“Things seem to be getting rather complicated, huh?”
I could not have said it better than Tsushima myself: Things are getting complicated, and for once, Asai has a worthy adversary who manages to stay a step ahead of him the entire time, leading to even higher stakes by episode’s end.
But let’s go back to the beginning, and the photo by Sasano that entices Asai so. It’s indeed a photo of Souma Sumire, on the same beach where they first met and promised to meet again. And I suppose he could, in a way, by entering the photo as Sasano does.
Extremely unsettling metaphysical ramifications aside, we also learn something simpler: the evolution of Oka Eri. She was once Fujikawa Eri, before the hair-dye and contacts and rad clothes; the “weak and worthless” daughter who took abuse from her father.
Two years ago, Asai saved Eri by telling her to change her name and use a piece of evidence to blackmail her father if she so chose. Oka Eri was born, and I believe part of her believes that she’s paying Asai back by confirming his weakness, in hopes he’ll return to his former strength; the hero to her villain in this story of life.
Asai has moved on from the person he was two years ago, but meanwhile, Sasano is able to travel to 28 years in the past where a much younger Oracle lives inside one of his photos. The two of them have a plan, and it’s a long-game kind of plan. When Sasano tells her the Bureau is going to try to shut him down, she tells him not to resist, but to give her a certain selection of photos before they come.
Asai all but confirms how soft he’s gotten since meeting Asai by being drawn away from her all too easily by a frantic phone call from Murase Youka. On her own, Haruki does her best to get away from a pursuing Oka, but around five seconds of eye contact are all the villain needs to steal her reset ability.
After confirming she can’t reset, Haruki begs Asai to help her get it back, and he agrees. He’ll accede to Eri’s demand for the MacGuffin in exchange for Haruki’s ability back, then learns more from Tsushima about Eri’s ability and its weaknesses, which will no doubt be pivotal in his counterattack.
However, he doesn’t get to make one this week. Standing his ground on having moved on from the “hero” Eri saw him as two years ago and worshipped, he offers the MacGuffin without any resistance; his only goal to restore Haruki’s ability.
But Eri has another trick up her sleeve, which digs an even deeper hole for Asai and Haruki: she traps him in a photo of the lighthouse balcony they’re on, taken during the day, underscoring how hopelessly cut off he is from the “non-photo” world. And poor Haruki, who trailed after Asai, hoping the plan would work out, is once again vulnerable to Eri’s whims.
All in all, quite a mess Asai and Haruki have found themselves in. A satisfying conclusion would obviously get them out of this mess, but also, as with Murase earlier, convince Eri not to be a villain anymore, not because she’s being forced to quit, but because she wants to. That’s going to take some doing…
…And that’s before we even get into whatever Sasano and Oracle are planning.