There are times when Jean Kirschtein seems like a character from a different series, he’s so unlike anyone else in this cast. Seriously – the dude has the common sense to be terrified of what should terrify him, and the self-awareness to think about the implications of what he does (or doesn’t do). He doesn’t make rousing speeches and spout a lot of rah-rah BS like a high-school football coach at halftime. Jean’s role, as I’ve said before, seems to be as the guy who acts like a normal, sane person would act while all the AoT craziness is happening, while everyone else just acts their own brand of crazy.
As such, it’s not surprising that the episodes where Jean is given a lot to do (there haven’t been many lately) feel quite different than the rest of the series. It sounds funny to say about a series where the biggest problem was that nothing of consequence happened for about 8 eps, but it’s nice to see AoT take a breather every once in a while. The issue isn’t that nothing was happening during most of the endless “Trost” loop, but that none of it really mattered. The eps were loud, bombastic and violent – and generally changed nothing of importance. Meanwhile the occasional episodes like this one, last week’s and the flashback to Eren’s meeting with Mikasa actually featured mostly people talking to each other in indoor voices, and moved the story forward significantly. That’s two in a row now – hopefully a precursor that the rest of the series is going to feature action that actually matters, and not just to fill time.
I quite liked the entire sequence where Eren’s cadet class was forced to decide what branch of the service to join. I loved Jean’s realistic assessment of the situation, and the fact that his reasons for doing what he did aren’t sugarcoated – he doesn’t want to keep hating himself, and he’s smart enough to be dismayed by what he’s decided to do. I liked Erwin’s no-bull (well, I think there was some bull) recruiting speech to the class, where he gave what can only be described as an unglamorous sales pitch. And I especially liked the scene where the vast majority of the cadets did what any normal person would do, and walked away. It was superbly staged, with the few holdouts (mostly Eren’s classmates) framed in stark relief against the hordes of retreating cadets.
This scene also does a nice job of illustrating why the Recon Corps (or “Survey Team” if you prefer that translation) is such a weird bunch. The only way you’d join it by choice is if you were ridiculously brave, had a death wish, or were certifiably bonkers – and preferably at least two of the three. It’s a haven for oddballs and weirdos because no one else would join, but it’s also full of exceptional soldiers because the unexceptional quickly become dead. That makes it inherently the most interesting group to hang out with as a viewer, and it’s why I’m glad the series seemed ticketed to follow it for the foreseeable future. Of Eren’s class, only Annie – badass as she seemed to be – has elected to join the Military Police. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of her. As for the rest of them, again it fell to Jean to frame it best. He’s willing to die for Eren, but not blindly – he needs to know if it’s really worth it, or he’ll hesitate when the moment comes.
There are still lots of mysteries left, of course – the whole plot is still mostly mystery. Not even most of his colleagues seem to know what Erwin means when he asked Eren if he knew who the real enemy was (I have my own ideas). And why did he choose to share the intel about Eren’s basement with a camp full of perspective recruits – what was the ulterior motive Armin sensed? It can only be because he wants humanity to know – because he wants to shake up the status quo and with it, shake up the people’s faith in preserving it. “We have met the enemy, and he is us” is the phrase I suspect will end up summarizing Shingeki no Kyojin when all its secrets are laid bare (which of course won’t even happen this season).