What They Say:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As we reach the long-awaited escape, Promised Neverland takes its heroes through some of their biggest highs and lows yet. His discovery that there’s a cliff behind the wall leaves all of them helpless to save him, which hits the kids as hard as you’d expect. Norman does his best to put on a strong face, but it’s clear that he’s just as scared as anyone would be facing their own death. That said, he’s still the same brilliant schemer we’ve come to know, figuring out the exact shape of the wall by its angles and making sure to pass on what he learned to Emma and Ray. It’s here that the show really hits you: Norman is getting shipped out and there’s nothing anyone can do. Even the normally stoic Ray breaks down and cries as he realizes that he’s going to lose his brother. Emma’s flashback only drives it in harder, making this easily the show’s most heartbreaking moment. Though the anime noticeably doesn’t show Norman actually dying, as far as Emma and Ray are concerned, he’s gone.
In the aftermath, Emma shows just how much steel she has in her. When Isabella offers to put her on the path to become a Mama as well, Emma refuses without a second thought. Even so, she seems completely despondent in the montage covering the two months until her leg has healed, having apparently resigned herself to dying. Except she hasn’t. Her evil grin as she reveals how much she’s been planning to Ray has echoes of Norman’s own deviousness and confirms that Emma has finally come into her own. Rather than relying on raw enthusiasm and heart, Emma proves that she’s just as good at executing schemes as anyone else in Grace Field House, even outsmarting Isabella. It would’ve been nice to see more of her putting plans into motion before the big reveal, but I can’t deny the effectiveness of this approach; there’s something oh-so-satisfying about seeing someone finally get the best of Isabella. As the flashbacks reveal just how long the other kids have been in on the plan, even going back to the conversation with Krone, Emma shows just how clever she and Norman have been and how much we haven’t seen. The best twists, rather than tossing in something completely new, only reveal that we’ve only been getting part of the picture.
The momentum continues with Ray’s attempt to sacrifice himself as a distraction. The show even makes us think he does, which might be the most impactful moment yet, before revealing that Emma stopped him. This could very easily have come off as a cheap attempt at shocking the audience, but Promised Neverland dodges that pitfall easily. Seeing it from Isabella’s perspective, it really seems like Ray had sacrificed himself, which hammers in just how clever Emma’s plan actually is. Similarly, her attempt to stop him further emphasizes her determination to not lose anyone else to their screwed up world.
On the other hand, leaving the children who are too young to be shipped out behind so she can come back later and rescue them shows how much Emma’s matured. She’s still adamant about not letting anyone else die, but she also understands that it’d be almost impossible to escape with so many small children. By only taking the kids old enough to keep up, she ensures that the escape is successful so she can return and save the others before they’re shipped out. Which leaves her and the older kids running away as their house burns behind them, a potent symbol of how they’re leaving behind their previous safety and innocence in the name of escaping.
The escape itself is both clever and straightforward: they climb the wall and then use rocks with bed sheets attached to them and coat hangers to create a makeshift zip-line they can all use to cross. Of course, before they fully escape, the anime decides to break our hearts a bit more. It implies several times over these three episodes that Isabella was once in the same position as Emma, wanting to escape but not being able to, only she gave up instead of pushing on. Her speech to Emma about giving up to avoid pain and her surprise when Norman asks if she’s really happy both point to someone who’s going along with the system because she has no other option. The anime confirms this in Isabella’s flashbacks, where we see her grow from an adventurous kid to the cynical adult we know now. The catalyst for her despair was seeing a close friend shipped out shortly before learning the truth. All of this is conveyed with a minimum of dialogue, letting the atmosphere convey her optimism and despair more than any words could. It’s backed by a song that alternates between diegetic and non-diegetic, hummed by Isabella’s friend, Isabella herself, and Ray, as it flows from soothing to haunting to sad and finally ends on a triumphant note as the children escape. Right before that, it gives us one last gut punch, revealing that Ray is Isabella’s biological son, something both of them knew. This will likely come up more later on, but still serves to make Isabella a far more tragic figure than before.
Learning how she ended up the way she is doesn’t necessarily redeem Isabella for cooperating with the demons, but it does cast her in a much more sympathetic light than before. Rather than an imposing figure to hide from, she now seems like just another person doing the best she can to survive. Much like Krone, her final thoughts to the children as they escape are thoughts of hope, encouraging them to do what she never had the option to. With what we know now, it’s entirely possible that Isabella might even help the others escape when Emma comes back. After all, she’s just as much a prisoner of the demons as the kids, and she now knows that it is possible to escape.
From the satisfaction of Emma’s plan going off perfectly to Isabella’s backstory, The Promised Neverland pulls off all the stops for its finale (although we’ve already got confirmation that another season is in the works). I was initially a little hesitant about sticking with it, but boy am I glad I did. Between its evocative direction and engaging plot, Promised Neverland has been a complete joy to watch every week. The escape means that things are going to change drastically soon, but I’m hopeful that whatever comes will be just as thrilling as this first season. If you’re going to watch one show from this season, Promised Neverland should be that show.