What They Say:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Schemes within schemes. That’s how I would describe Promised Neverland’s latest episode. Norman, Ray, Isabella, Krone, and even Gilda all seem to have plans going on that they haven’t told anyone about, not even the people who are supposed to be their allies. Emma is our one and only island of honesty amidst everyone else’s deceptions. Surprisingly, the one who proves most devious, even moreso than Isabella, is Norman.
Norman’s particular type of deviousness is unusual in a shonen protagonist, even a supporting one. He’s clearly not afraid to lie and manipulate people when necessary, and his calm demeanor and distant expression gives the impression that he could easily end up as a villain under different circumstances. After all, the main reason he’s working so hard to bring all the kids is for Emma’s sake. Thankfully, his cunning is on the right side, and allows him to finally unmask the traitor.
His plan bring in Don and Gilda and give both them and Ray contradictory information is pretty brilliant, and is aided by more of Kanbe’s clever storyboarding. One particular scene features Gilda-who the last episode heavily implied was the traitor-mysteriously her room in the middle of the night before it cuts to a POV shot of someone walking over to Isabella’s and leaving a letter, clearly implying that it’s Gilda. It’s only then that we see the contents of the letter, which has the location Norman said he gave Don. But even that’s a trick, as we only find out at the end that the story Norman told Ray about what he had told Gilda and Don was itself a trick and Ray’s the actual traitor. It’s a brilliant way to set up a twist, as it gives the audience limited and misleading information without even letting us know that we’re not getting the full story. Thinking back, it never actually showed Norman telling Don and Gilda about the rope, only him telling Ray about his plan. In the same vein, the POV shot of Ray delivering the letter only made us think it was Don because of the contents of the letter, not by actually revealing it. Tricks like this make surprise reveal at the end feel satisfying, like all the pieces fit into place, more than anything else. Kanbe’s ability to convey and hide so much just through shot framing continues to raise the already strong material to even greater heights.
Though surprising, this twist makes complete sense in hindsight. Ray’s always had a ruthless streak, and was the most resistant to the idea of taking the other kids with him. It’s easy to see how he could end up concluding that the escape would fail and his best chance of survival was to work with Isabella. It’s cold and ruthless, no question, but I can understand why he made the decision. What’s even more interesting is Emma’s conversation with Norman earlier in the episode about what to do once they find the traitor. Her relentless optimism and kindness, even toward someone who betrayed her, is downright inspiring. Rather than abandoning the traitor, she does her best to understand what would drive someone close to her to do that and resolves to bring them with her no matter what. It reminds us again that these kids aren’t just some people who grew up in the same place-they’re family in every way that matters. Even if someone betrayed her, Emma isn’t the type of person to abandon family.
We see this even more as she wonders whether Gilda is the traitor as they talk. We haven’t seen Emma interact at length with any of the other kids outside of the main trio, so it’s enlightening to see the two of them just talk. Their conversation itself isn’t about anything particularly important, but that alone shows how much history they have. Emma and Gilda are comfortable enough together that they can still have a casual conversation after their world being shaken to its core. It reinforces just how difficult it is for Emma to imagine that someone she’s so close to would betray her so deeply. At the same time, it shows how much strength it takes for her to not only accept that, but decide to still help them escape. Emma may not have Norman’s deviousness, but her heart makes her just as necessary to the escape as him.
With the traitor identified and the schedule moved up, The Promised Neverland is quickly approaching the big escape it’s been building to since episode one. Even though these first four episodes have been primarily build-up to the escape, it’s hard to label them as just setup. Every episode has been exciting and disturbing in equal measure, making content that could easily come off as dry setup engaging across the board. If this is how Promised Neverland handles its setup, I can only imagine how it’s going to handle its first big climax.