It’s been a minute, huh?
Episode Specifics: Back in Future Paris, Albert has to face the fallout of the accusations against his father. The press is swarming, poor Eugenie is locked in her house and watched around the clock, and everywhere he goes people are confirming that yes, Fernand is the actual worst. Not just Lucien and Beauchamp, but his own mother, who reveals her origins and tells him they have to take responsibility for their actions because Mercedes is underrated inside her story and out. In Marseilles, Franz puts together the truth behind Edmond Dantes, and rushes back to Paris to try and prevent Albert from doing something irreversibly stupid.
As the show hurtles to the arguable end of its second act (our hero’s lowest point is a couple episodes away yet), we spend a lot of time here mimicking shots from the beginning of the story. The final scene with Albert watching the Count’s ship in particular is a reverse of watching is mirrored to his first meeting with the Count. Because of course, he’s only now truly “meeting” him with eyes fully unclouded. There’s also a pretty on-point use of a Dutch angle during Albert’s talk with Luigi Vampa, visualizing the sickening tilt threatening to unsettle all Albert knows about the world.
The conceit of the opening and closing – have we talked about that yet? – makes itself a little more obvious this time too. The whole story is opened by Gankutsuou, framing and telling us what happened though its warped perspective, and always ends with Albert doing the next episode previews – the voice of hope and the next generation. Here, though, Gankutsuou makes reference to Edmond officially throwing away his connections and humanity, while Albert is lost and begging someone to give him perspective. We have been thoroughly unsettled and are in need of a new framework, as evidenced by the shift in the episode titles from flowery poetry to single words.
Character Spotlight: Beauchamp, like Lucien, is one of those characters juuuuuuuuuuust enough on the periphery of continual use that he feels like a part of the world rather than the plot device he kinda sorta is. That’s baked into the novel, of course, which has such a large cast that at least half of them trot merrily through to perform their set duty in the revenge scheme and then either get killed or vanish off to parts unknown (see also: book!Franz). But it’s difficult to begrudge, because even while working as a plot device Beauchamp is also a pretty important thematic figure.
We’ve had an “outsider” perspective to the soap opera of the aristocracy in the form of Maximilien, who’s now grown up enough to apologize to Franz for assuming things about his life because of the difference in their upbringing and values (it would be nice if Valentine were conscious for any of this character growth, but we can’t have everything I guess). Max was there to blunt-force Albert’s misconceptions in the early episodes of the series, coming from a base level because that’s what our protagonist could understand. With Franz, we have two adults talking at an adult level, about what you sacrifice to make your way in life and what hurts you accept as inevitable.
Beauchamp is also there to take up the position of “the aristocracy’s kinda fucked up, isn’t it?” But his role is about something larger than Maximilien’s, because at the end of the day the latter was real mad because the girl he liked was unavailable – arguably as selfish as Albert but with a more defensible position. Meanwhile, Beauchamp’s article isn’t about him – it’s about what’s right, making him one of the few characters (besides Franz, who is too good and pure and flowers grow where he has stepped) to put what he believes to be the most ethical course of action ahead of himself.
He’s not a nice guy necessarily, but he’s got his head on straight, and the small but crucial change from the book of not having him reveal what he knows to Albert takes it a step back from being a personal story. Yes, this is undoubtedly ruining Albert’s life. But there is a world outside of the soap opera carrying on amongst the upper class (one of the nicest nods to this is that Peppo, dressed in her old outfit, has a visible scar on her arm from the brand in the second episode; a consequence impossible to notice while she was playing Albert’s maid).
Courtly Intrigue Update: This is another “checkpoint” episode, with Albert essentially going up the chain to the source of why his life is now a steaming garbage fire. Here’s where we learn that yes, the bandits have been working for the Count since the kidnapping on Luna, if not before (the near eyeball-stabbing added to the anime seems to suggest the former).
The biggest problem is that this also means we come the closest in the series to Albert acting unaccountably dumb in order to make the structure work. While Albert is idealistic and loyal to a fault, he’s also done a lot of growing up over the series; and while wanting to hold his world together and believe in his father, maybe THREE separate occasions of people (two of them involving loved ones) offering their own incontrovertible facts is perhaps a bit overkill. But that’s the way the script needs it to work so that we can check up on the schemes coming to fruition on every level, and so Albert has to put on his dum-dum goggles one more time to make the pacing work the way it needs to and leave Albert open to being totally blindsided by the Count.
Adaptation Corner: The 1975 UK adaptation has to be one of the most star-studded TV movies I’ve ever seen. We’re talking Richard Chamberlain, Tony Curtis, Donald Pleasance – it’s a who’s who of big 70s names, and it shows. Chamberlain in particular is thus far the best at making a logical continuity between his portrayal of Edmond and the Count, throwing in an undercurrent of jealous anger from the word go and an effective building intensity during the prison scenes (which have some genuinely affecting moments, like a nice, quiet scene where Edmond bursts into tears on seeing Faria, the first person he’s been able to touch and speak to in eight years).
The camera work’s a little shoddier, with some downright baffling cuts that have nothing with commercial breaks (notably, during the duel between Fernand and Edmond, we cut from a midshot of the two of them on the ground to a wide shot where suddenly they’re on the table without tracking any movement in between; HOW DO CONTINUITY). It’s very proud of its one cunningly deployed Dutch angle during Villefort’s downfall, too. And the acting isn’t ENTIRELY unscathed – there are some cheeseball overacting moments and poor Albert in particular walks in and out of his designated plot point looking deeply confused.
And boy, there were some CHOICES made in adaptation. A lot of the ones in the early going are sensible – Caderousse was on the Pharon stealing shit and Edmond got him arrested, giving him a stake in the revenge plot; Haydee’s the only one of the Count’s servants we see, the framing device follows Edmond the entire time rather than trying to make the book’s “swap to whole new protagonists to play up the mystery” thing work.
A lot of stuff falls into SURE WHY NOT, like nixing the whole “Fernand changed his name” thing, Andrea killing Caderousse not because of bribery gone wrong but during a duel because…they were thieves together I guess and Andrea left him high and dry, sure; and having Danglars commit suicide rather than Fernand. But even with keeping things in the vein of watching Edmond pull his revenge together, the back half is full of weird choices that I half suspect were done just because nobody really had yet. This is the first version we’ve covered to feature Haydee and Andrea, for example, and bless Haydee’s actor (Isabelle de Valvert) in particular for really pulling out some dignity for a slip of a role.
Mostly it forgets a lot of things – there’s a HINT of the “Andrea horning in on Albert’s fiancée” plot (which is Valentine again, except she has…some completely different personality), but after two scenes we never see her again; Albert exists in the barest form that he has to so that the plot can keep moving, and the revelation the Count has after sparing the kid doesn’t…really count for anything. He still pursues and succeeds in his revenge to the end, with the caveat that he has Fernand sent to prison. And then, despite having THE MOST SWEEPING ROMANTIC SCORE and being desperately in love with a heroic portrayal of the lead, the film ends on Mercedes rejecting him and leaving to find her son before he does something dumb.
Themes: Just who are “the people?” What does that mean? The episode offers them in two modes – on the one hand the nebulous “they” to whom Beauchamp is speaking, the subjects of the noblesse oblige Albert will come around to by the end of the series; but they’re also a faceless mob, rendered in a collective monochrome as something dangerous that can destroy an individual. The truth becomes even more important for how easily they’ll accept a lie, since before this we see them standing around to watch an interview with Andrea.
It’s an interesting dichotomy, as the idea of the masses is only ever a nebulous concept, framed by how it affects the life of the individual. But at the same time, the message isn’t sold as “just please yourself, because you can’t please everyone.” Rather, over and over again the story emphasizes how the influence of individuals shapes the world. Three men betray a fourth, and set a cataclysm in motion a generation later. Each of Edmond’s betrayers are in powerful positions where their personal grievances ripple out to change (or end) the lives of people we will never meet. The Count establishes himself as a villain when he bets on the lives of men about to be executed, which isn’t supposed to matter because they’re mostly unnamed strangers.
It’s a cyclical, interconnected addition to this version of the story that takes what was implicit in parts of the novel and elevates it, using the broad cultural difference of Western vs Eastern story structure. Edmond in the book eventually feels the need to redress what he’s personally affected (eventually), but Albert in the anime comes around to realizing that he needs to be his honest and best self, because the consequences of his actions are constant and inherently unpredictable.