For the love of all that is good in the world, someone please give Rin a hug, Saber a blanket, Shirou access to an ambulance, and Archer a smack upside the head.
We’re back to business after the great game-changer that was the previous season finale—with an emotional element left in the air by the new opening theme, which is much more of a dramatic heartfelt ballad than the rocky adventure-promising one from last time, we follow Shirou as he packs a wooden sword and heads purposefully out the door chest-rending injury and all. He’s on a mission to rescue Saber from Team Caster, as ridiculously under-powered as he might be in comparison.
Lucky for him, despite dumping him spectacularly at the end of last episode, Rin is heading in the same direction. While spending the night on a park bench for some unexplained reason (though she has done it before), she dreams again of that field of swords and broody man standing in the centre of it. It’s become clear, she narrates, that these are somebody’s memories—a Heroic Spirit of a special kind, a Defender summoned to prevent humanity from destroying itself. We see Archer’s rigid back and pan out along that barren dreamscape, to reveal that the roiling clouds in the sky actually form gigantic cogs. It has a very industrial vibe, and not in a trendy way.
Cleaning up after the constant self-destructive messes of humanity may have made him hate it, but he seems alright with Rin. At least, enough to watch over her as she napped and even keep her warm with a red coat apparently summoned from the same ether as his swords. Does he regret anything he did, Rin asks? Will he be satisfied with his efforts in the end? A pointless question, he replies, giving us a shot of that angry trapezoidal back again. His “end” came and went long ago.
Mr Grumpy Gills here still diligently follows Rin to the Church, where they peer at the puddle of blood that is supposedly all that remains of Kirei, and discuss their tactics for attacking Caster. Rin’s optimistic that between them they can make a mess of her and her Master, and get Saber back so she can get better and form a new contact with Shirou. Archer stops dead at the mention of this, but any indication of what he feels about the sentiment will have to wait, because then we’re all gathered in the hall gawping at Saber, where she’s strung up being magically tortured in a slinky dress for absolutely no reason at all.
It would be horrifying enough that she’s bound in magical wire having the self-preservation sapped out of her, resisting Caster’s commands by sheer will, if she hadn’t also been shoved into this franchise’s equivalent of Princess Leia’s stupid metal slave girl bikini. Guys, we understood that Caster was evil when she started sucking the souls out of people for her own gain, you don’t need to make her a queer-coded sexual predator as well. And you sure as hell don’t have to enhance the awfulness of Saber’s situation by having her be sexually objectified as well as in immense physical strain. Are we meant to be enjoying this display?
They make for a great hero-villain pair because of their opposing dynamic: Saber is all about honour and head-on tactics, Caster sneaks in the shadows and is ultimately only after the upper hand no matter how unscrupulous she has to be to get it. That’s a fascinating thing to play with, and what it’s been reduced to is Caster as the nasty dominant openly sexual woman vs. Saber’s peerless pure purity, their main conflict boiled down to disgustingly sultry lines like “My brave Saber, why won’t you just submit to me?~” My God, make it stop.
Returning to the episode after pausing to scrub myself, I was unimpressed to see that Saber remains an unnecessarily pink-cheeked, heavy-breathing prop for the rest of the proceedings, seeing as Rin’s battle with Caster is rudely interrupted by Archer backhanding her across the room.
It’s beautifully shot, really—the mix of slow-motion and snap-action makes you hold your breath for a moment, and then wham, you’re staring in disbelief as Rin’s own Servant swats her away then blocks her attack against the enemy, standing in front of Souichirou with swords blazing defensively. We had this coming, really. I mean, what do you think this is, Rin, some sort of summer camp athletics tournament? We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to win. The Holy Grail (which Caster is reportedly looking for in the church, the logistics of which are not explained) does not give prizes for coming second.
Thus, ever the pragmatist, Archer offers himself up to partnership with Caster. It’s nothing personal, he says with a smirk that implies exactly the opposite, she’s just the stronger Master and if he wants to succeed it makes more sense to side with her. Rin holds her ground pretty well, but you can see she’s shaking with confusion and rage… and maybe a little heartbreak. She trusted you, ya dickhead. As much as she can play the part of the cold computing mage, she clearly doesn’t actually deal with the ripples of that mindset awfully well.
Lucky for her, though, Shirou has snuck in and been watching the whole ridiculous display from the wings, and dive-bombs down to defend her when Souichirou goes to finish her off. In the event of his strengthened wood beam breaking in his opponent’s bare and stupidly overpowered fist, he lights up the hall with his other trick—zapping two swords to life from the empty air. He doesn’t last long since he’s in incredible pain again (he did just get stabbed with a sword yesterday) but it’s enough. It helps that Archer drawls that his one condition for joining Caster is that she lets Shirou and Rin go, so they can limp out of there with their lives intact if not their dignity.
So now nobody’s got a Servant. It’s just the two of them limping down the road, Rin berating Shirou for his recklessness and Shirou telling Rin that she needs to get home because she’s been hurt worse than he has. Rin bubbles up some tears at his acknowledgement of her heart-ache, and quickly covers her face and drags him off somewhere where they can both sit down for a minute and emotionally detox.
They end up having quite a heart to heart, and it’s really quite sweet—Shirou, as well as validating Rin’s emotions and assuring her that it will all come good in the end since she’s really quite brilliant, admits that he saved her not just to repay a debt. He hands back the red gem, explaining that he found it beside him after getting attacked by Lancer what feels like forever ago, and adds, a little shyly, that even before that he’d always appreciated her. Getting the chance to work with her, he fell for her even more.
And suddenly we’ve got a teenaged love confession happening under the picturesque stars and city lights, in the midst of a bloody magical war that’s sapped them both of everything they’ve ever dreamed of. Rin can’t believe the ridiculousness of it and pushes him right over.
But… she is glad that he saved her. She even says so while hugging his back. Oh my God, you guys. She called him an idiot like ten times, she practically admitted she adores him!
I could mutter about Rin being a lovelorn damsel in distress, but at this point it would be petty. She’s allowed to be distressed. She’s been through a lot. And when has anyone ever rescued her, really? Over the past decade, she’s been sticking it out all on her own with no friends to talk about it with, an inherent distrust for the man who was supposed to be her guardian and mentor, and a big old empty deceptively perfect house to come home to every night. Give the girl a break. Let someone carry her for a change, and give her someone who understands it all that she can vent to.
Saving that idiot from getting a spear in the ribs turned out to be a good move, after all—now, after being the one who’s held herself and her entire family up for ten years, she has someone she can lean on a little bit. And someone she trusts enough to cry on, legitimately emotional, not just huffy tsundere anger-masking-flusteredness.
The masks are off, the game has changed —again—and Archer… I am not angry, just disappointed. God damn it.
- Another gem, you say? How interesting. I wonder if that will ever become relevant…
- The shot at the end of the ending theme is really interesting—it shows the field of swords with grass and flowers, the cogs fallen down and gone mossy, with Shirou and Rin smiling at each other over the landscape. That really gives me a sense of hope for the way this is all going to end
- Why, though. Why why why. Where did you even get that dress from, Caster. Why are your artists so skeezy.
- Someone give Saber a comfortable sweater and a soft couch