You know Shingeki no Kyoujin is in run-out-the-clock mode when it resorts to three-minute recaps, but they’re back. Clearly it’s a matter of stalling for time to end the season at a specific point, but it’s really too bad, because apart from the Trost debacle this really is quite a good show, and it deserves better. Not as good as its hype and BD/DVD numbers would suggest, maybe, but still damn good – and far better than most series that have achieved the blockbuster 30K threshold in the last few years.
Fortunately, this time around the stuff after the recap was really good – some of the best of the entire run, in fact. It’s no secret why Shingeki comes alive on the rare occasions when Armin and Jean share screen time – they’re the two most relatable characters in the cast, the only ones who really act like a sensible person would act in such bizarre circumstances. They’re also the most realistic in terms of what they know and what they guess based on what they’ve seen, though Armin sees a little farther than any normal person would. That makes Jean’s perspective the most “normal” of anyone, but since Armin is supposed to be a genius I think that’s an allowance the audience should be willing to make.
Completing the trifecta, Erwin is interesting for entirely different reasons. He’s a cipher most of the time, someone whose inner workings are almost entirely hidden from us. But he’s interesting for his actions, because they clue us in that he’s the most dangerous, fearless and potentially clever commander on the human side. In effect he’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back, because the enemy knows far more about him than he does about them. Viewed in that context his actions make a lot of sense, though they could certainly be viewed as quite harsh. If there was a theme this week, it was sacrifice (perhaps a bit too heavy-handedly, to be honest – having Armin spell it out explicitly was probably unnecessary) and Erwin is certainly willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve his larger goals.
If there was one moment this week I especially liked, it was when Erwin made the decision to punt and ordered the retreat. It was beautifully presented – it felt as if one could feel all the conflicting emotions running through Erwin’s mind at that moment. Clearly this was extremely galling for him – many of his elite troops had died in order to capture the female titan, and retreating when he did was effectively invalidating that sacrifice and declaring his master plan a failure. But there was almost no hesitation – just one moment where he closed his eyes and allowed himself to be really pissed off, then a shouted order to retreat, because he knew that every second he delayed would mean more dead soldiers. That was a nice illustration of the burden of command right there, and of the fact that Erwin is strong enough to carry it.
As for the female titan, it was certainly made clear that the #1 priority was protecting the identity of the driver, no matter what. AoT can be quite irritating in that it stubbornly refuses to reveal anything of significance (apart from the fact that Petra pissed herself on her first mission) outright – the gamesmanship gets a little old, to be honest. But we’re creaking ever-closer to this sliver of the truth in spite of that. I knew as soon as she let out that scream that Nice Ass was calling the other titans in – it was the only option she had left at that point, even if we’d seen no proof that it was possible. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen – the human inside would escape in the chaos of steam and gore – and slip into spy mode again. At least as a titan there was no question where the enemy was (assuming there aren’t multiple collaborators inside the Recon Corps, of course, which is a real possibility). Now, Erwin is dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and one who’s willing to kill the other sheep to protect its own identity.
What seems to be happening here is that the enemy – whoever they may ultimately be – is being forced to bolder action because the threats against them are more immediate and dangerous. The Recon Corps generally provide the greatest ongoing threat, but before Eren’s arrival on the scene it seemed they presented a limited danger – they could be picked off in bits and pieces every time they ventured outside the walls. Eren’s presence is the game-changer here, a threat both to the identity of the enemy and in physical battle against them. Eren they want to take alive – to see how he managed to obtain the ability they thought was theirs alone – but someone like Erwin would be a target for elimination altogether, seemingly. Indeed, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of an obvious attempt to take him out, given that he’s obviously critical to the cohesion and strategic prowess of the Recon Corps, and there’s no obvious replacement waiting in the wings.