Guess who’s traipsing the sociopolitical boundaries of sentient naked mole rat society again? The mole rats in this show have always been kind of terrifying on some level. Past the superficial physical features of their emotionless, red eyes and high-pitched bat squeaks, there’s something very wrong about them, and I think it boils down to their mannerisms. The way that they snivel in only the way that manipulative sycophants do, offering assistance to our protagonists at every opportunity while clearly expecting something in return, is off-putting in ways that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s because that, despite being hideous abominations, they’re almost more human than the actual humans are, acting rashly and with actual malevolence where the real humans would end up lining a cat’s digestive system for daring to do so. Also, their queens are still fucking terrifying, perfectly encapsulating the periodically-tapped veins of horror that the show has in store.
This episode is honestly the first of anything in a long time that’s managed to disturb me on a deep, visceral level. It’s not just the fact that the mole rats are being shown to harbor some deceitful, rather human-killing-y thoughts toward our protagonists where once they spoke with total reverence. I mean before you could tell that they weren’t looking out for Saki and co. out of the goodness of their multi-sized hearts, but they didn’t really show any sort of ambition beyond mere survival. Now, they not only actively organize and consolidate themselves, but they eye the humans more as tools than as gods—while parallels to the many acts committed under the guise of divine action can be drawn, and I encourage that route to be explored a bit more by the reader, that’s not what’s so eerie here.
There was a bit early on in the show after the kids discovered the glowing exposition horse where they were escorted back to town by the priest, who was defending them from the onslaught of sentient naked mole rat tribals all the while experiencing the genetic shutdown code that’s activated whenever folks use their powers on other humans. Thinking about whether these things were actual humans while being psychically murdered by children in self defense was probably the point, but it ended up buried under the progressively zanier exodus toward safety. It’s pretty neat bit of setup in hindsight, but it’s not until this episode that the horrors behind the mole rats essentially being human finally start to click.
The first clue comes flying toward the viewer as the clear diversification of sentient naked mole rat society is laid out before them. No longer are they living like intelligent ants; while acquiring food and protecting the queen were once their highest priority, they’ve managed to move away from such simple living. Now they’re mixing concrete, crafting armor, and even knowingly weaponizing their gods to subjugate other tribes.
In a short time, they’ve progressed from simple hunter-gatherers spread over a wide territory into more centralized units capable of actively waging war and overthrowing the authorities that they’ve been under for generations. And now, with a newfound sense of self-awareness comes the ambition to move past their current lot in life and achieve a higher calling. Further reinforcing this is Squealer himself, no longer the helpful suck-up that he was when he first met Saki. Lacking the fright and subservience that made him so helpful in the beginning, he’s carved his own niche in society and actively does his best to lead after deposing his queen. In those big black and orange eyes now lives something sinister and full of purpose.
What really hammers it home is when Saki requests to see the queen and gets much more than she bargained for by accidentally stepping on a queen-sized still-living queen rug. Now, I have to reiterate, these things were terrifying before because of just how monstrous they are. But seeing this particular one immobilized in what must be one of the most excruciating ways imaginable, while being kept alive, really casts the goodwill of these mole rats in an unpleasant, eerie light. They’ve effectively seized power, only keeping her around to pop out more ratlings and look like tasteful dungeon décor. Only the deepest, most depraved depths of humanity could keep one of their own in such agony, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing this poor thing in my nightmares tonight.
We have just witnessed the rise of the new humans, and it’s decidedly squeakier, leatherier, and more prone to overbites than we could have possibly imagined. In short, they’re us at our worst.