Friday, September 18, 2009

Revist Evangelion: Episode 15 & 16

Episode 15 (Why is it always the titles that refer to Misato that are like eight paragraphs long?) starts out with the revelation (confirmation is perhaps more appropriate) that Kaji is a spy. This revelation never leads to much (except you know the obvious) the for whom and why of it are never really delved into, it nicely establishes the fact that in the world of EVA, nobody really knows anybody. This, more so then any of the other episodes is about the relationships the main characters have with one another. The hedgehogs shoving their spines into eachother. Despite their closeness (or lack their of) there can be no true understanding.

The show nicely juxtaposes the average Junior High romantic Hijinks with Kaji and Misato’s mature love story. Both the playful begins of romance and the real emotional wreckage it can lead to further down the line. It all starts out with a wedding of a mutual friend of Kaji’s, Misato’s and Ritsuko. A quick conversation about the weddings they’ve been attending lately nicely underlines the fact, that the people of NERV aren’t really allowed to have normal lives.

From there we launch into the happiest relationship in the Evangelion universe, one in which one spouse is dead and the other trying to end the world with the aid of her reverse engineered clone.

Shinji and Gendo are taking their annual trip to his mother’s grave. On the way there Shinji chats up Rei. Knowing what we know the scene plays out fascinating. Like I’ve said, one of the most interesting questions of the series is how much Rei really knows about herself. She certainly seems to be made uncomfortable by Shinji’s observation that he reminds him of his mother, but is she bothered by it subconsciously or consciously? Is she afraid of what Shinji might find out, or what she might be forced to learn about herself?

Gendo’s pittance of validation in Episode 12 has left Shinji hungry for more. Their relationship also parallels the other’s explored in the episode. Father and Son stare at each other from across a gulf of mutual incomprehension. Though it turns out that both long for some sort of reunion neither has any idea how to create it.

The next sequence showcase’s Eva’s use of the abstract in objectively real space, albietly in a more subtle way. The sequence starts with a mini montage of Misato, Askua, and Shinji heading to their separate encounters, each a piece of the sentence “Well” “See” “You Later” only for the kicker to reveal that they’ve been separately addressing Misato’s pet Penguin. Even though they live together these are three people who can’t communicate even in the most rudimentary way.

We catch the wedding in impressionistic flashes quick glimpses of all the clich├ęs of the ceremony, Kaji, Misato, and Ritsuko start their routine and just as we’re settling in, we smash cut to a long shot of a cemetery with rows upon rows of graves. The engine that has driven Evangelion has always been the fear of death, the ultimate isolation. The message couldn’t be clearer, no matter what we tell ourselves through ceremony, tradition, ritual, and banter, we end up here.

The abstraction continues here, with Gendo towering over Shinji who towers over his mothers grave, all brought together with a long slow pan. Powerful vertical lines all stretched beyond the possible. Gendo and Shinji talk about Yui, and just as they seem to be connecting, just as they begin to put away their years of baggage, NERV transport comes to take Gendo away. Anno clearly sees Gendo as a tragic figure, chasing his white whale to the exclusion of anything else even when what he truly seeks is within his grasp he can’t recognize it.

We go back to Kaji, Ritsuko, and Misato. Kaji brings up the theme of the episode, but luckily he still manages to skirt the didacticism that infects the series at the worse, merely pointing out that both he and Misato where still too self absorbed when they first lived together, only playing house. For a show which is often accused of having characters serve only as symbols or didactic mouth pieces, I really have to highlight how well these three are written. They really do seem to share the easy intimacy of people with a shared past.

The episode ends with two kisses, neither of which will ultimately turn out well. Two clumsy grasps at something resembling emotional intimacy that will do much more harm then good. They’re mistakes but the kind we can’t help but make, when we don’t understand others and ourselves.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, the episode ends with to back to back revelations both played disturbing as hell. We get our first look at Rei’s true nature, and Gendo’s smile, way more disturbing then his ordinary grimace. And then we get to see the exact secret Kaji’s been trying to find out. The shot of the rotting hulk suspended on the blood red cross, is disturbing dream like imagery. Horrifying in it’s implications even if we can’t grasp them yet. Episode 14 promised that the game had changed. This confirms it.

Things keep getting weirder with The Splitting Of The Breast. The episode starts out with a feint, an almost perversely light note, the kind of low key domestic comedy we haven’t seen in awhile, softening us before the blow of the most fucked up Eva episode to date. This continues into NERV headquarters where we find out that saving the world multiple times has done the impossible and actually slightly raised Shinji’s self esteem.

For this he must pay terribly.

I’ve talked before about my appriciation of the way that EVA has potrayed the Angels as truly being unfathomable. The Angel in Splitting Of The Breast is probably the height of this. Nothing but a sentient black and white ball of negative space. It’s genuinely intimidating, just so odd that there’s no way to wrap your mind around it.

The three pilots are deployed and Shinji, for once feeling confident enough to stand up to Askua’s hateful bitchery actually shows some initiative and takes the point.

And for his troubles he gets sucked into hell.

The Angel devours him, transporting him (and half the city with some admirably surreal imagery) to an alternate dimension where Shinji starts to trip another “Stream Of Consciousness” segment (Note again how Anno gives an objective reason for this to happen).

Askua starts talking smack about Shinji, proving she’s still in the running for the worst person in the world award and Rei, while not quite giving Askua her trademark Gendo slap, gets about as pissed as Rei can ever get, once again raising some intriguing questions. The way the scene is animated, the character’s faces mostly in shadow with only their eyes flaring out of the darkness is a great affect, giving what could have been just a usual scene of bickering a truly ominous flair.

Meanwhile in the Sea Of Dirac, Shinji, after holding on for an impressive 12 hours starts to freak the fuck out. As The Eva starts to shut down for good the reality of the situation starts to sink in for him, and us. Strip away most of the sci fi trappings and what you have at the core is a helpless fifteen year old dying in a small space. It’s a disturbing scene and rightfully so. Thankfully it’s right about here that Shinji starts to lose his sanity, so at least he’s got that going for him.

Ritsuko and Misato come to an blows over Ritsuko’s dispassionate solution to blow up Shinji. Misato somewhat unwisely insinuates to what she learned at the end of the last episode. Their relationship is never the same after this scene, and the breaking of the bond feels truly weighty.

Shinji’s stream of consciousness starts, this segments a bit longer then the one we got in Weaving A Story, but not yet the marathon runs the series would attempt later on. This trip actually ends up being a dry run for the series finale, introducing the theme of each person existing as the idea of what others believe him to be. Once again these are tough to write about, better to experience it for yourself. You’ll either get it, or you’ll want to cut out your eyes.

Shinji comes too just in time to die for sure, only to discover, in what’s perhaps the key scene in the series, the presence of his mother in the machine. This sends the Eva flying into a rage. A Mother’s love is an easy thing to sentimentalize, but it’s really as primal and as fierce a force as any. Nothing less then the instinct to protect the continuation of its genetic code at all cost. The EVA manifests that on the most primal level possible, ripping to shreds the thing that threatens its spawn.

The image of a screaming gore covered Unit 01 clawing it’s way out of the black womb, coating the city below in blood, is like something Dali dreamed up on a bad day. It’s an awe inspiring sequence of stunning primal violence, a scene that works on a gut level. (Once again the metaphysics of this, especially when one brings Rei into the equation is confusing, but as a metaphor it works perfectly). It’s a stunning ending one that casts a pall over the rest of the series, and whose feeling is carried through the next four episodes. Which I’ll be covering in one go. I remember them being my favorite of the run and I can’t wait to revisit them.

Episode 15: A
Episode 16: A

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