Saturday, September 26, 2009

Revisit Evangelion 23 & 24

Episode 23 starts with a grim reminder of what’s just happened. With Misato listening to Kaji’s last message over and over again. Just incase the metaphor wasn’t clear enough it then cuts outside of the room where she has barred the door, leaving Shinji and Pen Pen outside. Literally cutting the people she cares about out of her life. Asuka has also shut herself away still crippled by the attack.

Eva’s great theme has always been isolation, the pain it causes and the insane lengths people will go to in order to escape it. While Shinji’s and Rei’s loneliness has always been highlighted, Asuka and Misato where always two of the seemingly most well adjusted people on the show. It’s as if the isolation is spreading like a disease.

Asuka’s camped out a Hikari’s house, numbly pounding away on a video game as the baffled Hikari looks on. The attack from the last episode is an ongoing thing, getting worse with time rather then better. Unable to verbalize what happened to her, much less reach out for help Asuka’s sliding deeper and deeper into her shell, with vast consequences.

Odd though, that for an episode that focuses so centrally on her, we still haven’t seen Rei yet. Rei is after all the central mystery of Evangelion. Is she Gendo’s puppet? Yui’s Ghost? Does she know what she is? Does she have emotions? Free Will? Do We?

An Angel attacks, (Another impressively abstract one a simple halo of light) and in a move that’s fucked up even for him, Gendo launches Asuka in Unit 02 to act as a decoy while the big boys go save the world.

It’s no use the Angel goes straight for Unit one, penetrating it’s AT Field and snapping directly into the body (The imagery here is pretty phallic, two symbolic rapes in a row), beginning to absorb it. The corruption is visualized in ickily Cronenbergian terms. It’s body horror on a grand scale, with the human body mortifying itself from mere contact with the angel. For a series known for it’s horrific imagery, this is certainly no exception.

The nature of the angels attack becomes clear as Rei begins to become absorbed into Angel’s conciseness. The Angel makes contact with her and for the first time we get to hear what the angel has to say for itself.

It doesn’t disappoint, continuing to keep things fundamentally alien. To the angel humanity simply doesn’t make sense.

Then in one of the most stirring segements of the show, the girl accused of not having a will of her own asserts it quite definitely.

As she’s being absorbed into a group conscience she rebels. Shinji has been sent out to save her and The Angel goes for him, Rei stops it the only way she can. I don’t know why I find this sequence so moving. Rei herself might be part of a hive mind. If anyone should slip into the Angel it should be her. But there is something inside her that is herself, that she refuses to give up. Even if the only way she can express it is with her death. It’s about as existential as it gets, and it’s beautiful.

And because Anno’s a sadistic bastard he doesn’t even allow a pyranic victory. Another Rei is brought back, as soon as she’s gained humanity it’s gone. The ultimate backslide in a show full of them. I’ve often thought that Rei’s death was a cheap ploy, so that the character who the fans had affection for wouldn’t be the same one ending the world. But it makes a lot more thematic sense to me now. She’s the show in microcosm one step forward two steps back.

Shinji’s numb after Rei’s death, Misato tries to comfort him, and he shuts her out. Self imposed isolation all over again.

Then the show takes a hard left and we’re in for some naked testifying with Ritsuko and SEELE. To say this scene is bizarre is understatement. I suppose we can only be grateful that the monoliths didn’t want to see Fuyuski’s junk while he was testifying.

Apparently deciding that being probed naked by a bunch of Sapient Monoliths is about one step too far (funny as I was thinking the same thing) Ritsuko’s loyalty to Gendo promptly plummets. She lures Misato and Shinji into the central Dogma to show them the myriad of fucked up stuff that NERV is storying down there. After taking them to the haunting “Eva Graveyard” and forcing Shinji to relive his most painful memory, she takes them to multi Reis and then destroy them in a sequence for which the term disturbing doesn’t quite cover.

Episode 24 is called The Beginning Of The End, which for my money makes it about twenty four episodes late. All of Eva is an ending. That’s what makes it simultaneously intriguing and frustrating.

It get’s up to a cheery start with a flashback to little Asuka discovering her mother’s suicide. Unless it also started with the murder of puppy it’s tough to tell how it could have gotten off to a much worse start. Then it does. Cutting to a comatose naked Askua in a wrecked apartment sitting in a tub of filthy water. If it hasn’t been clear that things will not end well for these characters it should be by now.

Shinji is understandably shaken by his encounter with the pool of dissolving Rei’s, It’s amazing how well he taken it in stride. Nerv is an utterly corrupt agency and now Shinji knows it. Looking over the destroyed Tokyo 3 he’s utterly at a loss. The city and people he’s fought to protect are gone. There’s nothing.

And then Kaworu comes. After dissecting Asuka’s mind, and Rei’s body it shows up in what it believes to be human. To make Kaworu work you have to think of him in purely metaphorical terms, Trying to decide why SEELE sent him, or how he could possibly avoid NERV’s detection will merely cause wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Rei certaintly recognizes what he is on an instinctual if not conscience level. And his inferences add yet another wrinkle to question of “Just what the hell is the nature of Rei puzzle”

A slightly homoerotic scene later, and Shinji’s defense are completely gone. He trusts Kaworu completely, and as always when Shinji puts his faith in something it bites him in the ass. Kaworu is an angel of course, but he firmly understands The Hedgehog’s dilemma. He kills with love.

There’s a quick scene at SEELE where they talk about destroying NERV. The thing that has never been answered to my satisfaction, is the difference between SEELE and Gendo’s end game. Both are attempting to cause the same Human Instrumentality to occur. What’s the difference?

Misato in the meanwhile has given Pen Pen to another family. It’s the last symbol of connection, the last attachment sent away. Kaworu and SEELE talk, and even though it seems as though Anno is genuinely trying to tell us what’s going on, it still comes off as indecipherable babble.

Either way it’s clear that Kaworu is done fucking around, and he activates Unit 02 and blasts his way down into the central Dogma. Shinji’s sent to stop him, and the fight is suitably intense for the last one of the series. Shinji is understandably distraught at being used and betrayed again.

Like Rei Kaworu asserts his will through death. His existence will end humanity so he chooses not exist. Shinji makes the choice. In the world of Eva everyone sacrifices what they want the most. Shinji’s paid his price. Now the final test is all that remains.

Episode 23: A
Episode 24: B

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