Sometimes you just have to sit back and recognize that the Count is exceptionally gifted at trolling.
Episode Specifics: The visit to the Count’s wondrous home goes sour when the topic turns to love: unable to accept that Parisian aristocracy marry for financial gain rather than romance, Maximilien curses the lot of them; and Albert, still trying to chase away fears about his mother, challenges the man to a duel to defend the honor of his parents’ loving union. Goaded by the Count, things quickly and dangerously escalate, and the Count must rescue Albert from the deadly waters of the underground sea – handily giving him another chance to win the young man’s trust. But Albert is most shaken by a question he was unable to answer in the duel: is it true you don’t love your fiancée?
When it comes to his relationships with his servants, Edmond is universally benefitted by his switch from vengeful pseudo-protagonist to charming antagonist. The Count is an asshole about his associates, is what I’m saying, going out of his way to seem rude and dismissive of them in front of others (that scene in the book where Franz meets the disguised Count on Monte Cristo? There’s a whole alarming speech in there about how the Count rescued Ali from execution, but waited until they’d cut the poor man’s tongue out because he’d always wanted a mute slave) – the equivalent here being the doll speech when Haydee is introduced. It’s frankly kind of impressive how far they go to step around the fact that the Count owns people, in spite of his more menacing turn.
That they picked Haydee is intriguing, because of all of them book Edmond goes out of his way to assure her (in private) that she’s a free woman, and that he loves her.
“Now Haydee,” he said, “you know that you are free, that you are your own mistress, that you are queen. You can keep you native costume, or change it as you wish. You can stay here whenever you like, and go out when you want to go out.”
And then a few paragraphs later, there’s a very pointed reversal of the flower speech Haydee gives in the anime.
“Yes, child,” said Monte Cristo. “You know very well that it will never be I who will elave you. It is not the tree that forsakes the flower, but the flower that forsakes the tree.”
And I want to find this sweet and humanizing but all I can think is HE RAISED HER AND SHE’S NEVER LEFT HIS SIDE TO BECOME HER OWN PERSON, SHE COMPARES HIM LIBERALLY TO HER FATHER, THIS RELATIONSHIP GIVES ME BAD FEELINGS.
The change in Haydee’s character – she’s Greek in the novel, but bears an undeniably Japanese aesthetic here – is perhaps the most overt case of the adaptors wanting to reflect an element of themselves and their culture in the western work they were adapting. Haydee’s role in the story calls to the traditional definition of the Yamato Nadeshiko archetype (a beautiful, ideal woman who’s polite, deferent, but has a practical nature spine of steel when defending her home and family – which cuts to the heart of Haydee’s own desire for revenge and her stance for much of the plot as the Count’s tether to reason). And given where she’s left standing when this version of the story comes to a close, it’s an interesting choice indeed.
Character Spotlight: There are a number of ways we could go with the discussion this week. We could talk about Maximilien, and how he’s been softened into a gentler character in adaptation (but that’s due in no small part to how Valentine’s role in the story has changed, so let’s hold off); we could talk about Haydee and her relative agency and place in the Count’s life (since this adaptation excises the subplot in the book where they become lovers), but Haydee’s arc is only beginning, and we’ll be talking about her a lot as a foil to Albert; no, today we’re going to talk about the Count, because that cave scene is entirely too gorgeous for your Analyst to resist.
While a great deal of pieces are set in motion this week, I’d argue that those few minutes of fireside melancholy are the height of the episode. It’s inarguable that the Count is manipulating Albert here, making himself out to be a wounded romantic figure who is slowly opening up, trusting Albert uniquely with his secret pain. It’s the fucking setup for Twilight up in here, the first of many times that we’ll see the Count play into a very chaste, adolescent ideal of the Brooding, Charming Mystery Man in order to keep Albert under his thumb.
But at the same time, none of what the Count says is exactly a lie, except by omission. He can technically say through all of this that he’s warning Albert to stay away, that he’s hollow and dead and everything about him is as artificial as this island. Of course, that would be willfully ignoring the fact that the context of all this is as a confidence, engineered to instill the HE’S TRUSTING ME AND I CAN CHANGE/HELP HIM hook right deep into Albert’s brain.
The image of the false sun and the cave is no coincidence – besides the overt comment the Count makes, it also serves as a visual representation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (readers from the Utena series will remember this; bear with me now, it’s a popular bit of philosophy and shows up a lot). In short form, some people are chained in a cave and spend their whole lives watching shadows cast on a wall by the fire. Since it’s all they know, they think it to be reality. One day, one of them breaks his chains and goes outside; however, when he tries to return and tell his fellows of this new truth, they all reject him in favor of the comforting, familiar shadows.
In this case, one could say it’s that Albert cannot conceive of the truth until he has experienced it himself – until he has been forced into the light, as it were. Sitting in a manmade cave under a manmade sun, of course the truth that’s being told to him will be filtered in through a passionate, exciting light (poor Franz spends his entire role in the show as the one who went outside). It begs the question of when Albert is led and when he actively rejects the truth in favor of his own fantasies and fears, which (as his ongoing fears about his mother show) he often conflates.
By the same token, just as the Count often lies and puts on a cruel veneer in regard to his associates, I’d argue that even as early as this he’s already lying to himself about his fondness for Albert. The more time he spends with the boy, the harder it becomes to think of his as only a pawn. The more truths about himself he uses to lure Albert in, the more he reveals small chinks in his armor. Everybody’s lying to everybody, themselves most of all.
Courtly Intrigue Update: So Albert, Franz, and Eugenie were childhood friends; and we have yet more evidence that Mercedes still pines over Edmond. But most important for what happens this episode, and the ones to come, is that Maximilien has fallen in love with Valentine, the daughter of Chief Prosecutor Villefort and Franz’s betrothed. Theirs is a loveless engagement, given that Franz is hopelessly pining away and all (a fact Valentine seems quite aware of).
Adaptation Corner: This week, 1940’s The Son of Monte Cristo. Ah, you perhaps thought it would take longer for us to reach the fanfic. But not so! The concept of authorial ownership of a work has changed quite a bit over the centuries, even with the beginning of copyright laws at the end of the 18th century – the question in particular of whether the publisher or creator owns the rights to a work in particular having changed a great deal (Shakespeare’s plays, for example, would have belonged to the playhouse and not to the man; which is why there’s no record left to him Roland Emmerich you pungent contrarian pustule – but I digress). The point is that this isn’t just fanfiction, it’s very old fanfiction: the story comes from an unofficial sequel of the same name written in 1881. Which, just to remind you, was less than half a century after the original novel was published. Though to be fair, I guess we have EL James now, so glass houses.
The plot is, no joke, basically the equivalent of Lupin III. The dashing rogue of a hero is the…well, guess; and while the story cashes that name recognition now and then, it would only take a few very minor rewrites for the thing to bear no connection at all to Dumas’ novel. We’re now in Lichtenberg and following the intrigue of General Gurko, who has overtaken the rightful monarchy and is keeping the beautiful, virtuous Zona around as a figure head. A botched attempt to go to France for aid leads to Zona crossing paths with young Monte Cristo, and he follows her back to her country and gets embroiled in the country’s political machinations. Swashbuckling etc. ensues.
It’s…not a great film. Watchable, but not great. It does bear a few surface-level similarities to the original novel: a falsely accused man goes to prison, there’s an important meeting in some catacombs, Monte Cristo insinuates himself into the palace by granting a loan from his vast fortune. But it couldn’t be more jarring in its thematic differences. While a good chunk of The Count of Monte Cristo takes place among the aristocracy, it’s also far from shy in its depiction of the corruption of those in power, and how bids for the same screw over the common populace. That’s the heart of what ultimately gets Edmond put away for all those years, never mind all the commentary about the terror and uncertainty the characters live under thanks to fencing between the self-declared Emperor and the King.
And yet, here we have a movie about a tender, rightheaded monarch who must be restored to power and how she suffers under this whole political coup business, while the rich (but man of the people!) Monte Cristo enlists all those conveniently patriotic common folk to help him restore the monarchy because hey, this lady is really pretty, and that’s as good a basis for a system of government as any. Of course, there’s more than a hint of the brewing Blacklist in the film’s script as well, with the term “proletariat” applied to the common-born despotic General. At the time when the film was made, a more tonally in line version of the story would’ve been absolutely treasonous.
Themes: What a convenient match up for that to be this week’s movie, because there are themes of classism all over the place in this episode. What makes it particularly nice is that we have more on display than the Poor and Honorable Maximilien and the out of touch Albert; cynical profiteer Beauchamp and Nouveau Riche manipulator Edmond create closer to a spectrum of corruption, where everyone is affected by and pulling the strings on this deeply unequal system of haves and have nots. The visuals highlight, over and over again, the inequality of the various parties, making liberal use of perspective (particularly upshots) to give a sense of who has power in a given moment – often in contrast with who thinks they’re in control.
Interestingly, in a downright Marxist spin on the text, Edmond’s wealth is here linked hand in hand with his loss of humanity. Not just the artificiality of his home, which is a pale recreation of Marseilles and the actual happiness he’s given up on recapturing; but in the hollowness of his persona itself. Since we never see the Edmond’s other disguises beyond his dual status as Gankutsuou and the Count, we have only the honest sailor before and the cold, unfeeling gentleman after, the latter both allowing him to have his revenge while slowly feeding on his soul (since, again, the truncation of backstory here more or less implies that it’s Gankutsuou itself supplies the funds through some kind of magical Mephistopheles side-benefit). This concept of the poisonous nature of wealth and privilege carries right on through to the end, actually. But I promised to tread lightly on anime-only events, so we’ll leave it there for now.