Some insane swings in this episode, the arc of it. It starts off pretty light, with some really compelling world-building that's doused in some immaculate comedy. But then there's this middle part, where it's a little rushed, a little hard to ignore some narrative problems. And then there's an ending that just goes for it, and sells some big ideas with some incredibly brave drama. It makes for an episode that's way stronger than I thought it would be, and one that feels like the dramatic equivalent to last episode's comedic highlight.

Both episodes, last one and this one, really try to build out the most horrific thing about the Worm: they replace people. The Clock Up stuff is bad, and the various murders are not a plus, but the idea that they can copy you completely? To use your life, your hopes and dreams, as leverage against the people you care about? That the very memory of you can be weaponized? Terrifying.

It's Kagami who gets the worst of it this episode, and... can I just say how weird it feels to do this story as the fourth episode? It is a rough road Kagami travels down in this one, and we've only just gotten to know him. It's a story that, honestly, shouldn't work. The degree of difficulty on landing some of these beats this early on in a series... it is foolish to attempt. That it worked at all is luck. That it worked this well is an actor's skill.

Because chunks of this story are difficult to buy into. Kagami's brother Ryou returns after a two-year unexplained absence, with zero explanation (he needed to get away?) and a ton of circumstantial evidence from years ago that points to him being murdered. But Kagami is so blinded by joy that he's convinced himself that everything's fine. Tendou sees the obvious, that Ryou is definitely a Worm sent to manipulate (or murder and replace) a ZECT operative, so he throws the info to ZECT with the hope that they'll do what Kagami clearly can't.

A big part of this story hinges on Kagami's grief and joy being so overwhelming that he can't/won't presume that he's being manipulated, and... I mean, it barely works. The actor works his ass off to not make that self-deception read as ignorance, but man is it close. It's not until ZECT tells Kagami that they're going to go murder his Not Brother that he seems to begin to grapple with the truth, and it's tough to buy it. The show gets away with it mostly from performance, but also because the point of the story isn't the mystery, it's the misery.

I mean, of course Ryou's a Worm. The reveal of it is, like, seven minutes before the end of the episode. It's not a story about if Ryou's a Worm, because duh. It's a story about all of the rage that Kagami carries around, all of the despair he feels for losing his brother, all of the ways he'd give anything to have him back again.

See, the Worm use Ryou specifically because all of that anger and sadness that Kagami feels, it gives them power over him. He misses the obvious, and he can't protect himself. Even as they're about to replace him with a Worm, there's this appeal to his need to have his brother back. The memory of his brother becomes more important than his own life, especially if the cost of surviving is the death of that memory. Kagami's falling, and the only thing left to hang onto is a monster with his brother's memories.

And that's when Tendou shows up.

It's a tricky episode for Tendou's character. He's got to take a back seat in this one, and nearly every time he tries to assert himself in the story it makes him less heroic. He's forcing Kagami to move faster than he's able, pushing him to resolve his emotional issues to Tendou's schedule. There's even less flexibility to Tendou than usual, and it's making his friendship (his sister's right, he's totally Kagami's friend) with Kagami even more frayed than when Tendou charged cases of mackerel to him. (WHO DOES THAT?!)

Some of it is specific to Tendou, in a way that isn't instantly likable (or even comprehensible), but comes together in retrospect. Kagami was obviously lying to himself about Ryou being a Worm, and Tendou's got just zero patience for that. It's clear what's happening, and Kagami's being willfully obtuse in not seeing it.

But when Tendou sees how much the act of seeing Ryou again is punishing Kagami, how impossible the idea of killing what remains of his brother is, Tendou sacrifices himself to make Kagami see the truth. He takes a beating from Ryou's memory. He could fight back, but he doesn't. He won't just murder the memory of Ryou. That would be effective, but needlessly cruel. He sees the strength of Kagami's convictions (he felt it, in that earlier punch that he 100% had coming) and he respects them. This isn't about teaching Kagami that he was weak, it's asking him to be strong. He needs Kagami to acknowledge that the memory of Ryou is dangerous. It's a memory that will destroy Kagami, given enough time. Kagami can't raise a hand to his brother, even the memory of his brother. But he can ask Kabuto to do the merciful thing and let Ryou's memory stop haunting him.

So we get this beautifully-done fight in Clock Up, where Kabuto fights between the raindrops, sparing Kagami the worst of it. The fight against Ryou's memory is invisible to everyone but Kabuto. There's the detonation, of course, as the message to Kagami that it's done. The flames lighting up Ryou's face, one last time. It's a chance to say goodbye to his brother, one he never got before.

And it leads to this final connection between Kagami and Tendou, which... again, this is the fourth episode. This is the sort of shit you pull in the final third of the whole series, not two minutes after the cast first meets. Insane to do this now. But, holy hell, it's a triumph.

Kagami is beside himself with grief. He's mad at the Worm, he's mad at himself, and he's mad at Tendou. It's hard to say what's in his head, entirely, but I think he thinks Tendou must be laughing at him. Smug as ever in his superiority. He was right, and now Ryou's dead for good. Stupid ol' Kagami, screwed it up again. So he swears to Tendou that he'll surpass him, that the days of Tendou being right and perfect, and Kagami being a punchline, those days are numbered.

And Tendou stops, picks up the charred baseball that symbolized the connection between Kagami and Ryou... and throws it to Kagami. It's Tendou giving witness to what Kagami's lost, and the bravery in making that choice. The toxic memory of Ryou is gone, but the positive one can still be a part of Kagami's life. But it's also Tendou saying I'm Here. It's an olive branch, a first step in a friendship. If Kagami, with that killer punch, wants to be better than Tendou? If that's what'll help him move on from this loss? Tendou will be waiting for that moment.

Maybe even with pride.


I got so caught up in what was going on in this episode that I forgot to ask a discussion question! Sorry!

This episode's got a couple different sibling relationships in it: Tendou and his little sister, and Kagami and his little brother. There are plenty of great familial bonds in Kamen Rider (except for dads and sons, because ALL DADS ARE DEAD... not counting Kagami's dad, as will be introduced next episode), but what is your favorite sibling relationship in the Kamen Rider franchise?

Two rules: please don't mention anything from Den-O through Decade or Zi-O up; and please don't make a Specter/Kanon "sibling relationship" joke because you're better than that.

Sorry this was so late!