This may have been the most plot-heavy and tense episode of Steins;Gate yet. The transition was handled quite smoothly (hint hint, HanaIro) because there have pretty much always been elements of disquiet even in the funnier episodes, and because there were moments of comedy in this serious one. The balance changed a little this time, is all – and it doesn’t hurt that the comedy was actually funny.
Among the milestones this week was our first double “Tutturu!”, with Braun’s daughter joining in. Mostly though the focus was on the time machine – on what it can and can’t do, and its implications for the future. With Shiny Finger now a full-fledged (if annoying) lab member Okarin sets the team to find out just what the phone microwave (name subject to change) can do. As part of this experiment he sends an email to himself a week earlier, with instructions to buy a lottery ticket.
That’s where things start to get hinky. Okarin has another of his weird fade-out daydreams, and when he comes around the other lab members have no recollection of his even suggesting the lottery idea, never mind actually conducting the experiment. Ruka walks in a few moments later, carrying a lottery ticket and saying that Okarin told him to buy it, but that he missed one of the numbers. The others have no experiment because the experiment never happened – by changing the past Okarin created a new timeline altogether, with the real mystery being why he’s the only one who remembers the old one.
He naturally turns to John Titor for help, and the ensuing scene is one of the more interesting of the episode. In a microcosm of the way this show blends its elements, as Okarin tensely waits for Titor to respond to his mail, all of the absent team members (and Ruka) text him one by one with relatively trivial matters. When Titor does respond it’s with the message that due to his unexplained ability to remember “discarded” timelines Okarin may be the one who can help Titor achieve his goal of changing the future. It’s a great juxtaposition of moods, a real emotional roller-coaster of a sequence.
It seems that now that the characters have been firmly established, the show is free to really dive head-first into developing the plot. It’s been a nice build – a winning mix of styles and moods building to this uneasy turn of events. I think the exposition has been just right – there are still a ton of questions, not least of which is why Suzuha (even more strongly hinted at as being from the future) scans Okarin’s eyes for a “chip”, which would indicate brainwashing. But they’ve told us just enough each week to appear to be playing for with the audience, and to keep them hooked in to the story. I, for one, can’t wait to see where this is going.