The two men the entire series has spent building up as nemeses are finally facing each other. Are they going to speak? Have a long-awaited dialogue that explores their similar yet differing characters? Nope. They’re going to waste barely a breath glaring across the room and then they’re going to beat each other up.
I saw someone refer to this as “the most phallic fight in the entire series” once. It’s certainly a whirlwind of technology and magic intermingled with pure sadism, anger and testosterone as the two “main” characters butt their morally ambiguous heads. There are some truly fantastic elements to the choreography, as there have been all series, and while these two aren’t on the level of Heroic Spirits there’s still an otherworldly factor to their motions, whether it’s Kirei’s Command Spell-enhanced mana-knives or Kiritsugu’s time magic.
Of course, the pacing is a little offset by the two opponents pausing to explain exactly what cool crap they or their adversary is doing every few moves, but otherwise it’s a tense little spectacle, the two men in black starkly contrasting the glaring white backdrop. I’m not sure exactly what the garage from The Dark Knight is doing under a local theatre, but it makes a grand stage nonetheless. And overhead, unbeknownst to them, Iri’s martyr body has dissolved and a golden cup has emerged, floating gloriously in mid-air, seemingly waiting.
I also have to give Kirei props for bringing a knife to a gunfight and very nearly winning. Naturally it helps that he not only has magic on his side, but super secret badass martial arts training that lets him punch so hard he can stop a man’s heart. Lucky for Kiritsugu, who gets flung like a ragdoll across the room and looks terrifying blank and dead for a few seconds, he has Avalon, which means his body can repair itself no matter the damage it sustains. Yay! As long as Kirei doesn’t falter—and as previously noted, the man is a bulletproof brick wall so he most likely won’t—the two foes can battle it out forever! And they would, except the Grail starts to spew black goop that overflows and crashes through the ceiling, breaking their attack and backing music alike off at the crescendo.
My cup runneth over indeed. Having completed her fight with Berserker, a.k.a. her former best friend Lancelot, Saber is left among fire and rain looking emotionally trashed far more than physically. With his death, though, one more Servant soul has returned to the Grail, which was apparently enough to cause it to fill and overflow with unsightly and distinctly unholy sauce that soaks Kiritsugu and… transports him to the island where he grew up.
Black rain is plipping down from a gaping dark hole in the sky, and Iri is there smiling sweetly but lacking the flair and personality that we know her for, making it seem uncannily like she’s suffered some sort of homunculi equivalent of a factory reset. Kiritsugu guesses fairly quickly that some existential strangeness is at play, and he’s not wrong: he is inside the Grail, and the sentient spirit at its heart is speaking to him through the image of its last vessel, which is conveniently the cute wife of the guy it’s now trying to convince to use its power. The Grail needs a wish to take form, and it really digs Kerry’s “save the world and end conflict” idea and has a great pitch on how to execute it!
First, a hypothetical situation, brought to Kiritsugu in the hotel room where he stashed his guns and kissed Maiya: you have two ships with humanity’s last survivor’s on them, three hundred on one boat of doom, two hundred on the other. Holes rip open in the hulls of both ships and you, yes you! have the ability to repair them. But you can only fix one! Which one do you pick? The one with three hundred, obviously, you say? Well then, what if the two hundred people captured you and demanded you repair their ship? What would you do? Murder everyone on board? That’s right! Of course you would! See the bloody scene of destruction rendered before you, seeming perfectly real!
Kiritsugu is taken on a tour of prominent locations of destruction—the hotel he blew up, the shipyards, the island—while the Grail talks him through this increasingly elaborate murder scenario, where in the end he destroys the majority to protect the minority. That’s his logic, right? All his career he’s left a trail of bodies behind him, and as long as lives were saved in return, he decreed it was all worth it. Killing in the name of justice is all he knows how to do, and his wish cannot be granted in a way that he does not understand. For emphasis, it’s time to relive murdering his father and Natalia, and then for all intents and purposes stabbing Maiya to death because the other option he’s presented with is Iri and Ilya. Kill one to save two. It’s simple maths, right? It’s your heroic needs-of-the-many-over-the-few thing, right? Even if it’s someone you love?
For extra emphasis, the Grail flings an adorable tiny daughter at him, welcoming him home, congratulating him, while all Kiritsugu can do is stare blankly into space with the weight of the world’s impending death on his shoulders. Iri just smiles sweetly, and it’s just divergent enough to her usual composition and expression that it feels like it’s not quite her. And it’s not. Iri’s already gone, but the cosy scene of mother and daughter waiting for him to join them is irresistibly lovely even though it’s a dollhouse.
Well. Not quite irresistible. Kiritsugu softly tells his daughter he won’t be seeing her for a while, and she forgives him with saccharine fondness. He tells her he loves her, then brings out his gun, and symbolically, dead-facedly, teary-eyedly, shoots her in the head.
This entire sequence has been a journey to the centre of Kiritsugu’s mind and morality, and this is the apex of his dilemma: for years he’s been working towards a miracle where the world will be saved, and has sacrificed his best friend, adoptive mother and partner along the way to get it, while knowing full well that he’d have to sacrifice the woman he loves as well as a direct result of winning his dream. He accepted that and took it in melancholy stride, but now it’s all blown back in his face—and now he has to deal with the consequences and save the world from the thing he was going to use to save the world.
This is embodied by him choking Grail-Iri while, in a voice that is increasingly haunting, she curses him and screams bloody murder. It’s a horrible, powerful, profoundly emotional and disgusting scene (maybe it wouldn’t be so gross if it was a standalone shocking moment and not the series’ apparent go-to for getting rid of its secondary women) that drives home the stakes as well as making a neat and nasty parallel to Kirei. Kiritsugu is not malicious, in fact he’s gritting his teeth and weeping, but he finds the strength to murder a woman who looks and feels like the person he’s lived with and loved for the past decade out of a desire for the greater good.
If there’s one thing he’s had to learn, it seems that the greater good sucks. The world cannot be saved. There is no such thing as a noble choice. People are bastards and there are no miracles. There is no hope on the battlefield.
There is Kirei, though, who emerges from the spilled Grail muck shocked and almost offended that Kiritsugu turned the offer down. Man, if you didn’t want it, why didn’t you just give it to someone who did? Kirei is like right there. Kiritsugu is, understandably after that ordeal, not in the mood, and takes the opportunity to finally shoot Kirei in the back.
Saber, meanwhile, emerges from the burning wreckage of her own relationships and dreams and makes her way towards the Grail, which, as far as she’s concerned, is still her salvation. Only to be blocked by Gilgamesh, who performs the awful and eloquent combination of stabbing her in the leg and asking her to marry him. When she refuses, he replies that he wasn’t asking her opinion. I can’t even get into all the reasons this is awful, and Saber is cut off before she can too, when Kiritsugu appears and orders her to destroy the Grail.
Hoo boy. I have a sneaking suspicion this is not going to be neatly resolved in the half-hour of this disaster we have remaining.