Great, great ending to this Kitaoka arc.

Thankfully, resolving the Kitaoka/Shinji/kidnapping thing is really all that happens in this one. It's an all-hands-on-deck episode, with every single currently active character putting in a little something on this plot. It feels like everything's pulling in the same direction on this one, moving characters to where they need to be to keep the plot moving organically. Like, Shimada getting discharged from the hospital just in time to run into Kitaoka (literally, and god bless him for knocking her plush doll, just gonna call it Smooch, out of her hands, staring at her for a few seconds, and then just walking away) so we can find out that he's terminally ill. That could've been info conveyed in a dumber way, a more distracting way, but it came at just the right time in just the right way.

And, hey, we get another piece in the puzzle that is Kitaoka. He's terminally ill, and he clearly expects to be made immortal should he take out the other Riders. There's a thing he brings up, that I'm super into exploring, and that's the Power of Selflessness versus the Power of Selfishness.

Riders, traditionally, exhibit their heroism through self-sacrifice, through saving others at a potential risk to themselves. Ren is fighting on behalf of someone else, presumably. (I figure girlfriend, but maybe it's something else.) He's willing to do whatever it takes for that other person. Kitaoka's fighting for himself, his survival, and he makes the excellent point that fighting for himself makes him stronger than Ren. I don't think he's wrong on that? Fighting for another person you care about, like Ren does, or fighting for strangers, like Shinji does, that's a high-minded goal. That's choosing to put others ahead of yourself. That takes effort and drive and dedication, as Ren has tried to drill into Shinji's head. Fighting for yourself? That's the default. That's baked into nearly every person on the planet. It is natural to want to live, it's difficult to choose not to for someone else's sake. Kitaoka can fight harder because it's his life on the line, the most precious thing to him. (In all fairness, Kitaoka's life is currently the most precious thing to me, as well.) Ren, Shinji, they might hesitate to save someone else, might not go to the lengths they need to. Kitaoka will do anything to save himself. Self-preservation is the strongest thing on the planet. But what Kamen Rider shows presuppose is, what if it isn't? I can't imagine a Kamen Rider show ever suggesting that heroism is naive and we owe nothing to others, that's... why would you even make a Kamen Rider show, if that's what you're trying to say? I'm sure we'll see Kitaoka's Everybody Wants To Live viewpoint tested in the coming episodes, and I'm excited to see how the show disputes it.

I guess I maybe got a sneak preview tonight, though, as Masked Rider Ryuki deploys its most sinister weapon yet: an adorable child with a shattered homelife who can only depend on a good-hearted manservant. Goro and Cub, man, great stuff. Low-hanging fruit, who could say no to those cute cheeks and sad eyes, and the kid generates plenty of sympathy, too, but it's stupid effective. The show does a great job of getting Kitaoka to a place where he'd agree to pay for the surgery to help this kid, but still framing everything as a) just as much about getting this shit out of his life as it is about helping a stranger, and b) something he's so mad at himself for doing. That bit in the parking lot as Team Ryuki confronts Kitaoka over his vague plan to swindle Ren/Auntie and leave Shinji to be monster-devoured while they try and figure out why he'd pay for a stranger's surgery, he wants to leave so bad. He doesn't want to be around some kid, or angry Riders, or crusading journalists, any of it. He completely regrets getting involved and feeling emotions other than self-satisfaction. He's so mad at considering the needs of others. I love it. I love how the show has him perform two heroic acts and he's mortified at them. It's like Kitaoka murdered Kamen Rider Scumbag and he doesn't know how he'll live with himself.

Heavy stuff. This ended way more somber than I'd've expected, leaning way more on real anger, real guilt, and real personal growth. I'm a huge fan of the previous parts of this story, where snarky assholes verbally spar, but they 100% landed this ending, making every character choice seem right and every story beat add up. (No fat on this one! Every scene told the same story, and every character was necessary. Even Smooch needed to be there to get knocked out of Shimada's hands so she'd see Kitaoka!) Just a great, great arc.