Franz is better than you. And me. None of us are good enough to deserve Franz.
Episode Specifics: Albert finally confronts the Count, who reveals that he’d been using Albert as a pawn in his revenge scheme from the very beginning. Hurt and enraged, Albert challenges him to a duel at dawn. Mercedes tries to reach Edmond only to be told he no longer exists; Franz, realizing he won’t be able to talk Albert out of the duel, decides to take matters into his own hands.
The cinematography pulls out all the stops on its thing with eyes this episode. It’s not just a lot of faces cast in shadow (the only scene that takes place in a clear, brightly lit room this time around is the heartbreaking reunion between Franz and Eugenie) during bits of self-reflection or plotting; oh no, full on camera-facing models have their eyes blacked out or obscured, hammering home the Count’s point about now being almost totally a vessel for Gankutsuou. The most poignant break from this, then, becomes the moment when we observe the Count in his room weeping for what he’s about to do – a face and soul completely gone by the time he’s dressing for the duel.
Lot of red, too: the hellish red lighting of the confession scene, the bright red of Mercedes’ dress in contrast with her prior wardrobe of blues and greens, a particular emphasis on the red in Haydee’s wardrobe, the red glow of the Count’s spreading infection, etc. It’s both a passionate color and one with those good old-fashioned hellish undertones; and it also appears around decisive characters here, for good or ill (okay, mostly ill).
And yes, we’re reaching the saturation point on the series’ use of CGI. For the most part its use here lends certain scenes a hint of the uncanny, most notably in the mech scene (oh boy, the mech scenes) but also in the shattering of the watch. In those particular instances, it highlights a sense of unnatural influence in Albert’s life. Things like the panning shot of the manor before we go INTO said mech scene….slightly less so. Hey, it’s not the worst use of Gonzo CG.
Character Spotlight: Character talk is all over this post in bits and pieces, so this feels as good a time as any to nod to the voice actors (again, I can’t be bothered with the dub in this particular case; whatever vocal director decided to give Franz a lisp needs to SIT IN THE CORNER AND THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY DID). There is a reason this role propelled Jun Fukuyama to stardom. He has passionate command of the opening scene even alongside veteran actor Joji Nakata, and plays the complex undercurrent of Albert’s emotional dilemma throughout the episode (angry, hurt, sad, scared, boisterous).
It’s brilliant – for my money, one of the best roles he’s ever done. It seemed particularly relevant to point it out here, given what a crossroads this is for the characters, and how many highs and lows need to be portrayed within a very short span of time. Hell, at least half of what makes Albert so believable and endearing as a character, even when he’s being too stupid for words, is Fukuyama’s performance.
And y’know what? Props to the thusfar unsung work of Daisuke Hirakawa as Franz (who is going to hurt me so much more in the next episode). He’s better known these days as Rei in Swimming Anime, but he brings great pathos to a role that requires a lot of restraint and secrecy.
Courtly Intrigue Update: The dynamics of the Count’s followers is of particular interest this episode (by the way, remember Baptisin? He’s off doing STUFF because of REASONS during all this, I guess). The fact that we don’t dig at all into Bertuccio’s backstory comes into play again in the oddest way, since the Count only names Haydee as far as people he only keeps around for the purpose of revenge. Mostly this seems to be a way of furthering the thematic connection between Haydee and Albert as more or less equally situated as the most important people in the Count’s life, but it creates interesting implications on the side. He’s almost the Count’s Franz-equivalent, and yet a near-complete unknown. To show him even thinking of questioning the Count toward the episode’s end is to hint at something seriously wrong.
Haydee’s arc in the background of this continues to be kind of the best, as she tries to shift through how important she REALLY is to the Count and what that means for her, and as she faces the prospect of living a life where her revenge has been completed and with the Count no longer at her side. The small gestures of Bertuccio attending to her when she’s distressed are beautifully small and pointed in an episode with a lot of big, showy emotions.
Adaptation Corner: The Richard Chamberlain adaptation we saw last time was the start of the brief realization that perhaps this massive doorstop of a novel was better suited for television than the constrictions of the silver screen. This led to a swatch of miniseries, both of which pull us merrily back into “things I have to talk about somewhat vaguely because of language barriers.” Turns out there isn’t a plethora of easily available subtitles for period pieces from over 30 years ago (though if you speak French or Russian, YouTube does have your back as far as the raws are concerned).
Hong Kong serial The Great Vendetta seems as good a place as any to start, since it reportedly exists – I’ve found a few discussion boards talking about it, and enough sites requesting copies of it to create a semi-legit resume – but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of copy online without the use of torrents, much less anything in the way of subtitles. This was from 1977, two years before the Japanese TV serial we discussed a while ago (which ALSO doesn’t seem to exist online – I would guess there’s the same problem with both shows not being considered for conservation).
In the novel’s home country of France there was a miniseries starring Jacques Weber (who’s most famous acting role is probably in Cyrano de Bergerac, but he’s done a boggling amount of work as a triple-threat writer/actor/director). But even more famous than that (because Edmond has become a prestige role over the years, if you couldn’t tell) is the 1998 miniseries starring Gerard Depardieu.
I’ve told a small lie – the ’98 miniseries did receive a proper US release with English subtitles, and so is probably technically existent somewhere. Rather, this is a case of your analyst falling down a bit on the job in not shelling out the dough to pick it up. And in watching of what raw clips I could find and doing some reading on the rest….I cannot say I’m too eager to correct this oversight or to recommend the series to you (though in my research I also learned that there was a proper 26 episode UK version that’s apparently also disappeared into the sands of time). Six hours of miniseries, and you cut Eugenie entirely while adding some new cul-de-sac love interest for the Count whom he doesn’t even end up with? Including Andrea but not the court scene? There are choices, and then there are CHOICES.
Themes: We’ve talked about the idea of “missed connections” before, mostly around the topic of unrequited love. It’s a little different here – what we have here are legitimate connections gone sour, places where there was once trust allowing secrets and pain to blossom. It’s the existence rather than the absence of reciprocal emotion that causes so much of the pain at play here (notably, Eugenie plays the series’ leitmotif here, and while Franz calls it a romantic tune…we know the lyrics are about lovers who were torn apart).
Eugenie believe that her friendship with Franz means she can trust him to be open, because she’s offering that openness on her end. Mercedes believes that because she still holds feelings in her heart for Edmond, he must feel the same. Albert assumes that because Franz has always stood by him, he’ll continue to do so in the way Albert wants. All of these come from benignly selfish beliefs, and a desire to make a happier future. It is, of course, rarely true; in Franz’s case it lets him deceive his two friends while isolating himself, and in Edmond’s case the desire to prove that he’s moved away from that bond pushes him more firmly into a decision that was clearly tormenting him.
This general theme marks the biggest shift from the novel – the point at which it doesn’t just bend but snaps entirely, you could say. The turning point for Edmond was originally at the point of this duel. Albert challenged him on behalf of his father’s honor (various adaptations play with how much he WANTS this versus how much he just feels obligated by societal pressures), and Mercedes came to Edmond begging NOT to rekindle their relationship but just to spare Albert’s life. And….he does. To the point of accepting that doing so would probably mean his own death.
Here, the focus on Albert’s crush means that his decision is necessarily locked more to his own arc and his own pride – fittingly enough, since that puts him in a position to potentially repeat the metaphorical sins of the fathers. It also makes his bullheadedness slightly more palatable, since this is now about his own wounded heart rather than trying to protect his father’s pride (which simply wouldn’t work here, given the rather stiff, formal distance between them and the events of the last episode). Hell, Mercedes doesn’t even know about the duel when she goes to see Edmond. The broad strokes of the events here are the same, but the differences in intent have a huge knock-on effect.
In the end, the desire for happiness isn’t enough on its own. The Count taunts Albert for his desire to embrace his delusions rather than see the truth of things, but just about every character is guilty of this, and it damns them all to a degree. The key to redemption for every character is a willingness to embrace not just the facts but the flaws of other people and proceed with honesty. The only truly clearheaded pursuer of truth from beginning to end is Franz (who is notably marked out from the selfish intentions going around this episode as he silently deliberates holding Albert but decides that would be taking advantage of his friend – I reliably start crying around this point). This will go great for him.