We’re going to finish these before the end of the year, watch and see.
Episode Specifics: Edmond and Fernand face one another in a duel, ending in a stand-off with Haidee and Albert’s lives on the line. Fernand concedes in an attempt to save his son’s life, but Edmond has been overtaken by the spirit of Gankutsuou and longs only to give his enemies suffering at any cost.
Albert breaks the spirit’s hold over Edmond with a kiss, causing his heart to start beating once again—and thus allowing the piece of sword Franz left behind to do its work. Dying, Edmond asks Haidee and Albert to remember his name as the palace beneath the Champs de Elysee crumbles away.
This episode can seem like a decided outlier compared to the rest of the series. Up to now, the series has mostly been characterized by the slow-burning calculations of the Count and the struggles of the cast that’s caught up in the bounds of Neo-Paris’ suffocating nobility. But this shift in tone isn’t out of nowhere—in fact, the show’s been quietly setting up for it.
Edmond Dantes—or rather, Gankutsuou, and the Count of Monte Cristo—have been running the show up til now. The episodes are framed by Gankutsuou’s commentary on the action in the episode recaps, and the Count’s machinations have pushed the buttons of every character in the series. The show’s tone, pacing, and framing has all been keyed to the Count’s control of the situation. But here, all bets are off. The Count has achieved his goal, and Gankutsuou—an embodiment of emotion—is taking control.
Thus, the tone here is one of sturm und drang. All of the emotions that have been simmering under the surface now burst out in sword fights and tears and dramatic speeches about love and death. It’s the moment of catharsis the series so badly needed. The source material for this story is, after all, melodrama, a revenge tale about big emotions and the dramatic actions they cause. At some point Gankutsuou had to deal with that. It only makes sense that it would be here, in the palace Gankutsuou helped the Count build, when the spirit of vengeance is in full control. It’s an exorcism of a kind, balanced out by the quieter epilogue that follows.
Character Spotlight: The subject this time is the Count’s palace itself, as much a character in this episode as any of the players upon its stage. As I mentioned above, the Count’s majestic apartments are likely the work of Gankutsuou. There’s no overt commentary in-series on that point, but it feels like a significant omission in adaptation not to even offhandedly mention the secret stash of treasure that’s such an important part of the novel. Rather, all things for this Count were provided by Gankutsuou—while there might have been actual coin exchanged for the construction of those lavish apartments, they still fall under the domain of a spirit. It becomes, by those strictures, a magical place (look no further than the supernatural atmosphere of Max and Albert’s duel early in the series).
At this final moment of catharsis, that magically constructed place becomes a literal stage for the various performers in this supposed melodrama. The characters are frequently shot from a distance while the ground takes up two thirds of the screen, rendering the human element as tiny and almost indistinguishable while the artificial framing is made painfully overt. The tension of the final conflict slowly morphs into who will play their assigned parts as given to them by the director (Gankutsuou) and who will break away and head into the real world.
The bright golds and false sun suddenly fall into place as we realize that everything we’re seeing before us is theater, a moment where characters hang between the emotions they represent (forgiveness, love, vengeance, cowardice) and the real, multi-dimensional people underneath. It’s a beyond brilliant piece of scenic design worked with great care into the early run of the series in order to fulfill its purpose here.
Courtly Intrigue Update: There is an argument to be made that the Count’s court switches sides here in a slightly convenient way—I would place the onus, however, more on the fact that because the series takes care to put so many of its nuances on screen, that implicit offscreen developments don’t come across as clearly in the narrative logic. While Baptisin and Bertuccio have always been loyal to the Count—the man who rescued them—they’ve also been interacting with Albert for months. Because part of this episode is the lines each character draws, the thing that differentiates them from Gankutsuou, it’s natural that the slowly developing fondness they had for the kid would be part of that.
Haidee and Albert’s roles as foils to one another comes to a head as well, with the pair of them literally mirrored on either side of the Count during his death scene. Both did their part in saving him, and while it’s a little disappointing that Albert has to be the one to tell Haidee to go one living (they’re trying, but the women in this show tend to be cast as willing to give up before the male characters) they’re ultimately survivors bonded by their love of a man who probably did love them, dearly, but couldn’t express it.
…Which is probably for the best, really, given that they both were children when they first met him. The series walks quite the fine line in trying to grapple with both its source material (where Edmond and Haidee became a couple at the end even though he raised her—ew) and the new content in Albert’s arc.
Adaptation Corner: Let’s talk, broadly speaking, about death. It’s not uncommon for Monte Cristo adaptations to end with a triumphant duel of Edmond vs Fernand; it’s a far cry from the format of the novel, but one can understand the structural choice. Having the romantic rival commit suicide long before the end of the story doesn’t fit so well within Hollywood’s three act structure.
As a result, a lot of adaptations take the same tack used here: moving the confrontation with Fernand to the end and ending the story either directly after the defeat (that godawful 2000s movie we looked at) or turning toward a happily ever after sort of scenario (interestingly, the classic Hollywood adaptation set the tone for many of the versions that would come after, but kept Fernand’s suicide). None of these stories are particularly interested in a redemption for Fernand—the 2004 version makes the story “about” their relationship to the near-exclusion of Mercedes’ importance, but still ultimately lacks anything to say about it beyond “idk, jealousy.”
Fernand is a monstrous figure in Gankutsuou, but part of the episode’s catharsis is having him quietly recognize the mutual monstrosity that infected he and Edmond over the years. While Edmond is only able to change his ways as he lays dying, Fernand makes the active decision to step aside, knowing he cannot atone for all that he has done and that his continued presence would only continue to poison the next generation. It’s the brave act of a cowardly man to stay behind and face what he did to his friend and himself, and finally letting Mercedes go rather than clinging to her out of his own selfish weakness.
The quiet moment of weeping recognition between Fernand and Edmond’s corpse is almost lost in a very dramatic episode, but I found it sticking with me on rewatch. This is truly an episode that indulges in a fantasy of sorts about laying the past to rest, and there’s a unique tragedy in being someone who recognizes their life has been defined by a legacy of poison (it might be almost hilariously obvious, but I respect the bit of staging that has Fernand on one side of a GIANT ROCK and Haidee and Albert on the other side).
Themes: I’ve been both anticipating and dreading this episode because of the necessary topic of discussion that comes with it—the kiss. I watched Gankutsuou for the first time when I was Albert’s age (and like Albert, I had more than one fantasy about having a Special Connection with someone much older). That’s leant a certain tinting to my experience with this plot thread as an adult. I mentioned several episodes back that the one thing that allows the Count to remain at all sympathetic is that he stops himself from physically preying on Albert. The kiss, I think, is the counterbalance to that: Albert’s feelings for the Count are an attempt to ethically explore the experience of being a child crushing on an adult.
There are two major keys to this: the first being that we’re never in doubt from the start that Albert is being led on. We can understand why he’s fallen for this handsome adult who makes him feel special, capable, and who gives him advice at a time when his life is in turmoil. But we’re also always shown the collateral damage of the Count’s attention, including the way it isolates Albert, very deliberately, from the friends who could give him a clearer picture of what’s happening.
The relationship is also entirely emotional in nature. There are a lot of hands held and looks exchanged, but no physical intimacy. This saves the show from going over the line into overtly fetishizing something it clearly wants to keep uncomfortable, but also keeps us in Albert’s head on a tonal level. There is the promise of intimacy, understanding, and specialness—without a real understanding of the fraught emotional and physical stakes of a sexual element include. It’s an Adult Relationship as an inexperienced teen imagines it, and the show puts us in the mindset both of letting a younger audience live vicariously through Albert while also clearly outlining all the manipulation going on from the adult party in this situation.
The other important factor is that dramatic death. Albert is, to an extent, allowed to live out the fantasy a young viewer might have of this kind of relationship: he really is the only one close enough to the Count to understand a crucial part of him, and he saves the man through the literal power of love. His emotions are so powerful he’s able to cleanse Edmond Dantes’ metaphorical corruption, proving that beneath the manipulation there were SOME manner of feelings all along.
The specificity of Edmond’s feelings don’t matter, though, and that they’re kept in the vague category of “fondness” allows us to root for Albert saving the day while also knowing that this isn’t a relationship that’s going to go forward and wreck Albert’s young life any further. Y’know, on account of the fact that the Count is super, duper dead. The show indulges the validity of Albert’s feelings while refusing to provide a roadmap for why adult/child relationships are Okay, Actually, striking the most even balance I’ve ever seen of exploring a feeling many children have without condoning it. As a child, I was disappointed that the Count died even though Albert was able to get through to him. As an adult, I cherish its respect for Albert’s feelings without condoning what would’ve been a disastrously abusive situation.
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Congratulations on having the finish line in sight!
My one nitpick with this episode is that they resorted to that tired cliché whereby once the spell is broken the temple/castle/whatever starts falling apart, but the protagonists miraculously avoid getting crushed by falling masonry. The show is so visually inventive in general it’s a shame they didn’t come up with something fresher for that particular scene.
“As a child, I was disappointed that the Count died even though Albert was able to get through to him. As an adult, I cherish its respect for Albert’s feelings without condoning what would’ve been a disastrously abusive situation.”
Aaahh, your experience watching the show mirrors mine here (young when I first watched it and then growing increasingly uncomfortable as I got older with the depiction of the Count and Albert’s relationship), and I think you just put into words something I’ve felt for ages but never been able to verbalise. Ugh, your writing is so good!