You know, AMB, I may have whinged a bit about this season being a little too slow of a burn, but that doesn’t mean you needed to open this episode by having me watch Elias pry his face open from the inside. You especially didn’t need to include that horribly unsettling crunching sound or the viscous shadow membrane to make it feel like watching a molting cicada squelching out of its husk. Like, god damn, even Chise is freaked out by it, and she’s literally cuddled with him in full monster mode. What the hell?
That bit of body horror notwithstanding, the opening half of “Slow but Sure II” is surprisingly cozy. While there’s a constant sense of potential danger lingering over it all, a lot of the camping trip goes by without a hitch, and it’s a charming chance to see Chise making (or attempting to make) friends. I love how Lucy has seemingly given up on shaking her and is ever-so-reluctantly becoming Chise’s pal, no matter how much her moody loner instincts protest. Even when their conversations are purposefully guarded, there’s a sense that both girls are opening up to each other, feeling one another out and seeing if it’s safe to be a little vulnerable. Chise even manages to tease her roommate, which is astounding progress for our awkward turtle of a heroine.
I love seeing the magical camping trip go down, especially the nighttime moments with Chise and her companions. I’ve done enough camping to know how spooky the woods can be at night, and I don’t have any of the supernatural baggage Chise has to deal with. Growing up, she was haunted by the ever-present gazes and voices of the spirits around her and was only spared them after coming to Elias’ home. Now she’s back in fae territory, and those voices are again there to echo through the night. So it was incredibly touching to see Ruth and Elias curl up next to her sleeping and reassure her that even if she’s facing familiar fears, she’s no longer alone.
Of course, the creeping danger eventually spills over, and it, unfortunately, demonstrates this season’s first real animation struggles. So far, Season 2 has looked solid, carried by strong direction and atmosphere that has kept up a sense of suspense even during down times. That still holds here, but the seams begin to show once characters have to move with urgency, fleeing through the night on foot or horseback. It just never quite feels right, with characters moving too stiffly and slowly to sell the tension of Chise trying to outrun the nuckelavee or racing through the night on the back of a carnivorous water horse. It’s still conceptually exciting and certainly rewarding to see Chise facing down danger head-on again, but it never packs the oomph that you’d want.
The one exception is the re-emergence of Chise’s dragon arm, tearing her enemy to shadowy shreds before anyone knows what’s happening. That packs the scaly, clawed punch you want and clarifies that whatever stalemate her dueling curses have come to isn’t quite as stable as she’d hoped. Just like the haunting voices of the Neighbors before, the nuckelavee’s vow that the spirits will always come after her is a reminder of the fear that tore Chise’s life apart. Yet instead of comforting companionship, what saves her is a far more violent force that she doesn’t fully understand. Like the narrative this season, it’s been simmering below the surface, waiting for the right time to rear its head and reveal the darkness beneath. It’s a fantastic portent for what’s to come as we delve further into the mysteries and machinations in wait back at the College.
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