I wish this episode didn't feel so much like it was ticking things off of a checklist.

Like, this is totally the Two Riders Join Forces episode. The beats of it are pretty predictable in a superheroes-fight-but-then-team-up way, and I'm not sure the execution feels unique enough, even this early in its establishment as a Kamen Rider Thing. Shinji and Ren start the episode as rivals, and end the episode as two men who intensely dislike each other but probably won't try to kill each other for a little bit. It's an improvement, for sure. I'll give the show credit, in that it's basically the second ever Rider show to have to team up two Riders, so it shouldn't feel as stock as it does, but it's still got too many weird echoes with Agito.

There's a little too much of Shinji coming off as a Shouichi-ish I'm Fighting To Protect People And Don't Understand Personal Boundaries, while Ren's repping hard for Ryo's team of Life Is Pain. Shinji's aggression and suspicion is unique, as is Ren's take-charge way of getting Shinji to quit, but it didn't feel like more than the obligatory team-up to me. It played like Mean Rider and Nice Rider had to find some way to work together, and I felt like I just saw a bunch of that in the second half of Agito. Like, I knew the destination, and the journey didn't feel personal enough.

It completely doesn't help that Shinji kind-of comes off like an asshole in this one. He immediately assumes that Ren is trying to kill children, despite only having a contract monster for a minute. And he dismisses the There Are Other Monsters theory with a certainty that feels radically unearned. (He's supremely confident in his brand-new abilities. I'm a little shocked he doesn't activate an Um Actually Vent during a fight!) Worse, he goes to Yui and tells her that the man she's fought with is untrustworthy, according to a man she just met yesterday, and he's stunned that she doesn't just go along with it. There's a... maybe there's an innocence, a forthrightness that the show's trying to imbue Shinji with, some way of contrasting him with the taciturn and withholding Ren, but it feels like the show shoots WAY past that to land on Shinji Knows Best About Everything. It's not a good look!

Things end fine, though. The scene with Ren and Shinji is the by-nowadays-standard What Are You Fighting For argument Riders have as, like, their way of saying hello. (They also do the Rider Handshake, aka A Punch In The Face.) Ren's a character that has a mysterious but undoubtedly compelling reason to fight and die (and kill?) as a Kamen Rider, while Shinji's still a bit in that questing phase, defining himself more in the moment with his choices, rather than a larger rock-solid ethos. Previously, he was swayed by Reiko and Yui's desperation to get to the truth of all of the disappearances, to help heal the people left behind. Now, it's Ren reminding Shinji that heroism isn't his exclusively, that you can disagree with people who want the same things as you. They end in a good place, pissing each other off and making Yui question letting these two idiots get close to her.

That expression of hers when she realizes this is her life now! Priceless.