Well, well, well, another week where stuff has actually happened, surpassing my expectations in the process. Will wonders ever cease? Probably, yes. In fact, they'll probably cease next week, but I suppose we can dare to hope that the show might continue this streak of actually telling a story instead of meandering about pointlessly.
Continuing on almost directly from last week, this week's episode sees Mordred (Saber of Red) emerging victorious in her battle against Sieg (Saber of Black), only to be interrupted by the now crazed and monstrous Spartacus (Berserker of Red). As Spartacus unleashes a powerful sacrificial attack, Shirou, Semiramis (Assassin of Red) and Shakespeare (Caster of Red) move the Hanging Gardens into position to steal the Greater Grail. Incensed, Vlad (Lancer of Black), Chiron (Archer of Black), and Avicebron (Caster of Black) give haste, coming face to face with Karna (Lancer of Red), Atalanta (Archer of Red), and Achilles (Rider of Red). Meanwhile, Jeanne sets out for the Hanging Gardens, leaving Astolfo (Rider of Black) and Sieg to retreat.
So, wow, okay, wow, dude, man, amaze: There are actual changes to the status quo here! By the end of the episode, not only is the Greater Grail in new hands, but our Servant count has also changed, with the Black Faction down to five (really four, since Jack doesn't count) Servants, the Red Faction at six, and the neutral faction staying at two.
The episode predominantly focuses on Vlad and Jeanne, with each of them having their own plot threads (and never the twain shall meet). Vlad gets a rivalry set up with Karna, the only Servant strong enough to fight him on his own turf -- but, to be honest, it never rings entirely true. Karna represents a significant threat, sure, but we've not been given any indication prior to this point that Vlad is the sort of person who'd obsess over not being able to beat someone.
Still, it's one of the few interesting character dynamics the show has seen fit to give us, so I'm not going to look a gift vampire in the mouth.
Speaking of gift vampires, though, we also get introduced to the idea that Vlad has a vampire-related Noble Phantasm, but that he despises its use and will kill his Master rather than use it, which is -- actually halfway interesting, to be honest. It's not difficult at all for me to imagine other writers having Vlad revel in his vampiric reputation, and cheerfully use those powers, but having him actually hate them, and see them as a stain on his reputation (as it diminishes his struggles as a king and lumps him in with the sorcerous undead) actually creates some nice character conflict: Does Darnic, who seems to respect Vlad, use those abilities, even though doing so puts him at risk? Does Vlad give in and use them himself, when it seems like his goal might not be in sight?
See? Character conflict! It's not difficult, and yet this show has spent eleven episodes struggling with it.
Having Shirou and company go and steal the Greater Grail was also a nice touch, even if I'm unsure of the point when they're all fighting over the Grail anyway. I thought the whole point of this war was to determine which faction had the right to use it? Surely if you win, it doesn't matter that it's in Yggdmillenia's castle, right?
Well, either way, it means the battle -- so far the most interesting part of this show -- continues, with people tangling in the hallways of the Hanging Gardens.
Which leads us onto our second, less interesting plot point: Jeanne's. Mostly, this plot thread seems here to write out Spartacus and show off some of Jeanne's abilities, but it does so in a way that almost deliberately saps any kind of dramatic tension the plot would have.
Basically, almost as soon as we see that Spartacus can heal from any wound, we're told he's at his limit and will release a powerful attack instead -- and instantly we know that we no longer need to care about Spartacus' crazy healing ability. There's no tension anymore, and there continues to be no tension because we know that Astolfo, Sieg, and Jeanne aren't going to be killed by a random energy blast from Spartacus of all people.
Problems in fiction can be compelling because we don't know the outcome, or compelling because we don't know how an outcome will be arrived at: In this case, the problem is compelling in neither respect -- overcoming Spartacus' healing factor would be an interesting thing to watch, but blocking his big crazy energy attack isn't, because we can pretty easily figure out that someone will just throw up a magical shield.
Still, I won't say this wasn't one of the more entertaining episodes we've had, and I'm actually reasonably interested to see what happens with Vlad, Darnic, and Karna next week, so I guess roll on next week? Maybe this show can actually salvage something worthwhile after all.