kiritsugu is very surprised to spot considering there’s only meant to be one of them and he’s supposed to be dead. Our skull-masked friend is acting as the eyes and ears for Kirei and Tokiomi, who are hanging out in the much safer territories of the church and the Tohsaka basement respectively. Tokiomi is interested to note (and we the viewers are interested to learn) that Iri fits the description of an Einzbern homunculus. So, they’ve made an artificial Master and sent her in? Then where’s that Mage Killer guy? And who and where is Lancer’s Master? Good lord, these heathens, I do wish they’d get off the rooves and fight where I can see them.
Iri’s inhumanity is a matter for another day, though, because the key focus of the episode is the battle between Saber and Lancer. Yes, it is quite easily drawn out over the entire episode, mostly helped by the fact that they fill the space between landing spark-filled hits on each other with banter. Lancer even flirts, dare I say, which Saber is not apparently impressed by, the same way she’s not affected by the ‘love spot’ on his cheek, which is charmed with the ability to make all women who see it fall in love with him. Saber is not won over by this or his clingy outfit (honestly, what is going on there? At least it makes a smidgen more sense than the other Lancer’s, but did the Celts really have access to spandex?) which Lancer is actually quite happy with. It would make the fight unfair, of course, to strike at a girl while she was having girl feelings.
Saber raises a sword and a proverbial middle finger to the concept of her having girl feelings for him and platonic cockiness takes place of all pretence. They quickly build respect for each other and lament that they can’t exchange names (and phone numbers?) and have a proper and honourable duel as knights. Lancer’s Master cuts in through what I can only assume is a magical megaphone and tells him to quit fooling around and kill her. He can even unveil his Noble Phantasm, which sounds like enough of an innuendo even before Lancer drops the line “You’re as good as naked before my spear.”
To be fair, it’s not entirely incorrect—his red lance cancels out magic, which renders Saber’s magically crafted armour somewhat useless. So what does she do? She takes the damn thing off. Lancer is even more impressed by this, but her bravado doesn’t pay off when she dives into battle and then everyone remembers the handsome bugger has two spears. The shorter, yellow one has a nasty trick in its tip too, namely that it leaves cursed wounds that can’t heal even with Iri’s magic. Two Noble Phantasms? What a show-off. It does, though, help Saber identify him as Diarmuid of the Radiant face, a knight from the Fenian Cycle of Irish folklore.
This would usually be a problem—it’s important to note that the Servants use their class names to protect their identities, because having them out in the open causes a real pain for their chances at winning. For example, if everyone found out that your Servant was Achilles, they’d all stab for his heel and your Grail War would be over then and there. Lancer and Saber, who’s also had her sword unveiled and recognised by the magic-cancelling spear, don’t mind terribly though: now they can have a true, honest duel together.
Lancer’s Master, I can only assume, is grinding his teeth at this moment, but all we see of him is the silhouette through Kiritsugu’s sniper scope. We can probably guess who he is if we hark back to episode one, but for now it remains one of the only genuine mysteries in the show. Otherwise, the playing field is open and filled to the corners with various members of the cast sneaking or parading around. The contrast between the characters is clear: below, we have two knights duking it out for honour and glory, above we have snipers lying in wait to search and destroy.
…and in the middle, crashing down from the heavens, we have Iskander. He couldn’t stand to see the fight end this early, you see, as that would be awfully boring and one or both of them could die without him getting to meet them. So naturally, he throws a chariot in the works and makes and takes a stage between them, declaring his identity and intentions while everyone, including poor Waver, looks on in utter shock. Well, we must expect the unexpected in these magical dealings, mustn’t we?