These guys really put the “support” in “supporting cast.”
We’re nine weeks into the season, and while pretty much everything else on my watch list has gone through rough waters at some point, Snow White with the Red Hair just keeps staying its graceful course. It continues to be a top-to-bottom beautiful production exhibiting tremendous tonal and narrative control, doing exactly what it wants with an ease that only adds to the show’s dreamlike, meditative, and oh-so-comforting atmosphere.
And yet it isn’t a puff piece, either. The series deals with some fairly somber and difficult issues of trust and trauma along the way, asks its characters to find balances between their professional and personal lives, and frequently depicts them struggling with self-doubt. That it does all this while still making me feel like I’m being wrapped up in a warm blanket is a testament to its ultimately hopeful message about the equal importance of agency and empathy, and how one can balance one’s own needs against those of others.
So, surprise! I liked this one a whole lot, too.
As three of those lovely images will attest, this was the week of reflections, be they through glass panes, ponds, or a character looking back on their past and considering their future. A still-tipsy Shirayuki wanders the grounds of the palace, trying to “be of use” until Obi finds her and talks her down (and intercepts a spy keeping tabs on her along the way). Mitsuhide continues his walk down memory lane. And Zen and Obi share a heart-to-heart, indirectly expressing their shared respect and trust for one another as Zen gifts Obi with a palace ID, officially bringing him into his inner circle. A quiet episode, but not an inactive one.
While it was thoughtless of the Chief Herbalist to give liquor to someone she’d never seen drink before, this does give the series a chance to show Shirayuki at her most open and honest. There have been hints in the past that her composure was at least a partial facade (no one can be that calm all the time, after all), and here we see all her impulsiveness and insecurity—which she’d managed to downplay in the past—come roaring to the foreground.
She leaves her room with the intent to borrow a horse and ride out to Fort Laxdo that very night so she can aid in the recovery of the soldiers Izana decided to discipline. Obi stops her by proving to her that the soldiers can handle themselves, but not before she admits two key points. One, that the gossip about her and Zen does bother her because she feels like she’s causing trouble for Zen; and two, that her main frustration comes from knowing what she wants (a secure position in the palace, both as a pharmacist and Zen’s companion) but not knowing exactly how to get it.
Snow White‘s characters are thoughtful and mature, which means most Poor Decisions Leading To Big Drama get reconsidered before they can ever happen, but that doesn’t mean the series doesn’t allow them to be very human at times. Zen fights through some jealousy at Obi this week, and sometimes struggles against his (understandable) overprotective impulses. Shirayuki’s shaky confidence and sense of inferiority can lead her towards self-destructive behaviors, such as working herself to exhaustion or trying to ride a horse while drunk. And Obi seems to be developing a bit of A Thing for Shirayuki, which makes his interactions just a tad awkward from time to time.
But despite those impulses and insecurities, they all remain reasonable and—more importantly—considerate of others. Zen doesn’t lash out at Obi or force a bodyguard onto Shirayuki because he trusts and respects them. Shirayuki doesn’t run off to Laxdo because she has faith in the soldiers already there. And Obi respects both Shirayuki and Zen too much to make any of the usual Grand Romantic Love Triangle gestures (thank goodness).
All of which circles us back around to the emotional centerpiece of the episode: The flashback to Zen and Mitsuhide in the aftermath of Atri’s death. I mentioned last week that a lot of series would’ve used that betrayal as an excuse for the hero to grow into a cynical or distrusting adult, and how impressed I was that Snow White avoided that route. Here we see that playing out, as Zen admits to Mitsuhide that he had his suspicions about Atri but wanted to believe in him even so. Confronted with his own naivety, Li’l Zen breaks down, and I have me a serious:
moment. Seeing Li’l Zen sad is the worst, you guys.
This could have been a breaking point for our prince. He’s young and vulnerable, and in a place where he needs the advice of someone older to help him make sense of what’s happened. Fortunately, that “someone older” is the wonderful Mitsuhide, who ultimately tells Zen that it’s okay for him to want to trust people. Granted, the way he went about trusting Atri was very careless (where would he be if Izana hadn’t been keeping an eye on him?), and Mitsuhide does quietly remind him of this by saying he should “find out who his allies are.”
His point, though, is that being automatically suspicious of others will only evoke suspicion from them as well (not to mention go against Zen’s own compassionate nature), crippling relations both personal and political before they even begin. It’s not that Zen should automatically trust everyone, of course, but that he should look for trustworthy qualities in others before looking for ulterior motives or shady behavior. Otherwise he’ll just grow up miserable and alone, without friends or allies willing to follow him.
It’s the old adage: “No man is an island.” We’ve seen that with Zen and Shirayuki, who are able to work toward their goals because of their own hard work, yes, but also because of the support they’ve received from each other, Mitsuhide, Kiki, and Obi. Their ability to rely on others when needed is another of their (many) strengths, inspiring loyalty in others and, in turn, gifting them with the advice and insight they wouldn’t be able to get on their own.
Mitsuhide keeps young Zen from retreating into himself; Obi helps Shirayuki regain some of the confidence that Izana’s return has shaken from her. Shirayuki and Zen are pretty great for recognizing valid advice and opinions when they hear them. But Mitsuhide and Obi are pretty great for being able and willing to give it, too. It’s that two-way street Mitsuhide and Zen talked about, and Snow White depicts it with the understated, lovely storytelling style I’ve come to appreciate so much.