Remember how I said this show was a true ensemble piece with all its players out on the board for our observation? Nothing quite exemplifies that like this episode, where we have quite literally almost the entire cast either running around on or watching the battlefield. It’s an open playing field, but it’s not necessarily an even one just yet, seeing as a good deal of people are hiding on the rooves or outright standing on lamp posts because it would be trifling for them to touch the dirty ground.
Saber and Lancer are equally unimpressed with Iskander’s bold invitation to sheathe their weapons and come serve in his army instead, and frankly neither can believe he’d interrupt a duel between knights for such a silly reason. Saber finds the suggestion undermining, Diarmuid declares that his loyalty lies only with his new Master, who is his majestic lord and the absolute bestest. Waver is still banging his head against the floor of the chariot in disbelief at the whole situation, but freezes in shock when this aforementioned Master steps out—and is revealed to be our high-foreheaded, magical elitist friend from episode one, Kayneth Archibald. Waver is informed by his lecturer that he has far worse than detention coming for stealing his artefact and joining the War.
This, Iskander is not impressed by, and leaves Waver even more shocked and a little teary-eyed as he waves off Kayneth as a conniving coward, and not the kind of Master he would have wanted to work with anyway. Waver might be a whiny little bugger, but at least he rode into battle with him and didn’t stay on the sidelines issuing orders. Is that genuine respect and camaraderie the king has for the weedy student? Waver can barely believe it.
But all fun and games are cut short by the other two newish faces that materialise on the battleground. The first is Gilgamesh, who cannot believe the rudeness of someone hosting a party calling themselves kings and not even inviting him. In contrast to his golden persona (complete with a full, beautiful reveal of his multiple Noble Phantasms which he can summon from shimmering ripples in mid-air) is Berserker, who lurches out of a cloud in the ground and looks like a suit of armour constructed from a scrap heap and dipped in crude oil.
As if the Heroic Spirits hadn’t trashed the place enough, now we have a second battle kicking off. And it’s beautiful to watch, not only for the impact explosions and smooth animation, but due to the contrast of the glittering gold and the oozing black and the juxtaposing attitudes of the two heroes. Berserker is unexpectedly quick on his (her? their?) feet and can not only dodge but catch and fling Gilgamesh’s projectile swords back at him, and Gilgamesh in response is livid and destructive with rage. Tokiomi, watching from the cellar and no doubt pondering that this was not part of their secretive, elegant plan, is practically having his beard unravel out of stress.
And Tokiomi is the target here—Kariya is pulling Berserker’s strings, after all, since Tokiomi is the Evil Bastard who broke Aoi’s heart and sent tiny Sakura to the bug pit. Master and Servant have that in common, it seems, Pride and Wrath butting heads and selecting one another as rivals whether or not it really suits their end goal. Tokiomi clearly loathes to do it, but he uses a Command Spell to call Gilgamesh away from his awesome sword-brawl and retreat. As cinematic as the Archer vs Berserker spectacle was, he is not as keen on a pit fight as Kariya may want him to be.
Ah, though, Command Spells. What fun. We’ll get to those in a moment—with his golden boy out of the way, Berserker decides that the next best target is Saber, and gets if possible even more smoky and enraged. Diarmuid, being the hero and chivalry buddy that he is, leaps in and smacks Berserker’s weapon (a pole—evidently his Noble Phantasm can be anything he touches if he’s angry enough) away, Saving the Day Again. Kayneth is not as impressed by this as he could be, and orders Diarmuid to stop messing around use this opportunity to finish Saber off completely. When he protests in favour of honour and fair fights, he also gets struck by a Command Spell.
Now, you know what’s a fun primal fear to play with via storytelling and magic? Loss of body autonomy. There’s just something inherently horrifying about the concept of not being in control of our own inner workings, and this part with the Command Spells brings it out rather nicely, and by that I mean it’s one of the scenes I always cringe away from. There’s a wonderful, tense moment between Kayneth calling out his order and it going into play where all we see is Diarmuid’s back, gone very still and stiff, and suddenly snap, he spins around and, stilted and puppet-like, attacks the person he’d just made quite good friends with. Even before you see the expression on his face his body language screams discomfort and inner conflict.
Really, can you imagine anything more awful than that? And to think that this is, in context, a fairly practical use for the Command Spells, as opposed to say before when Waver almost used one out of spite. If a Command Spell has the power to make your Servant do anything, provided the instructions are clear enough, well, needless to say that’s a great and terrible power if it falls into (or rather onto) the wrong hands. Does it matter, inherently, if Servants aren’t really humans anymore, but simply the manifestation of a spirit and a story? Is what they feel real and/or relevant? I suppose your view on it would simply depend what kind of Master or person you were. And Kayneth seems to be in the “Servant as Tool” school of thought, despite how much Diarmuid is devoted to him.
Wonderfully tense build-up or otherwise, luckily, before either Diarmuid or Berserker (or Kiritsugu, who has Kayneth in his sniper sights) can land a blow, Iskander barrels in and runs the black knight straight over. Diarmuid springs out of the way and Berserker ends up as temporary chariot roadkill before he dissipates, alleviating Saber (again) from her position as pseudo-damsel-in-distress. The party disbands, Kayneth lurking off, Iskander carrying the poor frazzled Waver home, Iri congratulating Saber on her hard work, Gilgamesh I can only presume sulking somewhere, and all promising a rematch of some proportion sooner rather than later.
Kariya, meanwhile, appears to be hanging out in an alley, and despite feeling triumphant over weakening his rival Tokiomi, it seems he’s a touch worse for wear. In that he’s barfing up blood and magical worms. I hope he has a tonic for that, really. Reflux and revenge are terrible things.
And it also seems as though Assassin wasn’t the only one watching the battle—Caster has observed the whole thing via crystal ball and has zoomed in, for reasons we can only assume and worry will become clear, on fair Saber. The pieces are all on show and very aware of each other, have already been flung across the ground and out of their comfort zones, and now the next step is to see how they’ll interact and intercept with each other. Let the games well and truly begin!