I was very glad the end of the episode revealed that Annie was indeed the female titan, because I couldn’t help thinking that this post would have been pretty much impossible to write otherwise. I can’t imagine there would be too many viewers that hadn’t figured it out by then, mind you, what with a random Annie episode at just this moment and all the massive hints we were struck in the face with. Still, a spoiler is still a spoiler and a spoiler-free post if this episode had ended three minutes earlier would have been pretty much a recap and nothing more.
There were a few elements of the ep that drove me crazy in that special Shingeki way, but generally speaking it was another very solid effort. Heck, we were even spared recap altogether – the entire thing was nothing but content. I like the fact that we were taken inside the Military Police, who’ve been much-discussed but almost never seen in AoT, but I wish – as always – that we didn’t need to be hit over the head with such broad and cartoonish scenarios. The basic backdrop is, as always, the perverse reality that the best cadets are skimmed like the cream from a vat of milk and sent off to the MPs, where they’re of no use in the fight for humanity whatsoever. That alone should be enough of a clue that the enemy is within, not without, but this episode was really the first time we’ve been given a look inside the life of the soldiers who chose the path of safety and comfort over defending humanity at the likely cost of their own lives.
So far, so good. The truth is, the entire conspiracy is likely built around the premise that most cadets, given this choice, will choose the MP route – which is almost certainly true. And given the sort of winnowing process that choice is likely to produce, it’s not surprising that just as the Recon Corps are full of incredibly talented but very weird freaks, the MPs are full of the sort of soldiers we saw in Annie’s unit. Or that it’s an organization built on self-preservation and corruption. So did we really need the rather silly overdramatization we got, complete with soldiers selling weapons in broad daylight and pummeling the hapless gung-ho rookie who pledged to set everything right? It was great hearing Sugita Tomokazu as Marlow, don’t get me wrong, but as usual Shingeki no Kyoujin goes for the chainsaw when the scalpel would have been a better fit. I really wish there was more trust of the audience in this series.
That said, most of the ep was really about the enigma that is Annie – that, and the merry dance of deception she and Armin engaged in. I never pictured the two of them together – hell, I don’t think the series ever literally pictured them together for more than a few seconds here or there – but there was a definite vibe in their interactions. My sense was definitely that Armin (somehow I pictured him doing the shopping for his Grandma – watch out for the big, bad wolf!) set up the whole escape plan with the intent of testing Annie’s intentions – or more accurately, of giving her a chance to prove that he was wrong in what he’d already pretty much decided was right. And I think Annie knew this too, after an initial spark of hope that this really might just be an old classmate coming to her for hope in a moment of desperation. Once Armin sprung his trump card, though – seeing if she’d follow into the underground city (was that even real, or is that just a cellar or something?) all pretense pretty much dropped off the table.
“Why did Annie do what she did?” is certainly the question that dominates this episode. Why did she decide to “fail to become a warrior?” as she says? Why did she fail to kill Armin, when she could (and should, given her apparent loyalties) have done so? Eren truly is the idiot she describes, and an annoying one – every time he opens his mouth I just want him to shut the fuck up, and he interests me only as a plot driver. Mikasa is easy to peg – she lives to be Eren’s attack dog and guardian deity, and offers little else. But Annie is interesting, because we don’t know why she does what she does. And Armin is interesting because he sees farther than anyone else, and because he still presents a curious mix of childlike idealism and battle-hardened (probably unrealistically so) canniness. So an episode built around the two of them playing cat-and-mouse with each other is a fascinating one to watch play out.
I could quibble with what happens at the end – how, exactly, did the townsfolk Armin presumably recruited to his cause get to Annie before she was able to bite herself? But it’s generally a fun and interesting AoT clusterfuck, complete with Annie’s larger-than-life laugh and self-condemnation. I don’t know if she actually has feelings for Armin and vice-versa, or whether that condemnation and her sparing of his life just amounts to the last remnants of her humanity asserting themselves, but if she does that would certainly spice things up nicely. What happens with a titan revealed inside Wall Sina itself? That’s going to be a tough one for the humans at the heart of the conspiracy to explain, and it’s yet another example of how Eren’s existence acts as a wild-card that’s scrambled the long-standing status quo, and why he represents the first real threat to the conspiracy that’s obviously at the heart of everything that happens in this series.