This episode kicked my ass six ways to Sunday, I’ll tell you what. Every time.
Episode Specifics: The morning of the duel dawns. Not recognizing that his silent opponent isn’t actually Albert, the Count proceeds to lay a brutal beating on the pilot of the Morcerf armor, not just disabling the armor but stabbing the pilot through with a sword. Franz, planning to make a sacrifice all along, uses this opportunity to drive his own sword into the last living part of the Count – his heart. But even that isn’t enough, and while the point of the blade lodges itself inside the Count’s body he’s able to keep moving. Arriving at the park not even half an hour after the duel began, Albert is able to do nothing but watch as his oldest friend dies in his arms.
As if to make up for the ever-so-slightly wonky CGI mechs (which do at least benefit the most from the uncanny futurism excuse of all the integrated art), there’s an exemplary focus on body language and general physicality in this episode. Franz’s stance inside the armor is uncertain and obviously amateur, the work of someone who’s had maybe one or two lessons with another amateur in using a sword: he shifts on his feet when taking the starting position, his hands shake on his sword, and he’s the first to attack and thus cede his advantage. All this in sharp contrast with the Count, whose movements are small and comparatively minimal until he becomes aware that Mercedes is watching and feels the need to perform his viciousness (might there have been, on some level, a part of him that was holding back and using disabling but not lethal attacks up until then? We’ll never know).
The visual imagery goes out of its way to be damned cruel too. We open with the three kids on the beach, shown to us with a literal nostalgia filter over the screen that obscures their faces and makes the image hazy and slightly indistinct – the better to make a callback at the end of the series. And then we cut from that rosy image DIRECTLY TO THE HORRIBLE DEATH MASK OF LUNA. It’s both a portent and a sign of things coming full circle for Franz, reminding us of a not chance meeting that set this child’s death in motion – this child who had not one damn thing to do with the Count’s revenge plot, but is going to be cut down anyway. And then if that’s not enough, the midpoint of the episode is a brutal freezeframe of the two mechs against – yes you guessed it – the still-visible moon.
Character Spotlight: So, Franz. Our seeker of objective capital-T Truth. A character who is the best person in the story because he doesn’t seem to believe he deserves to be selfish. He once selfishly had a fight with his father as a child, and it so happened to be the last time he saw the man. It seems as if that magical thinking has held some degree of unconscious sway over Franz his entire life – even the beginning of the anime reinforces it for him, as we discussed so long ago. He fights with Albert, and then Albert is kidnapped and almost killed; further, Albert is saved by a man who goes on to ruin him. And, not knowing the Count’s full plan and how far its reach extended, I suspect Franz blamed himself for that too. Because Franz can be objective about everyone but himself.
“Valentine deserves a better husband than me, someone who will actually love her rather than just being able to provide for her.”
“The system won’t let me marry Albert, so I don’t deserve to upset his orderly life by confessing my feelings.”
“Eugenie is already beset by worries about her home life. She doesn’t need to be burdened with my worries and fears.”
Trying to think of everyone else without counting the fact that he himself is loved and wanted, Franz closes himself off and eventually backs himself into a corner. Probably from there it was easier to think of throwing his life away as the only option – to make a grand final attempt to kill the Count rather than just having no one show up for the duel (because, I suppose, that might make Albert look cowardly; as though his place in society isn’t already thoroughly ruined).
Franz deserved better. From himself most of all.
Courtly Intrigue Update: The duel is legitimate on the grounds that Albert holds the rank of viscount. Franz is a baron, and he was named as Albert’s second. Franz had no children and was the last child of his line. So we have witnessed the completely legal snuffing out of an entire family tree. Future France, everybody!
The note of Edmond scoffing at “Albert” for going through with things as the son of a soldier is perhaps the most beautifully savage nod to the actual mechanisms of the original plot and how frankly contrived it is that I can think of. The fact that Fernand has NOTHING to do with this makes it even better.
And on the subject, this also briefly touches on one of Edmond’s major motivations: that his father died of starvation while he was in prison. Which…the way it’s mentioned here (right the fuck outta NOWHERE, almost, certainly the first mention since the Count’s visit to Marseilles) plays more to the implication that he’s railing against the general cruelty of the rich’s neglect killing the poor. Which would explain why he’s throwing all of it at “Albert,” who would’ve had nothing to do with it anyway.
Adaptation Corner: As we get later and later in the timeline we start to get away from exact adaptations, as the Wikipedia entry starts dotting itself with what you might call “inspired bys.” We’ve moved now largely into the 2000s, when costume dramas fell out of vogue for a stretch as big budget filmmakers became obsessed with the offerings of booming CGI technology (though there is one more big flashy movie adaptation to go).
But in and around that? Lotta mulch. I mean, yes, if you turn your head and squint Forever Mine has a rather Monte Cristo-esque plot: this asshole frames a guy in order to get up at his girl, years later the wronged guy disguises himself as a high profile person (a lawyer in this case) and conspires to get revenge. Which is technically the basic, basic plot of the novel. It’s also pretty close to the plot of Sweeney Todd, which was based off of a series of penny dreadfuls from 1846 – a year later after the publication of Dumas’ novel.
The novel has started to come somewhat full circle, going from being based very broadly on a true life story of a falsely accused man to being a vague sketch of a narrative that stands culturally as “wronged man seeks revenge, a woman is probably involved.” Thanks no doubt in part to years of adaptations that focus heavily on the Chateau D’If section, a lot of conception of what happens after the prison escape seems to be murky at best. Fancy clothes, definitely. Murder, probably? Profit. Which is perhaps to be expected; after all, we’ve talked more than our share about closer adaptations needing to grapple with all sorts of historical context to make the basic narrative setup sensible.
Themes: It was inevitable that Franz was going to get the axe in a story like this, in some respects. He’s the closest Albert has to a true mentor and voice of reason, even if Albert refuses to listen for a long while. And part of the traditional hero’s journey is the removal of the mentor so the hero has to stand on their own and devise their own beliefs. There are a lot of different methods to do that – stepping aside, betrayal, incapacitation in some manner or other that requires passing on a mantle – but death is by far the most popular. Lot of mentors get straight up Obi Wan’d.
But it’s a strange skewing of the practice here, because Franz isn’t an adult. Maybe just barely in the eyes of the law, but he’s not much older than Albert. His life isn’t “fulfilled” in the way that most mentor roles are when they go about passing things on to the next generation. Which begs the question: what did Franz teach Albert?
Because for all that Franz learns about the Count’s backstory, that’s more for the audience’s backstory than anything. It seems he DOES share what he knows about Edmond Dantes, but the Gankutsuou stuff? He’s still trying to protect his friend from that, in a way that he ultimately wouldn’t if his role were to share harsh truths. He does TRY, particularly early in the series, but Albert is quick to brush him off or outright accuse him of bias. So he changes tactics and goes to gather irrefutable evidence before he tries again.
But he doesn’t stop looking out for Albert even when it fails to benefit him. Franz isn’t just the tragic unrequited lover who puts his crush’s wellbeing above his own – he’s literally the personification of the show’s ideal of unconditional love. He’s supportive but unwilling to indulge in delusion, and unwilling to give up on trying to save the person he loves from themself (which, um, sometimes in real life you have to pick your point to cut and run to avoid STABBING, but in fiction it can go on and be noble).
And Albert takes that lesson from him. Once he reaches the absolute bottom and starts clawing his way out, he stops thinking in terms of himself. He becomes an Albert who understands the feelings of others, who is willing to put their wellbeing above all even if it means that he in turn will be separated from them. He puts himself at risk and demands the truth from the people around him, and that they stop lying to themselves as well. By the end of the series, Albert becomes someone who could’ve truly recognized Franz’s feelings and loved him back.
Too bad Franz had to die to get him there.