You know it’s going to be a fun episode when the very first shot is Diarmuid lying dead on the ground. Don’t worry, it’s the last time he died, back in ancient Ireland! We’re treated to a very abridged version of The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainné, in which his lord’s betrothed falls in love with him and sends them on a whirlwind escape chased by all his old friends, eventually leading to said lord leaving Diarmuid to die in revenge. Kayneth wakes up from reliving these memories in a cold sweat and finds himself wrapped in bandages and strapped to a bed. Looks like it’s Team Lancer’s turn to be a melancholy mess this week!
Everyone’s recovering from the Einzbern manor battle—Maiya is sleeping off Iri’s healing magic (they are bonding!) and at least some of the lights still seem to be working after Kayneth and Mercury-san wrecked the place. I’ve talked a lot about Team Saber these last few posts, so let’s be brief and shift focus: Saber tells Iri to tell Kiritsugu (because they are bickering ten-year-olds, clearly) to maybe go after Caster and stop more kids from getting killed. Iri relays this message, and Kiritsugu tells her to tell Saber that he’s not talking to her and she’s a big dumb dummy for trusting Diarmuid so blindly. He’s going to go finish off Kayneth. Means to an end, Iri. That expressive face is gone replaced by a stark, broad black back. He’s retreated firmly behind that mask.
Someone seems to have beaten him to ruining Kayneth’s life further, though, and funnily enough it’s his fiancée. Sola pleasantly informs her strapped-down partner that his Magic Circuits are fried and will never work again, which is not something a man who bases his whole haughty position in life on magecraft wants to hear. Kayneth is quite impressively broken, even before Sola blithely suggests that he let her take over. What a preposterous idea, he declares, until she starts to break his fingers. Annie Wilkes would be proud of her.
You have to wonder about Sola. Again, from simply what we are shown, not regarding the description in the novels or the boundless extra material that Fate creators seem to constantly be pulling out of someplace or other, we don’t know anything about her except that a) she is engaged to Kayneth, b) she enjoys throwing shade at Kayneth c) this extends to passive-aggressively torturing him, and d) she has a thing for Diarmuid.
This is an interesting picture to paint and it could go many ways, the most interesting being the reveal that Sola is an icy Cersei Lannister-esque character who’s fed up with the system she’s in and is playing it for all its worth. She is not happy with her arranged marriage but will play nice for watching eyes, and behind closed doors, will manipulate her fiancé both emotionally and physically (rest in pieces, Kayneth’s hand) and wrangle herself into a position of power. Now she has the Command Spells, and is no longer an assistant or a pawn but a Master in her own right.
Her interactions with Diarmuid are what make this business interesting—on the one hand, her attraction to and her pursuing of him could be seen as another small rebellion (and frankly, Diarmuid’s enough to send anyone jelly-legged even without the Love Spot and the other immediate option being a crusty, pompous old dude), on another, being enchanted by his magical pretty face could be seen as something that takes away her agency. After all, love potions are not consent, and it seems unfair to have a character that clearly desires power have something like that befall her, especially in ways that make her go all schoolgirl-crush-confession, which I have to admit the animation kind of does to her when she’s addressing Diarmuid. She also emotionally blackmails him into serving her because it will help Kayneth, and you want to do that, right, oh honourable one?
Is this part of her callous power play or just her wanting his cooperation and approval so she can get closer to his… er… spear? It’s not entirely evident and it can be read either way, really. It’s what becomes of her later in the show that answers this in part, but for now I think Sola’s is a fascinating story that only touches on being told. A generation later we see Rin (and others) kicking some ass and inheriting her family magic, but as Fate/Zero’s cast of mages is predominantly male, it puts a gendered slant on things and you have to wonder that yes, well, you would get fed up living in a society that chiefly values women as heir-makers.
Mage society seems like a fascinating cluster-bomb of marvellous awfulness, and while it’s good we get Waver’s perspective on it, it would have been even more interesting to see it from Sola’s too. Not only because she would be looking down from the top, thus showing us that the system isn’t necessarily beneficial to those thrust into power either, but it would give Sola a plotline and more of a shadow of a character.
Diarmuid’s perspective, meanwhile, is one of total hangdog misery. History is repeating itself in a nasty but neat little parallel, and he silently laments that all he wanted was a second chance to be a good knight after he screwed things up so fantastically before. Kayneth thinks his lack of personal motivation is suspicious, but really it’s just kind of heartbreaking, especially because he’s now under Sola’s thumb and goodness knows where she’s going to take things. It’s certainly not going to make Kayneth any happier, so it looks like Diarmuid’s been set up for failure before he’s even properly tried.
News at 11: everything is awful. Except for at Waver’s house, where they’re having a family dinner.
I’d say one of the pitfalls of this shifting-perspective ensemble cast is the occasional physically painful mood whiplash, but it’s Iskander so I can’t even be angry. Anyway, Waver’s face embodies a suitable amount of horror and disbelief at the scene: Iskander has come home in human form and seemingly been adopted as Glen and Martha’s second fake grandchild. Waver can’t even complain that he’s embroiling the innocent public since it was Waver who hypnotised the couple into thinking he was their relative in the first place, so he just succumbs to grumbling into his alchemy test tubes.
Waver, we must remember, is not only small and grumpy but clever, and has worked out a way to test for magical residue in the city’s water supply in order to find where Caster is hiding out. Iskander commends him for finding a simple solution to a complex problem—which seems to be a recurring theme with Waver, as far back as the first episode where he cuts the knot on the package containing the stolen catalyst. Those in the know will find this parallel very interesting, but for Waver it’s simply the way he does things, and the next thing on the agenda after going all awkward and mushy at being praised is going to beat Caster up.
Caster himself isn’t present in the sewer hide-out, but what they find is… enough to tremble any of Waver’s newfound bravado. Iskander quietly advises him not to look around the room, Waver disregards him, and ends up staring at a disgusting doom dungeon of mutilated bodies (lovingly rendered in not-suitable-for-TV animation on the Blu-Ray release). It’s enough to make the lad ill, but again, Iskander has no negative comments for him. If someone could see this horrible scene and not be moved, he’d consider them a monster and probably punch them in the face.
For all his aura of ridiculousness, the Big Guy is also full of seriousness and sage advice, not to mention emotional support for Waver, who’s grown up in mage society, which as mentioned above is a terrible shark tank of a place, and has probably been inflicted with a “only the strong survive so suck it up” mantra his whole life.
It’s okay to not be strong. It’s okay to find simple solutions if they’re more effective. It’s still a small victory to set the place on fire and leave, as it destroys Caster’s fortress and gives some sense of burial to the dead. And it’s also okay to be freaked out when Assassin (in multiple) reappears, because you all thought they were dead.
This Grail War thing is a hot mess, I tell you.