What They Say:
301045 & 311045
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’d thought everyone’s cards were on the table after all the twists and turns in episode 4, but it turns out Ray’s scheming goes back further than even Norman had expected. Rather than going to Isabella out of fear when he learned the truth of their world, Ray had actually known everything for years and had been working with her the entire time. This makes sense in retrospect, since it explains why he accepted the truth about Isabella and the demons so easily, but also completely changes things going forward. Even though he claims that his actions were all to protect Emma, Norman and himself, Ray’s callousness about betraying his siblings and his demand to leave the other kids behind means he’s never going to be completely trustworthy going forward. Emma’s willingness to forgive is admirable, but may be bordering on the naïve when it comes to people like Ray. The implication behind all of his actions is that Ray does care about Emma and Norman, but not to the point that he’d jeopardize his own survival for them. In such a fraught situation as theirs, that makes Ray just as dangerous as Isabella and Krone, maybe even moreso because he knows everyone’s plans now.
One thing that Ray’s betrayal and subsequent ultimatum give us is a glimpse inside Norman’s head. He’s always been kind of cagy, hiding a lot of his thoughts behind that distant smile and laid-back attitude, so it’s an enlightening experience to see who he really is. As it turns out, his devotion to Emma and all their other siblings is real, and the mask he always wears belies the fact that he’s just as out of his depth as everyone else. He has a talent for scheming, true, but Norman isn’t anywhere near as callous as Ray. He seems genuinely shaken at Ray’s ultimatum and the prospect of betraying Emma, which tells us far more about him as a person than any of his plots.
As big of a bombshell as Ray’s betrayal is, there’s far more going on than just the fallout from that. Though they’re not geniuses like the main trio, Don and Gilda are far from stupid. They can tell that the others are still hiding something, and decide to break into Isabella’s secret room to find out. The entire sequence, even the fake-out where one of their younger siblings scares them as he comes in to hide, is fraught with the same tension that Promised Neverland has quickly established as its forte. They’re just a hairsbreadth away from being caught, with no explanation that could save them if Isabella catches them; it’s clear that every second of their break-in could be their last. Nothing happens in the end, but discovering Isabella’s collection of toys that had belonged to other kids she’s shipped out finally leads them to confront the main trio about what they’ve been hiding.
More than anything else, what makes their confrontation so memorable is what drives Don and Gilda to do so. Rather than fear, it’s their frustration at how the siblings they grew up with don’t seem to trust them, as well as frustration at their own helplessness. Like we saw with Emma and Gilda before, there’s a genuine bond between these kids beyond just having grown up in the same orphanage. It hurts to have someone you care about not trust you, especially when it makes you wonder if it’s because you’re not capable enough for them to do so. This simple fact makes their frustration all the more relatable, and their reconciliation once Emma & co. apologize and tell the truth all the more moving. It’s not easy to stay mad at family, after all. Aided by a sweeping score, this is far and away the best emotional climax we’ve had yet and is proof that Promised Neverland can handle big character moments as much as thrills and suspense.
Even during heartwarming moments like this, the episode maintains the same ominous atmosphere that always pervades Grace Field House. Like before, there are frequent shots through bushes, around cornets, and between furniture that convey a sense of watching, as though someone sinister is spying on them everywhere they go. Particularly tense moments like Ray’s reveal of his plan are made all the more tense as the camera sweeps around or moves back and forth, leaving everything feeling disorienting and off-kilter. Promised Neverland is a heavy story, and direction and storyboarding like this don’t let you forget it.
Amidst all the deception, the kids also make a major discovery: someone going by William Minerva has been slipping Morse code messages into the books in the library to try and warn them about the demons. This is decidedly more setup for something later than anything immediately important, but it does carry some interesting implications. If there’s someone on the outside trying to help the kids, that could mean that there’s also a safe place somewhere out there, that the demons don’t control everything in the world. The choice of name is another interesting tidbit, particularly since he uses in all the books is a picture of an owl. Minerva is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Athena, who’s often associated with owls. It’s hard to say if this carries any real significance beyond just being a clever alias, but it’s a nice touch either way.
As things continue to get more dangerous for our heroes, Promised Neverland reinforces just how well it’s able to build atmosphere and suspense. A story this strong would be more than enough to carry an ordinary show, so it’s all the more impressive how much Promised Neverland’s direction and pacing add to the tension that’s been building for weeks now. By giving us one big reveal at a time and hiding most of it’s surprises until the last minute, the anime is able to keep things going without ever letting the tension drop. It’s hard to tell how close we are to the big escape, but one thing’s certain: it’ll have to be soon. Krone’s involvement and Ray’s untrustworthiness mean that things are only going to get harder from here, and the kids’ window to escape might very well disappear soon.