Attack on Titan – 72 – Lost in the Forest

One quiet afternoon, the fancy restaurant at which Niccolo works suddenly becomes very busy. First, the Blouses arrives with “Ben” and “Mia” in tow, to take him up on his offer to cook the meal he wanted to make for Sasha. Kaya tells them Niccolo is the Marleyan they should speak to. His food is the best any of them have ever eaten.

Not long thereafter, Hange and the Scouts arrive with Onyankopon to discuss some things with Niccolo. He sets them up in the private room where them Military Police often ate and drank. When Jean picks up a bottle of “special” red wine, Niccolo picks a fight with him and snatches it away.

Of course, we know, and later find out why he’s acting like an anti-Eldian ass to cover for the fact he’s saving Jean’s life, because that wine isn’t meant for Jean, and not because it’s too good of a vintage.

When Gabi and Falco spot Niccolo heading down to the cellar on his own, they excuse themselves from the table to meet with him. But while they weren’t wrong to seek aid from their Marleyan countryman, Niccolo just happens to be the absolute worst countryman they could have encountered.

As Gabi gleefully reports she killed a woman on the airship, Niccolo realizes these are the kids who killed his Sasha. Falco can see the change in his demeanor, but Gabi doesn’t. Niccolo tries to brain Gabi with the suspicious bottle of wine, but Falco pushes her out of the way and takes the hit.

Then he takes them both upstairs to present them to Sasha’s parents, along with a knife and the promise that if they don’t want to kill them, he surely will.

When Gabi sees the faces in Sasha’s parents’ faces, she automatically assumes they’re the looks of hatred and murderous rage. That’s certainly what’s emanating from Niccolo, who deduces from the way Falco shielded her that he’s someone important to her. Sasha was that someone to him, despite being a “descendant of demons” she saved him from the war by loving his food more than he’d ever seen anyone love anything.

Gabi tells him that Sasha “started” the killing by killing her friends (i.e. the Marleyan guards she shot), and she was only avenging those friends. At this point, Niccolo doesn’t care who started the killing, he just wants blood. Instead, Mr. Blouse asks for the knife. As he holds it he has a sobering monologue about how he and his wife raised Sasha as a hunter of the forest.

In the forest, it was kill or be killed, but they knew they couldn’t live like that forever. But when Sasha was exposed to the world, it ended up being just a bigger “forest” where the rules were just as ruthless. In his country drawl, he says to Niccolo that it’s up to them as adults to shoulder the sins of and hatred of the past and not pass them on; to keep the kids out of the “forest”, or they’ll just keep running in circles.

Then he and Mrs. Blouse tend to Falco while Connie and Jean restrain Niccolo. When a crazed Kaya rushes at Gabi with her own knife, wanting to kill the bastard who murdered her savior, Gabi is saved by Mikasa, who along with Armin take Gabi to the other room.

Niccolo tells Hange to wash Falco’s mouth out thoroughly, as when the wine bottle shattered some of the contents got into his mouth. That’s not good, because the wine may well contain some of Zeke’s spinal fluid, which he’d used in gaseous form in the past to immobilize a village in Paradis, as well as enemy cities on the mainland.

Niccolo further explains to Jean and Hange that he was told by Yelena to serve the wine to high-ranking military officials. While the Scouts were told that Zeke’s spinal fluid causes Eldians to freeze up, it could have other effects Zeke simply isn’t telling them about.

In the private room, Gabi asks Armin and Mikasa if they really hate her and want to kill her. We know they don’t, and they lament that a kid ended up in such a shitty position where all she can think of is hate and killing. Armin mentions that it reminds him of “someone he knows”, and right on cue that someone, Eren, enters the room, his hand bleeding like a lit fuse.

While Levi is questioning Zeke back in the forest, he gets a report that Zachary is dead, the walls are under Jaegerist control, and Pyxis has conceded to their demands.

Levi’s messengers think Pyxis is simply rolling over for Eren and Zeke, but Levi knows better; Pyxis is still trying to feed Eren to someone else. Levi looks back on all the times he saved Eren’s life because he thought it was the best chance for humanity’s survival, but seeing the mess they’re in, wonders why he bothered.

Back in the restaurant, a group of Jaegerists arrive led by Floch, taking Hange, Connie, and Jean and Niccolo into custody and demanding Hange tell them Zeke’s location. When Hange says they weren’t going to fight them on this, Floch tells her that Eren decided not to trust Pyxis’s surrender, certain the commander wouldn’t gamble the fate of the island on them.

When Hange tells Floch that wine laced with Zeke’s spinal fluid has been distributed throughout the military, Floch lets on that he already knows with a big playful grin. It’s part of the Plan. I assume Zeke already owns all those high-ranking military police officials who dined at Niccolo’s restaurant, and are currently with Pyxis planning to steal Eren’s Founding Titan.

As for Eren, he’s come for one reason: to speak to Mikasa and Armin, his best friends in the whole world; his brother and sister. No doubt he’s come to ask them to join him…and he’s probably only going to ask once.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, why did they even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to throw open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t even see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible.

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core. He can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved, and that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into his prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, to which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair? Can freedom be achieved without harming Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. The Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and glimpse the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  It’s the kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

As for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all, that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Attack on Titan – 55 – Levi’s Choice

The characters of Titan naturally have to hold on to certain dreams in order to keep going, though Kenny likened that to being a slave to something or someone. For Levi, that has become serving Erwin and seeing to it his dreams come true, if at all possible. That’s why, when he appears with the syringe of Titan serum, he holds out as long as he can to give it to Armin, who is on the verge of death.

Eren is slave to Armin’s and his dream of seeing the ocean one day, so their opposing dreams create a conflict. As for Zeke, he leaves Bertholdt for dead and lives to fight another day, promising Eren, fellow victim of their father, that he’ll come back to rescue him some day.

On the other front, Hange sends Mikasa to see if Levi is alive and still has the serum; if injected into one of them, they can eat Reiner and gain his powers. Otherwise Hange will kill Reiner right there and then, but not before taking possession of a letter from Ymir meant for Christa.

When Mikasa meets up with Eren and Levi, and sees what has become of Armin, Floch arrives just before Levi administers the serum to Armin, with a badly wounded but still breathing Erwin. Right there and then, Levi changes his mind; Erwin will get the serum. Armin will die.

It’s an impossible choice, as both Erwin and Armin have proven to be an integral part of the continued survival of humans within the walls. For Levi, it’s a simple matter of giving it to the more experienced leader, but he can’t pretend he’s not influenced by his greater loyalty to his commander, as well as his buy-in to Erwin’s dreams.

When he knocks Eren aside to execute his decision, Mikasa pins him down, and because he’s in such bad shape from the Beast Titan fight, Mikasa can tell she can overpower him. But Floch is on Levi’s side, and tells them how he believes was the only one of his unit to survive so he could ensure the “devil” Erwin couldn’t go out so easily, that he’d live on and continue to be the devil they needed to defeat the Titans. Then Hange, Jean, and Sasha drop in, further complicating matters.

It’s an apt microcosm of the inner-wall humans all along: different factions or individuals wasting precious time and resources fighting over which way to proceed, with Levi, Hange, and Floch on one side and Eren and Mikasa on the other. Both are factoring emotions into their decisions, and both are right that if either person dies it will be a huge blow to the cause.

Ultimately, when everyone has cleared out, Levi is about to insert the syringe in Erwin’s arm, and Erwin suddenly moves it out of the way, as if to prevent the injection. Turns out he’s delirious and raising his hand as if he was still in Grisha’s classroom. Levi takes it as a sign it’s time for Erwin to finally get the rest he’s deserved.

The next time Eren sees Armin, he’s a Titan, gobbling up Bertholdt and gaining his Colossal Titan powers. Levi quietly explains his choice, and begs Floch and everyone else to forgive Erwin, who never wanted to be a Devil. Everyone made him the devil, and it didn’t seem right to pull him back into Hell when he was finally freed from it.

Instead, Armin is being given a second chance to see the sea with Eren and Mikasa. By being given the abilities of the biggest, strongest Titan, he’s taking Erwin’s place as the Devil the humans within the walls need to lead them to victory.

Even with this massive shift in the balance of power (the Titans’ greatest weapon we know of is now in human hands), even dragging Armin back into Hell might not be enough. There’s still so much they don’t know. But with Zeke and Reiner in retreat, at least the path to The Basement now seems clear.