Sometimes this show does horrible, objectifying, gross and stupid stuff, and sometimes it gives us car chase scenes on magical motorbikes. We’re going to talk about the latter first.
In hot pursuit of Iskander’s chariot, last seen flying away without a care in the world and with an unconscious Iri aboard, Saber zooms through the city on the “sorry I destroyed your buddy’s team” present she got a few episodes ago. She looks snazzy enough with her sharp suit and sweet wheels, but decides to really kick things into Awesome Mode when she realises the bike on its own is just a poor mortal creation and can’t keep up with the chariot. So she manifests her armour onto it and sends some of the attached magic into the engine.
On an armoured, magic-powered super-bike, she screams down the highway and after Waver and Iskander, who are surprisingly confused to why she’s chasing them. They’re certainly going to defend themselves, though, so the chase continues and comes to a head on a suspiciously empty highway. Just when they think they’ve evaded her, Saber leaves a curve in the road and flies down onto the highway below, bearing down on top of them with her sword braced.
All this turns out to be in vain though, because Team Rider doesn’t have Iri with them, and have no idea where she is. Which is weird considering that Saber saw them flying away with her. Kiritsugu thinks so too, back at the shed, apparently swallowing his grief of Maiya for the moment, and is curious—then startled—to find a shred of something left behind by “Iskander” that then disintegrates into the swirling black dust we know best from a different Servant entirely.
Thus follows three unpleasant surprises: Berserker has shapeshifting abilities, it was Berserker who kidnapped Iri, and this was all done for Kirei, who is apparently Kariya’s new best friend. I mean, I’d cosy up to him too if he saved my life then promised me an infinite supply of spare Command Spells and revenge on my rival. Except I wouldn’t, because I’m a member of the audience and I just saw Kirei stab his last ally to death, and therefore to me Kariya looks like a complete idiot.
It’s not his fault, though. He doesn’t even seem to understand the significance of their “team” now possessing the Grail vessel (which is also not his fault, since it’s not really explained, except we know it’s something to do with Iri’s homunculus body). He’ll leave all that complicated stuff to his new BFF Kirei though—what Kariya’s chiefly interested in is this meeting with Tokiomi that’s been organised. The Church, that night—be there, Kariya. You’ll have your chance at vengeance and justice, and Tokiomi won’t suspect a thing. Because he’s already dead. Shh, don’t mention that last part. Just watch in mounting despair.
As Kariya limps away, Zouken, of all people, steps out of the shadows to comment on Kirei’s gloating grin. He’s been keeping an eye on this whole Grail War spectacular. From the very beginning he had no hope of winning, and is placing all his bets with Sakura and/or her future offspring in the long game, and is basically sitting back with popcorn while Kariya destroys himself. Even Kirei seems disgusted with this, so much so that he flings his knives in Zouken’s direction… only to have the old man disperse into insects, unharmed, and buzz away.
Something is very, very wrong with the Matou family. Someone ought to check them out. And not Kiritsugu, who detoured this episode to beat the crap out of what I can only assume is Shinji’s dad, seeking information. It was a violent and hilariously useless cameo. Anyway, Kirei is distracted from the bug-man’s taunting by a huge and conspicuous blast of golden light that really does not in any way conform to the ideal of this being a battle the mages are trying to keep secret.
Saber, refusing Iskander’s offer to join his army and fight for him again, got her magic off the bike and channelled it where it belongs: Excalibur, which then cleaved the chariot into pieces and out of existence. Having curb-stomped her opponent, Saber speeds back to the city to try and find Iri, and Iskander and Waver are left with the pressing concern: they now have no mode of transport and they’re stuck in a tree. They’re okay though, and they’re together! Iskander is always one for the positive, and Waver, despite being tree-bound and faced with the prospect of walking home, is slowly learning to agree with him.
So, the current tense state of things is due to characters madly seeking information that the audience already has, or blundering into situations not knowing crucial things that the audience does. It makes for a terrifically apprehensive latter part of the episode as we watch both Saber and Kariya speed fruitlessly towards their goals, but Kariya’s destination is the one we arrive at first. Things get pretty unpleasant pretty quickly as his knowledge base aligns with the viewers’, i.e., when he storms into the Church spitting fire at Tokiomi, only to discover that he’s shouting at a corpse.
And you know who else shows up to discover him shouting at a corpse? Aoi, the corpse’s wife, who appears surrounded by inexplicable white back-lighting and shoots panic straight through Kariya. Now, he wanted to, and he sure did profess his quest for revenge a lot, but he swears he didn’t actually murder Tokiomi. Aoi is hearing none of it. She bends over her husband’s dead, knifed body and weeps, shrieking that Kariya has never loved anyone in his life, and all Kariya can do is freak out.
Well, it’s not all he can do. Someone somewhere sitting in a chair thought that the best course of action for their character at this point was to fly into a rage, the flashes of his attack overlaid with said character’s heartfelt laments that he did love someone, he really did, he did everything for her, in all her beauty and wonder…
And we return to regular camera angles to find Kariya pinning Aoi, the girl he was just whining about sacrificing everything for, to the floor and strangling her. Which would be disturbing enough without how luxurious the animation is—it’s perfectly fluid as he jams his knee between her legs, her breasts bounce, her eyes go tearful and glassy and spit escapes from her mouth. Then her feebly protesting hands fall to the ground motionless, and the impeccably drawn focus returns to Kariya as he wails and cries and flees the scene to ponder What Have I Done?
Kirei and Gilgamesh, of course, have been watching the entire time. Gilgamesh is quite pleased with Kirei’s attempts at creating drama. Kirei is too, and it’s wonderfully creepy, and I’d be intrigued by this new step towards utter terribleness in his character development ladder if I wasn’t distracted by my upset stomach.
This is a disgusting and disturbing scene, and I have faith that it was meant to be, but the way it was orchestrated is absolute overkill. Look, on one hand, I like the idea—Kariya has so blatantly been The Good Guy that his descent into violence is an interesting deconstruction of the character he was set up to be. Now he’s the villain, and Tokiomi’s the victim, and Berserker, the Servant literally classed to be insane, looks like the more rational one on their team. His attack on Aoi, voiced over by his lovelorn confessions, also highlights how awful his sense of entitlement to her was. I did everything for you, Aoi! How dare you not acknowledge and return my feelings!
I’m always up for a takedown of the “sweet childhood friend who waited and is totally a better love interest who deserves the girl” trope, but I can’t possibly be happy with this, or Kariya’s deconstructive descent into awfulness, because Aoi was just a prop for him to break to make it all happen. Which is all Aoi’s ever been, really—she need not have even existed, except that Sakura and Rin needed a mother, and once she fulfilled her duty of popping out the characters required for the sequel she was sat on the back shelf as a pretty, agency- and personality-less doll.
She’s Tokiomi’s perfect uncomplaining lady wife, and Kariya’s shining light to motivate him and show that he’s A Good Guy because he’s still trying to help even after she married someone else and totes friendzoned him… and be a pretty porcelain thing for him to smash all over the floor to show he’s snapped, all set up by Kirei to show his developing sadism. Aoi’s an even more useful multi-tool than her husband, blank and contradictory enough to fill any role needed, with the added insult to injury that she was never given the illusion of being anything more.
And again, with such a large-ass cast you can’t be expected to have every character be a masterpiece, but Aoi was slapped together and then torn apart in such unnecessarily gendered and horrible ways it’ hard to ignore, especially when this show has done the same thing to several characters one after the other. And did Aoi’s strangulation need to be so body-focussed and sexualised? No. But someone in a chair decided the best way to add even more edginess and shock value to a terrible, pivotal moment was to frame it like a rape scene.
For clarity: Kariya being used is Kirei being awful. Aoi being used is the writers being awful. Do not, do not, do not sexualise violence, especially if it’s just to get a rise out of people, and especially if the woman being brutalised is just a pawn to progress the problems of the men around and establish that Things Are Bad and the World is a Terrible Place.
There is no hope on the battlefield. Everyone you love will die. We get it. There are other ways to drive home shock and horror than brutalising secondary female characters.
But hey, we got Saber on an awesome badass magic motorbike right??