“Everyone gets crushed
And every kind of love rushes out
So who are you trying to protect?”

-Superchunk, “Everyone Gets Crushed”

oh my god i am so glad i didn’t watch this yesterday

It’s a rough one, this episode. I don’t think it works tremendously well, or holds together maybe at all, but there are things in it that are enormously affecting.

That whole sentence could be used to describe my feelings about the biggest plot point in the episode: Todoroki asking Zanki to kill him. It… hmm.

If literally any of it works, it’s down to the actors. Todoroki finds a well of shame and resentment that I’d never expected from him, rekindling some of the greatness of his first story. It’s someone who is finding out that his whole life has to change, right now, and he is handling it poorly. The idea of clawing back to what amounts to so much less than you used to have… it feels impossible to Todoroki, and the performance gets you halfway to him feeling like there’s no point in trying. The show does what I think is a fairly solid job treating Todoroki’s injury as irrevocable.

It’s just, man, asking Zanki to kill him… it’s maybe too far? It’s arguably too far for this show. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t strike me as heroic or misguided, it strikes me as Get An Actual Qualified Medical Professional To Help Todoroki Work Through His Trauma. Like the scene of Zanki punching Ibuki (that gets a frustrating call-back here), it’s a level of performative masculinity that is maybe not best served as the middle point of an episode for a television series designed to sell toys to children. It 100% demonstrates how lost Todoroki is, but it veers way too far into a dark corner that it can’t really respect.

But that performance! It’s honestly so good that I’m not (that) mad at them for using suicidal ideation as a way to increase tension. I buy nearly everything Todoroki is going through, from his self-deprecating dismissal of his non-combat abilities, to his inability to accept what’s happened to him, to his desire to leave everything behind, to the eventual drive to overcome the obstacles in front of him.

It makes for a weirdly paced episode, though. I mean, it’s nominally all about recognizing your limitations so you can overcome them, but the show attacks that idea in different ways.

Like, you’ve got the Todoroki stuff, which is him coming to terms with his injury, and deciding that it won’t beat him. It’s him listening to Zanki’s advice about the Oni, that it’s not about defeating literal monsters, it’s about defeating your failings. It’s about improving yourself every day, regardless of whether the monsters facing you are real or figurative. Todoroki’s training has been to never give in, so he’s going to work to get better, even if he’ll never be what he once was. He wants to live, because every day he’s alive is a victory over his darker impulses.

But then you’ve got the Zanki side of it, which harnesses that pep talk into something that sounds like Zanki being willing to sacrifice his life in combat because anything less would be dishonorable. It’s an interesting idea, that one pep talk could both save Todoroki and doom Zanki. I don’t super love Zanki’s inevitable Glorious Death (thank you, OZC, for putting the episode titles in the goddamn filenames), but, like Todoroki’s performance, there’s plenty in the specificity of how Zanki is processing both Todoroki’s injury and the short-handedness of the Oni to make it mostly work for me.

There’s a really great moment near the beginning, when Ichiro is trying to console Zanki, and Zanki is gritting his teeth in anger at Ichiro’s suggestion that what happened to Todoroki is A Pity. Ichiro isn’t being an asshole or anything, he clearly cares about Todoroki, but this is basically Zanki’s kid who was almost killed. He can’t handle talking to someone who feels it less than he does, which is why he can only stand to be around Hinaka in this one. With her, it feels warmer, more caring. Without her, it’s all self-flagellation and barely-restrained anger.

So, yeah, him feeling like he’s got to carry Todoroki’s weight, so that Todoroki can heal mentally as well as physically, I can see that. Coupled with Akira quitting and the Makamou multiplying by the minute, I think there’s a decent enough framework for Zanki throwing himself on the pyre of Endgame Storytelling In Kamen Rider, but I still am not a huge fan of it. It’s like, I’ll allow it, but I ain’t rooting for it.

Speaking of rooting for people, Kiriya in this one is so mind-bendingly awful that it’s both really funny, but also the worst episode to have a really funny Kiriya thread. Like, yeah, thematically it works for the episode. Kiriya is unable to recognize his failings, so he’s unable to start to overcome them. If he’s bad at anything, weak at anything, then it’s something that doesn’t matter anyway. It’s wrapped up in the same stuff Todoroki and Zanki are wrapped up in, how we deal with our flaws, but tonally it is NOPE NOPE NOPE. Every time they cut away from a despondent Todoroki to highlight another dastardly Kiriya scheme, I wonder if the people making this episode have ever watched a TV show. You cannot do Suicidal Rider and Wacky Antics in alternating scenes.

It is… as much as I liked parts of this episode (performances, almost exclusively), the fact that they tried to do a goofy Kiriya plot alongside Todoroki being injured so bad he wanted to die… I can’t say this was a successful episode. That’s a real tough circle to square, man. Bad choice of B-plot. Some good stuff in this one, though! Actors ain’t to blame for this one!