This haunted mansion does not have nearly enough paintings with the eyes cut out.
Episode Specifics: The Count invites the three most powerful families of Paris to his retreat in the forest of Auteuil, a place laden with foreboding and hints of past misdeeds. While the Count claims he’s come to make friends, the night shows the breakdown of various relationships, until at last events climax with a scavenger hunt for a room preserved as it was under previous owners – the supposed source of the haunted aura pervading the grounds. Albert’s search party arrives first, but something about the small box serving as the prize sends Madame Danglars into a horrified swoon.
This episode might mark the peak of the show’s ability to use its CGI to emphasize a sense of uncanniness. While the halls of the Count’s apartment were grand and obviously artificial, the glimpses we catch of the mansion evoke a sense of downright non-Euclidean wrongness. The often inscrutable lighting gives us corners and glimpses, evoking a sense of the haunted aura the characters are sensing long before the visuals start playing with hellish red lighting.
This is also an especially good time to take a step back and cry some more over Franz. This episode draws a lot of comparisons between his feelings for Albert (in case you somehow missed it before or didn’t clue into all this talk about why he’s not interested in Valentine, the anime makes sure to cut from Albert putting Franz in a headlock to a statue of lovers embracing) and Albert’s ongoing crush on the Count. Take a look, for example, at how the two big confession scenes are staged: Albert and Franz are on the balcony, “above” all of the lovers below having a spat; Franz might be young and a bit selfish (there’s certainly a sense by the end that he’s partly goading Albert to change the subject, and partly because that means they’ll be physically close), but he truly loves Albert and would do anything for him; by contrast, the Count takes care to make his confession in a hidden, secret room that looks like it once housed a cloister (or, well, a confessional); he gets down on one knee in fine Akio Ohtori fashion, making Albert feel specially bonded by their intimate secret and thus more likely to defend the Count down the line (deferring suspicion and serving as a potential inroad into other areas of high society).
There’s a decidedly sexual undercurrent to this episode that wasn’t there before – Franz teases Albert about Andrea being the Count’s new favorite by saying he probably has “all kinds of talents,” and the pre-episode intro (which is always worth investigating for the specificity of its wording) talks about Albert’s “innocence being destroyed.” Which is true emotionally, of course, but it’d be naïve to suggest there wasn’t a level of heightened awareness about physicality here (no doubt forefronted in Albert’s mind by the encounter in the greenhouse). I don’t want to talk about it too much, because frankly there’s a big honking discussion to be had about this plot in all its context when it comes to a head (and Albert’s crush as a whole; hoo boy is there a lot to talk about), but keep this mini-arc earmarked as a place where the chivalric subtext (as much as it’s made explicit here by the Count taking on the pose of a knight in fealty) starts turning into something else.
Character Spotlight: Once again we’re putting off the character you might expect our discussion to center on – I assure you that there will be plenty of opportunities down the line to discuss That Sparkly Bastard); instead, let’s briefly examine one of the few wholesale cuts from the book. Bertuccio doesn’t get too much focus in the anime, a fact I’m pretty okay with. His loyalty to the Count is almost better served by its ambiguity alongside the greater focus on Albert and Haydee, and there’s a sense in his design and the staged focus on occasional small reactions that help create a sense of still waters running deep.
Mostly the addition of explicit backstory for Bertuccio is in the great Victor Hugo tradition of “holy shit, what are the odds” as far as setting up the conspiracy in this episode – hence why we’re bringing it up now. Also, because it’s always worth pointing out that book!Edmond is sometimes just an unaccountable dick to his closest confidantes.
‘Well, Monsieur!’ Bertuccio cried. ‘That man [Villefort], with his unblemished reputation…’
‘He is a villain!’
‘Pah!’ said Monte Cristo. ‘Impossible.’
‘Yet it is true.’
‘Really?’ said Monte Cristo. ‘Do you have proof of this?’
‘I did have it.’
‘And you have lost it, you oaf?’
‘Yes; but if we look carefully, we can find it.’
‘Can we indeed?’ said the count. ‘Well then, tell me about it, Monsieur Bertuccio, because I am starting to become seriously interested in what you say.’
Just take a minute to drink in the O RLY on display there. I’ll wait. Actually, while I wait let me give you the cliffnotes on Bertuccio’s story. His brother fought as a Bonapartist (seriously, historical context in this novel: all of it) and appeared to have been killed during a very bloody battle – however, his death came by way of “the dagger and not the sword.” So Bertuccio goes to Villefort and demands he, as Crown Prosecutor, find out who was responsible for this slaying. Villefort, who lest we forget got to power by snuggling up to the Royalists, basically tells Bertuccio to take a flying leap and insults his brother’s honor for good measure. Vengeances are sworn, stalking is done, so on.
Bertuccio finally catches a man who he thinks is Villefort at the house in Auteuil, and sees him bury a small coffin box (that’d be the one the Count uses as his “prize”). Bertuccio sets upon the man and stabs him, digs up the box thinking it’s a fortune he can give it to his brother’s widow, and finds instead a baby (which, through various shenanigans, his sister in law ends up raising, and the kid was always a Bad Seed and yadda yadda for another day). So it’s another case of what’s ominously foreshadowed to us in the anime being straight up told in the novel as a future chess piece for the Count’s use.
While technically speaking Bertuccio gets less development in the anime, I can’t help but prefer it to his novel characterization. There’s a sense of a great unspoken history, that because he speaks least and is least known to the audience he might be one of the closest to truly understanding the Count in all his facets; it creates a dynamic unique from having him be just another collected pawn with a likeminded vendetta against one of the Count’s targets (as Haydee is, when boiled down to basic plot purpose). Speaking volumes by saying nothing, as it were.
Courtly Intrigue Update: In which we are told by whispers that Madame Danglars and Villefort had an affair, and later a child; the house at Auteuil, in fact, belonged to the father of Villefort’s first wife (Valentine’s mother, who died young and from whose death Villefort seems never to have recovered). I presume I’m surprising none of you by saying the sparkly blond bastard who shows up out of nowhere in the cut directly after Madame Danglars bemoans the fate of her lost child might have something to do with the whole affair – the episode is so patently unsubtle about it that I can only assume it’s meant to be a surprise to the characters and of a horrified Shakespearean inevitability to the rest of us. Which, by the way, also means that Andrea was (quite deliberately) hitting on his half-sister.
Adaptation Corner: While we’ve mostly concentrated on American adaptations of the book up to now, that’s far from the only place where it was popular, even in the early 20th century. Mexico had two adaptations, one in 1941 and one in 1954. The former seems to be quite celebrated as a work of classic cinema, co-directed by future multi-award winner Roberto Gavaldón (tragicamente, mi español es horrible – estudì lo en escuela mas de cinco años hace). None of the versions I was able to find online have subtitles, so I’m afraid I’m quite unable to comment on quality of translation or acting (though at a whopping three hours, the 1942 film might be the most complete movie version of the film).
Though at least those exist online. The same cannot be said of The Prince of Revenge, an Egyptian adaptation that came out in 1950. It is interesting that most of the adaptations of this period, including those we’ve covered before (with the exception, perhaps, of the French Countess of Monte Cristo) put the majority of their focus on the moralistic satisfaction of a man taking out those who wronged them. Boiled down, most simply, to a fight of Good vs Evil – which, given the precipitation of WWII around much of them, was often a recurrent theme in film (I wish dearly Prince of Revenge was available – I should have liked to see the filmic sensibilities of a nation who wasn’t one of the major players in the worldwide conflict, though they were doubtlessly affected; and what it made of their thematic emphases at the time).
Themes: While last week was heavy on its discussion of poisons and poisoners, it’s here that that idea really takes hold in all its myriad forms – starting with the mansion itself. At the time when the original novel was written, germ theory (the idea that disease is caused by small microorganisms entering the body) was a few decades away from really taking hold. Far more prevalent was miasma theory – the idea that there was “good” and “bad” air, and inhaling the latter was what made a person sick.
And so it is that this supposed aura pervading the Count’s new home seems to bring out the worst in all his visitors: Lucien fights with Madame Danglars, who is beside herself with nerves and remembered guilt (and her eventual collapse makes for the strongest instance of this phenomenon); Heloise begins overtly attempting to poison Valentine, Villefort is violently defensive, and Albert is seduced even more deeply by the Count. They’re all breathing manufactured bad air, and being taken under by the machinations at play.
Like the concept of breathing disease from the air itself, there’s a sense of being poisoned by proximity: the Count choses the three innocent children to lead the various search parties, and we know he’s quite willing to see them all ruined in the name of stabbing at the men who wronged him – damnation by association (a theme that’s going to become even more explicit and entwined with the concept of poisoning by the next episode).