This instalment is one of those “breather episodes with a good serving of ominous atmosphere” that we come to know very well in the sequel series. There’s a calm between storms as Kirei ponders what he’s going to do now he’s kicked out of the War, Team Saber set up a new hideout and something is clearly very wrong with Iri, and Kiritsugu eats a hamburger with the most serious face I’ve ever seen. Oh, and Tokiomi has stood up and left the cellar. My God, it’s kicking off!!
You forget, even with that convenient little clock ominously ticking down to zero (see what they did there?) at the end of every episode, how little time has passed. And it’s easy to forget, with this big cast of shifting perspectives, that events aren’t always happening sequentially but often simultaneously: as far as I can figure, Rin was beating up Ryuunosuke on the same night Gilles was harassing Saber and Diarmuid in the Einzbern forest, and it’s revealed that earlier that same evening Waver and Iskander rode in and trashed their murder hideout. Not a good night for Team Caster.
Then, just hours after all that, they flew in to have the kings and wine party, which ended with them laying waste to the very concept of Assassin. Once you wrap your brain around the jumping back and forth in time and perspective, you have to be baffled about how much has happened in only a period of about twenty-four hours. The Grail War itself has been going for only a few days.
So when you see these characters soldiering on, it’s kind of like… honey… you were stabbed in the stomach and then magically healed only twelve hours ago. You can sit down and rest. Please. None of that silliness for Iri, though, who’s apparently feeling a bit under the weather and has thus severed her sense of touch. You know, as you do.
We discover this when she, Saber and Maiya (a team a friend of mine fondly dubbed ‘Kerry’s Angels’) rock up at a backup base of operations in town, an old Japanese manor that’s looking a bit worse for wear, but will also be looking very familiar to those who know Fate/Stay Night. It’s the house that will become Shirou’s, but now it’s a new tactical hideout and it’s time to suss it out for magical properties. Maiya leaves them to it, looking decidedly warmer and more smiley than we’ve seen her before. I guess trying to beat up Kirei really was a bonding experience! Aww.
Meanwhile, Saber gets concerned (while standing in what will become a very important shed, whether she knows it or not) that Iri’s getting her to do all the lifting, and even the driving, which Iri loves (dangerously). Iri shrinks into a sombre but still positive expression, quietly explaining, with resignation that Saber’s never seen before, that she’s not a normal human. She was made rather than born, and can’t just go to a doctor when she’s feeling sick. She has a wistful air about her that’s a little painful—getting the common cold isn’t something people generally fantasise about, but because it’s something ordinary and human, maybe she has. It would certainly be easier to fix than whatever is wrong with her, which is implied to be something far worse than she’s making it sound.
Either way, she’s going to be relying on her knight Saber, and they’re clearly best friends forever and it’s adorable and painful. Meanwhile, another unlikely pair are bonding in their own strange way—Gilgamesh has materialised on Kirei’s couch again (does Kirei himself ever use the thing? He seems like the kind to stock it to keep up appearances, then meditate on a bed of nails instead) asking how he’s going with the whole lack of motivation thing, and also chugging yet more of his wine. How much of that stuff do you have, man?
It’s pretty unfortunate the Assassins are gone, since it turns out Kirei was using them to keep an eye on several main players—Kariya more than anyone else, Gil points out. Now, why would that be? Berserker’s power aside, it’s pretty clear from looking at the guy for more than five minutes that he’s a train wreck in motion and isn’t exactly a solid enemy worth paying attention to, not compared to bigger players like Iskander. But is the train wreck what caught Kirei’s interest, Gil suggests? Is there something enthralling to him about watching people suffer?
Kirei balks, because of course such a thing would be a terrible, terrible sin, and it’s that kind of nonsense that made him think of pleasure as bad in the first place. Gil just sips his wine with a calm “I’m not listening and also I told you so” expression. He’s chasing Kiritsugu (who has also been staring at pictures of Kirei trying to figure out who he is, while sitting in a cheap, dim hotel room smoking over a noted map in a beautifully Film Noir way) because he wants to figure out what he’s doing and who he really is, clearly as part of a process to answer those questions for Kirei himself. But why Kariya? What’s his fire-eyed fascination with this doomed, worm-filled individual?
There’s much discussion of various character motivations, all over a lovely symbolic chess set which doesn’t actually function as a chess set at all, but which does depict the seven Servant classes and their rounded, suspiciously pawn-like human Masters. Are they all just game pieces to Gilgamesh, Kirei included? You get the sense, especially when his eyes go slitted at the end of the episode, that he’s found something he enjoys and is batting it around like a cat with a mouse. Kirei should be free of his influence soon, though, since he’s out of the War and can finish helping Tokiomi and go home… right?
Ow. What’s that? Something, at a climactic moment, sears Kirei’s hand from nowhere, and he stares in awe as the Command Spells reappear. He’s a Master again, fully-fledged. Now that is interesting.
But why would the Grail decide it wanted him back in the running? Why did it want him in the first place? Great and seemingly sinister machinations are going on where no one can see. We thought trying to figure out all these characters was bad enough—now we have to deal with the Grail having a mind of its own? And encouraging the sadistic stalking of other mages??
Kirei looks horrified but somehow interested, and Gilgamesh looks nothing short of amused. It is not a reassuring image to leave on.