Thursday, September 24, 2009

Revisit Evangelion 21 & 22

(Notes: Sorry for the gap between the posts, I recently had to face some time constraints that went from bad to ungodly with very little warning. All I can say is I would have much rather been doing this too.

On another note I’m reviewing the Director’s Cut of the next four episodes.)

We begin Episode 21 at the ill fated NERV station in Antartica. We watch through a security tape as off screen scientists spout techno babble and bitch about the smoking areas, the time stamp on the bottom of the camera tells us it’s doomsday, but they don’t know that yet.

We witness the birth of Adam and the beginning of the end, but it’s nice to remember that the people doing it weren’t monsters or with grand machevellian schemes but regular schmoes who bitched about having to go outside. Frailty caused the end not evil. It’s a fitting reminder because perhaps no other episode of EVA is so centered around human frailty.

The Episode takes place (mostly) as a long form interrogation of Vice Commander Fuyutsuki by SEELE (finally in their menacing Kubrick lite forms) Who are understandably pissed that NERV has allowed Unit 01 to gain omniscience. We flash back through his eyes to the time before the third impact and all that led to it. As I’ve noted before part of EVA’s genius has always been it’s ability to frame things (shots, episodes, characters) just off center from where they’d usually be. This episodes is one of the best examples of that taking a look at the ongoing struggle from the man who looks over the shoulder of the main players.

It starts in 1999 with a young Fuyutsuki, meeting both Ikaris . It’s our first clear look at Yui, who even in this episode is mostly kept in the shadows, lest it become unclear why she’s worth ending the world for. She’s quickly sketched as a warm, intelligent, maternal prescence and then placed offscreen. Our early looks at Gendo are much more interesting.

First shown when Fuyutsuki bails him out of a police station, Gendo’s a different character from what we know. Still as smart and ruthless but cocky about it, enjoying his intelligence and the way he can intimidate others. His first words to Fuyutsuki are “I’m not used to be liked but I am used to being hated.” And just like that, we can finally see him as Shinji’s father, someone who has allowed their wounds to make them cold and bitter, rather then just absorbing them like Shinji.

This sequence is followed by one of my favorite shots in the series, a black and white title card with the word 2001 on it, with the voice over “The first year after second impact is… difficult to talk about." The stark figure and the dark inference behind those words is more effective then any imagery or monologue could ever be.

We come back to Fuyutsuki on an expedition to Antarctica, Gendo’s behind it of course, and the smash cut from Fuyutsuki’s chastising of SEELE and Gendo to the present where he now works diligently for them, is all that needs to be said about the way we compromise ourselves.

We cut to a few years later Fuyutsuiki as a whistleblower, having uncovered the roll of SEELE and Gendo in the second impact he’s about to go public, when Gendo treats him to a personal tour of the Geofront, the Maji, and finally the skeletal prototype of Eva Unit 00. And he just can’t. It’s a great moment, temptation and weakness, the knowledge of the right thing to do, but not the will to use it.

After a brief stopover in the present day we’re onto Ritsuko’s flashback as she reminiscences about the early days of her Misatos’s and Kaji’s friendship. Like all of the material involving these characters it’s well drawn and warm and considering what happens later in the episode, tragic.

We watch as Yui let’s Shinji make the most ill advised field trip ever, and then are introduced to Ritsuko’s mother and Gendo getting it on, and a little girl named Rei who seems wise beyond her years. This is predictably some pretty dark stuff, as we’re dealing with obsession. Some of the creepiest material is between Rei I and Dr. Akagi. It’s obvious that this is a different Rei then the one we know. It takes her all of two seconds to psychologically destroy Dr. Akagi, and she enjoys it. The question the series never answers is how much Rei knows about herself. What she doing here? Is it revenge or reflex action?

But nothing can really prepare you for the sight of the elder Dr. Akagi strangling the first Rei before bashing her brains in against, the computers she created.

The episode ends with the still startling execution of Kaji by Misato. The same mistakes made over and over again. Deep compromises made with our cores that have disastrous consequences. The image of Shinji burying his head while Misato cries in the background is as dark as the show gets.

Episode 22 is also about human frailty though on a micro rather then macro scale. The episode starts with Kaji and Asuka on the air craft carrier on their way to meet with Shinji and Misato. Asuka is her usual self, and it’s a surprising reminder of how fall Asuka has already fallen before her encounter with the Angel in this episodes.

We then flash back and start to explore the really fucked up psychology that makes Asuka tick. It’s as dark and Oedipal (or Elektrical?) as Shinji’s if not more so. Unfortunately it also showcases the heavy handed dorm room philosophy that keeps this episode from being as strong as it can. When Asuka’s step mother solemnly says “Maybe we’re like God’s Dolls man!” it’s tough to stifle a giggle.

We get a bit of Foreshadowing with Misato wondering why so many EVA’s are being rushed into production (oh you’ll find out). We then cut to Misato’s apartment, where the beyond awkward encounter shows once again, how far gone these characters are.

Askua comes dangerously close to opening up, so of course she retreats into so type A bitchier and then has a mini meltdown in the bathroom.

We’re then treated to the infamous elevator scene in which Rei and Asuka stand in silence for a full minute, before Rei starts her passive aggressive needling and Asuka starts her hateful bitchery. It’s worth noting how Rei asserts her free will, as it will be put to the ultimate test next episode. Though ten years of human experience has made it pretty clear that Askua’s behavior stems from deep seated insecurity, it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to sit through.

An angel appears reusing the gimmick of staying above the Earth’s atmosphere. Told to act as backup Asuka launches herself anyway, and we get one of the most disturbing sequences of the series. After failing to take out the angel with a sniper rifle. The angel invades Asuka’s mind. The mind rape that follows is a genuinely disturbing and sickening sequence, despite the cliché’s it employs (Handel’s Messiah used for ironic juxtaposition for the eight billionth time) . Like Shinji’s freakout in the Sea Of Dirac, something about it brings into focus how young these characters are, and their vulnerability is exploited terribly.

The Eva writhing in pain as all of it’s pilots insecurities and weaknesses are exploited by an unknowable intelligence, finding out what it means to be human by dissecting the mind of one, is sickening. We get another stream of consciousness trip, and as it’s an attack the imagery is even more abrasive it’s rough stuff to say the least. Saying it’s a rape is no exaggeration. It says something about the sequences power that the catatonia Asuka lapses into after it seems the only logical response.

The sequence ends with a trip inside central Dogma, the regeneration of Lilith, and the use of the Spear of Longinius. It’s all EVA’s Patented Dream Like Imagery, conveying the fact that something enormous is happening even if we can’t understand just what. But it ends the episode on a suitably apocalyptic note. In many ways this episode is the Nadir of Evangelion, the highest price paid for the littlest of reasons.

Episode 21: A
Episode 22: B

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