Hundreds of Flames and Hundreds of Flowers.
It's truly amazing to me that in an episode with so many battles going on (six in total: Karna vs Vlad, Atalanta vs Spartacus, Semiramis vs Astolfo, Mordred vs Astolfo, Achilles vs Chiron, and Shirou and Shakespeare vs Frankenstein), so little can actually happen. It's like watching a battle shounen show devised by someone who has only ever had battle shounens (or anime, or fiction at all) described to them.
Look. I don't ask for every episode to radically change the status quo -- although, honestly, in a series like Fate/Apocrypha, I really should be asking that, since it purports itself to be a story of war and tragedy -- but I do insist on some kind of semblance of story and structure. Twists; a certain amount of back and forth; some kind of struggle; someone to root for. This episode fails to provide that: Instead, things just happen, and then they stop happening.
Continuing on immediately from last week's episode, this week sees Shirou (backed up by Shakespeare, Caster of Red) confronting Frankenstein (Berserker of Black) in the forest. As the two fight, it occurs to several people that Shirou is wholly unlike any normal Master. Meanwhile, Astolfo's (Rider of Black) assault on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ends in disaster, and as he's beaten by Mordred (Saber of Red), Sieg must come save him. Jeanne attempts to locate Shirou, only to run afoul of Semiramis (Assassin of Red), who's intent on keeping them apart. Meanwhile, Karna (Lancer of Red) continues to duel Vlad (Lancer of Black), Atalanta (Archer of Red) duels Spartacus (Berserker of Black), and Chiron (Archer of Black) duels Achilles (Rider of Red).
Seriously, these summaries are predominantly composed of me clarifying everyone's designations. Sometimes, I have to remind myself, because I keep forgetting that Astolfo and Achilles aren't lancers.
There is, in truth, not a whole lot to say about this episode, because every time it looks like something, anything might turn into something resembling a plot, the episode shuts it down. Battles happen predominantly off-screen, bar a few flashy moments, depriving the audience of any enjoyment they might glean from them; but more importantly, nothing is concluded.
This is most overtly shown in the case of Shirou and Shakespeare vs Frankenstein. Rather than bringing the battle to any kind of decisive conclusion, it's instead cut off abruptly when Shirou decides to leave to avoid encountering Jeanne -- and while the mechanism for them leaving (Shakespeare using his Noble Phantasm to trap Frankenstein in an illusion) is interesting enough, the fact remains that, after seeing almost none of the battle in question, it is then rather sharply and nonchalantly stopped.
It's worth talking about that illusion briefly, since it focuses on Frankenstein's backstory and, like our brief glimpse at Mordred's backstory, shows that this show is only really in its element when it's giving us brief snippets of backstory. Frankenstein's backstory is painted in comically broad cliches, over-wrung with attempts to make the audience upset, and wholly predictable -- but it's also one of only a few moments this show has had to actually elicit any kind of emotion other than boredom and irritation from me.
Similarly, we get a brief scene about Darnic's backstory at the very beginning, and good grief, is it marginally more interesting than literally anything going on in the present day. I left that tiny flashback wanting to know at least one or two more things about Darnic's Holy Grail heist from World War II. Mostly 'what were those huge trilobyte things in people's bodies,' admittedly.
Almost the entire rest of the episode is a holding pattern, though. Karna and Vlad fight, but there's no sense that either of them have the advantage. Atalanta and Spartacus fight, but not only is there no sense of any kind of emotion over being attacked by a comrade on Atalanta's part, they're in exactly the same situation at the end of their scene as at the beginning. Achilles and Chiron fight, but by the end, we still all know that Chiron is probably going to win.
The biggest thing you can say for the battles is that we do get Astolfo decisively failing to attack the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, leading to him fighting and losing against Mordred (predominantly off-screen, I should note), so that's at least some kind of change in the story -- except we all already knew that Astolfo wasn't going to successfully bring down the Hanging Gardens, so it's pretty meaningless.
This series is exhausting.
I guess next episode we'll have Sieg fighting Mordred, and more of Karna vs Vlad, Atalanta vs Spartacus, and Chiron vs Achilles. Apparently Darnic will also be taking to the field, but honestly, does it really matter? No. No, it does not. Nothing in this series matters, not even a little bit, and I am so, so tired of it.