I will be forever unable to refer to this episode as anything other than “Lupin Goes to Silent Hill.” Having reviewed it with an eye for explaining what’s actually going on, “The Pretty Exposition Episode” would also be appropriate (if less catchy).
Not a big fan of snow, Lupin?
Episode Specifics: 13 years before our story begins (that’s roughly 1948, for you poor souls trying to put together a timeline) the Glaucus Pharmaceutical testing plant underwent a catastrophic meltdown, and the town surrounding it was abandoned to rot. Some weeks before our story begins, a mysterious owl asks Lupin to steal Fujiko Mine from a drug cult. In the present, Lupin returns to his employers seeking answers, and winds up drugged and stumbling through more than he’d bargained for.
Near as I can tell, Lupin lives in a post-apocalyptic air vent
Pretty simple once it’s all laid out, right? We get Aisha’s backstory, learn that Lupin was indeed looking for Fujiko and not the Fraulein Eule, and get a peek behind the curtain at why everyone is seeing owls all the time. So naturally it’s written in the most confusing, indirect manner possible, a bit of a pain to parse out even once you know the twist (though there are some clever little touches sprinkled through there). This is the last Dai Sato script (he of the two Goemon episodes) by the way, resulting in a three for three at writing episodes where Fujiko isn’t the focus. I like to imagine he was cordoned off to a particular corner of the metaphorical writer sandbox, and only allowed to play with things that wouldn’t warp irreparably after being smacked against nearby objects.
Just to further discombobulate the historical setting, the Eulenspiegel disaster strikes more than a few chords in relation to the nuclear meltdown that destroyed Chernobyl near the end of the 20th century. In fairness, for anyone who might believe that researching hallucinogens and “the fear of death” as a means of warfare, there’s a whole history of weird and covert military experiments in the US alone (the Philadelphia Experiment is the most famous, bordering on urban legend status, and Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare at Goats researches quite a few attempts right up to the Iraq war).
I’d be interested to meet someone who could turn their head that unnaturally farover their shoulder as well
Lupin Lore: Bewilderingly written acid trips are no stranger at all to the Lupin canon. Secret of Mamo is perhaps the most famous, though for my money the most disturbing is Pink Jacket’s “Musical Variation of Monkey Business” (seeing as that one ended with ambiguous satanic possession…or something). More directly, Lupin chasing a little girl through a Wonderland-like hallucination was done in Red Jacket’s “Where Did the Cinderella Stamp Go?”
Suddenly Owls: So, we know that 13 years have passed since the plant melted down, though since the experiments were meant to be part of the war effort it’s likely that Aisha was serving as Almeda’s “daughter” for some time before that (at least 4-5 years). The war ends, and having gotten what he wanted, Almeda silences the laboratory that could have connected him to his multitude of human rights abuses. Her father is killed, and her mother goes to the castle in disguise to keep an eye on her daughter.
The trauma of the torture and memory implants (of the failed little girls, who were also experimented on and tortured) that are meant to render Aisha as Almeda’s perfect child bride render her bedridden. At some point between then and the present Almeda dies, and Aisha continues his experiments rather than face the ruined shambles of a life before her. We’re all good? Alright. The Exposition Episode seemed like a good place to clear all that up.
Oh look, demonic bird eyes. That Pink Jacket reference was even more fitting than I thought
Oscar Watch: Remember last week, when I sad we’d come back to Fujiko’s breakdown? I present to you the above screenshot set, which is probably the most subtly un-highlighted and critical 10 seconds of character development we’ll see in the whole damn show. We have a shot of our Owl Man, an entranced looking Oscar (he’s borderline slackjawed), a deeper focus on the iris with some kind of flashing inside, as if something is being opened or realized…and then all of a sudden Oscar is tossing out threats of corroboration and arrest, where he had been completely silent before (and always passive and respectful when in Zenigata’s presence). Let us now remember what one of the symptoms of Fraulein Eule poisoning is:
We’re pretty sure it was the drug, and not the torture and kidnapping
As I’ve been laying out for the last couple of weeks, Oscar’s character is generally marked as being calm and competent, except when one of his carefully constructed walls is compromised (usually involving Fujiko, who has been heavily shadowed by Aisha-Almeda’s cronies since her very first encounter with Oscar). So, even outside of the laboratory drug haze that snags both Lupin and Zenigata, Oscar shows signs of triggering around Glaucus and its owls.
Pain brings you back to reality, unless it’s one you can’t face
Post-visit, Oscar’s behavior changes dramatically: he leans away from Zenigata on the ride back to the airport, giving off strongly closed body language where before he’d hung on the Inspector’s every word. He has visibly shaken reactions to the mere mention of Fujiko, as if you can see the idea for the next episode being planted. And unlike Fujiko not a single soul, not even the man who raised him, makes any comment along the lines of ‘hey, it seems like there’s something going on with the kid.’ More on that next time.
Themes: There’s a great deal of identity play at work in this week’s episode. Dr. Kaiser’s inability to refer to his daughter by her name not only keeps the twist going (notice that it’s always either Lupin or Zenigata that designates the girl in the photos/the test subject as Fujiko Mine), but also subtextually calls upon a pattern of dehumanization – if Kaiser (who has two thumbs and an easy stereotypically evil German name? THIS GUY) thinks of his tochter rather than “Aisha,” then he can continue to convince himself that he’s working for the greater good.
By giving his daughter he gave up a nonspecific personal possession (much as fathers traditionally gave away brides to their husbands, like beloved property). By giving up Aisha he would have committed a grievous sin not only to his flesh and blood but to another human being, and he would have been even less able to live with himself (a more extreme version of depersonalization is often used by serial killers – think Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs).
The idea of women as depersonalized tools – to which we are sympathetic, but unwilling to NOT sacrifice them for some of other purpose – plays into that good old fashioned trope “Women in Refrigerators” (as coined by comic book writer Gail Simone). For those unaware, the trope deals with a character death (usually female) that structurally exists only to cause the (usually male) main character pain and give them motivation (there is no more perfectly packaged example of this than Russell Crowe’s smiling, identity-less dead family in Gladiator).
Aisha is made a blank slate for the pain and wants of others over and over again – for her father, who needs a tool to ingratiate himself into the research facility and make his life’s work feel worthwhile; for Almeda, who wanted a blank slate to write his ideal of the perfect bride upon; even for Fujiko, who took on the burden of her memories and overcame them for a time, painting the false image of the scarred femme fatale so popular in noir and its sister genres. Knowing that, it makes memory-Aisha’s refrain – that this is her story – at once true and unbearably sad, for it’s only after the fact that we’ll know what she meant at all – once it’s too late to change the course of it or for her to write any future stories that are truly her own.
Buckle up, folks. Next week’s gonna be a doozy.