Getting by with a little help from your friends.
We’re still ratcheting up the intrigue and plot points, but even so, this week felt more Snow White-like than the past two, as everyone managed to take a breath and remember who they were: Smart, skilled adults able to deal rationally with their problems and—most importantly—work together to do it. There may be “many different resolves” here, but they’re starting to cooperate both practically and emotionally. And if this show has taught me anything, it’s that focusing on what you can do while also trusting others to do the same is pretty much always a good thing.
Can I just say, because I haven’t in a while, how happy I am to be watching a show about smart adults doing smart things? And a creator who understands that people can make mistakes, take risks, or let their emotions get the better of them without having to swallow stupid pills to create extra (forced) drama along the way? Because I am really so glad for that. Even better, when they do make mistakes or let their emotions get the better of them, they have people around to remind them of The Hitchhiker’s first rule: Don’t Panic.
Our main trio were about to do just that last week: Shirayuki on the edge of a breakdown, Zen with bottled-up terror and rage, and Obi on a rampage. Understandable responses, but worrying ones nonetheless. Fortunately they all have someone nearby to help them focus, as Kazuki’s voice (“can you move?”) cuts through Shirayuki’s fear, Mitsuhide and Kiki tamp down the fire building in Zen, and Zen passes along the favor to Obi. Things are still plenty dire, but our cast is in control of themselves again, and that gives them a measure of power they didn’t have before.
We see similar forward-thinking and cooperation on the plot-side, too. Despite his Rage Eyes, Obi agrees to work with the Lions of the Mountain to find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Similarly, when Zen finds them (thanks to Obi wisely taking the bell-whistle and leaving Zen a note so he’d know to track him via messenger-bird), he puts aside his personal issues to cooperate as well. Raj will later do the same after Mihaya offers to take them to the Claws’ secret base (HOW TERRIBLY CONVENIENT) in exchange for his reinstated nobility. Compromise! The U.S. Congress could learn something from these guys.
Shirayuki and Kazuki are working together in a similar fashion, albeit with less successful results. Still, Shirayuki is captured but never damseled: She uses her own particular set of skills to devise an escape attempt, grants Kazuki medical aid and limited trust, and while it’s all she can do to keep from bursting into tears in private, in public she never flinches, staring down Umihebi and promising that she’ll never stop fighting for her freedom. Yup. I love this gal.
In addition to lots of exciting plot points and encouraging character beats, a few of the ideas that have been swirling around the edges of the series are coming to the forefront again. A lot of it boils down to the difference between a nation with good rulers focused on helping the people and a nation with bad ones focused on helping themselves, and we’re really seeing it in just how messed-up Tanbarun is in comparison to Clarines.
Both the Lions and the Claws are direct, contrasting responses to the exploitative power structure present in this world, and in particular the rampant corruption in Tanbarun. The Lions are composed of people who’ve been routinely screwed by crooked nobles and chose to create their own pocket-nation rather than bend the knee to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Conversely, the Claws take full advantage of the broken system, profiting off those same crooked nobles via human trafficking and “decorative tools” (which sounds a whole lot like sex slavery to me).
Neither group would wield the kind of power they do (or even exist at all) in a more equitable society. Clarines is by no means a perfect nation, but it’s telling that, when someone (like Kihal’s tribe) has a problem with a local noble, their first response is to petition the royalty, not throw a coup and run off into the mountains to govern themselves.
Another point of contrast: The treatment of women. While the premiere (set in Tanbarun) dealt specifically with female agency and Shirayuki’s fight for freedom, we really haven’t seen much of that particular struggle since then. Shirayuki has had to battle for respect as a commoner, yes, but with the presence of a female Chief Herbalist, royal bodyguard, and tribal liaison, gender has been a refreshing non-factor in Clarines.
Not so in Tanbarun, it seems. Outside of Princess Rona (a direct blood-relation to the king), we haven’t seen any women in positions of political or military power within the palace itself. Kazuki’s understated but horrific backstory comes largely out of his status as a “pretty boy,” meaning he’s devalued because of his traditionally feminine appearance. Kiki even cites her gender as the reason she should be the one “sold” to the Claws, suggesting that (at best) a woman wouldn’t be seen as a threat or (at worst) women are more likely to be sold into slavery here.
Of course there is one interesting (and clever) exception to all this: Umihebi herself, leader of the Claws and instigator of this slave trade. As mustache-twirlingly awful as she is this week, happily torturing and brutalizing even her own people, based on what we’ve seen of Tanbarun, it’s not too difficult to draw the causality lines and see how a young person constantly denied any power (and maybe actively abused) within the confines of the system could simultaneously internalize that prejudice while also rebelling against it, choosing to become the predator so as to avoid being the prey.
I don’t know if Snow White intends to develop Umihebi, making her more than a cartoonish Big Bad, but even as a 2-D villain she’s still very much a product of her society. Something is seriously rotten in the state of Tanbarun. It’s a good thing Shirayuki got out when she did—and an equally good thing Raj is seeing all this firsthand, so maybe he can finally start doing something to correct it.
This, That, and the Other
- I try to keep my in-post commentary calm and professional, but I AM SO EXCITE FOR A SHIRAYUKI/KIKI TEAM-UP, LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. Do not. Even. Know.
- Snarky parenthetical aside, while it is all-too-convenient that Mihaya knows where the Claws keep their hidden mansion, based on what we already knew about both his family and the Claws’ business, it isn’t a totally implausible ass-pull, at least.
- I’m digging the way the show pits what Kazuki has told us against the explanation the Lions give for why he tried to kidnap Shirayuki. The stories don’t match up, and not knowing where the lies end and the truth begins creates a nice level of uncertainty… and gives us something to theorize wildly about, too. VIGILANTE MOUNTAIN PRINCESS IT IS!
- I’m not one to crush on 2-D characters or take “husbandos,” but I would straight-up marry Zen Wistaria.