This image is actually emblematic of how things work at The Cart Driver: The titan represents looming deadlines, Shinmaru and I are shown here holding them off, and Scamp just rests in the back under a blood-soaked sheet, presumably mocking us while sneakily eating Lucky Charms drenched in whiskey, as the Irish are wont to do.
After several episodes, I still have no idea if background titans are intended to provide comic relief, or if their goofy behavior is supposed to be disturbing. Case in point, this titan hugging himself stupid, who pops up when suspense is getting ratcheted because some dipshit thought that bringing his dead friend home was worth stirring a veritable hornet’s nest of giant red people who also don’t know what to do with their arms. However, no number of silly titans can change the fact that things have gone tits up in the worst way.
It’s not hard to see why things could be construed as a failure; the Recon Corps’ little excursion served little purpose past thinning their ranks and discovering that there are titan agents among them. While the latter is incredibly important, it resulted in enough losses to completely ruin what little credibility as a functional arm of the military that the Recon Corps had to offer. The best that they can hope for after their return is not to have their asses court-martialed by those who want to see their funding put somewhere that doesn’t see recipients regularly smashed into trees.
I’m normally not one to find grimdark “bad situations getting worse” engaging. Very often, the sheer magnitude of bad luck sways audience sympathies from… well, sympathy, to just pity, to gleeful schadenfreude, mostly due to shitty progression. Past moments in this series haven’t been free from the effects of sloppy transition. But by slowly decreasing the scope of the objectives, and the capability of the remainder of the Recon Corps, morale is slowly whittled away until just making it back to the Wall alive and disgraced is a victory. When a former indication of complete defeat is the most optimistic objective that can be set, you know things have gone tits up. It all adds up and seeps in over time, creating an effective change in mood that doesn’t feel abrupt or manipulative.
The high body count, and the emphasis on bringing the dead home, certainly contributes. You don’t need to feel investment toward characters to sympathize with their desire to bring their dead back home for burial. When they have to leave their dead behind so they can escape, it’s disheartening to watch. There’s no dignified way to run from this kind of danger, especially when the reaction upon returning is going to invariably be “Well you guys suck. Fuck your dead and your revelation that there are titans among us, GIVE US OUR TAX MONEY BACK.”
The only thing that I felt didn’t work with the episode was the bit with Petra’s father toward the end. While the episode piled in disasters almost to breaking point, each successive one added to the overall feeling of despair without pushing it past the point of believability. Petra’s father running up to Levi and bombarding him with guilt was that push. The rest of the episode was firmly within the realm of reality, but that extra tidbit didn’t add anything important. We already knew that Levi felt some measure of guilt over the losses, especially Petra, and it didn’t need reinforcement. Levi regretfully leaving Petra’s body behind was more than affecting enough, while giving some insight into his
On the plus side though, and so I have an excuse to post that creepy image of her sitting slack-jawed, at least Female Titan’s efforts toward being Rambo were all for nothing. I’ll take victories where I can get them, especially when they’re accomplished by a combination of Levi moving at superhuman speed, and Mikasa losing her shit.