Do the ends justify the means? Which ends are the right ends? There were three main goal-driven parties this week: Saber and Lancer, Kayneth, and, of course, the puppet master Kiritsugu. All of them wanted different things, and they all had different plans to achieve them.
First, the straightforward, straight-laced pair, Saber and Lancer. Their goal? Honor the warrior code. Their means? A fair fight. On one hand, their fight was glorious, a spectacle of honor and chivalry. On the other hand, they looked like irrational teens in love. Saber placed honor above helping Kiritsugu save the world. Lancer placed honor above saving a woman in great danger. They gleefully exchanged disadvantages–oh, you don’t have both spears? Well, I won’t use both arms–while ignoring the turmoil around them. Their simple behavior was punished with their battle’s brutal end.
Next, Kayneth. His goal? Well, it changes. First, he still wants to win and maintain his family’s reputation. But when he realizes the gravity of the situation, he sacrifices his reputation to save his family. Kayneth is one of the most underrated characters of Fate/Zero. He’s outshone by his hotshot servant, brought down by his yandere wife, and he’s too similar the other smarmy, rich bastard, Tohsaka Tokiomi to make a real impact. Kayneth’s a very easy character to dismiss as another cruel aristocrat who got what he deserved.
But Kayneth has a fascinating point-of-view. He wanted the Grail to secure his family’s reputation. He saw the whole thing as a game, another line on his list of achievements. He saw Lancer as a tool to achieve this goal. But when he realized that his family, the stuff that really mattered, was in danger, he backed off even at the cost of his pride. His personal life was more important than his professional life. Kayneth really chose the right servant in Lancer. Both men were undone by having their personal lives interfere with their jobs.
And finally, Kiritsugu. His goal? Save the world. His means? Any means necessary. Lying, killing, using people as pawns. Sacrifice the short term for the greater good. There is no justice in the world. But if there is no justice, why fight for peace anyway? If people are cruel, why do they deserve peace? Why doesn’t Kiritsugu use his talents to simply live the best possible, and like Kayneth, cower and protect the people he loves? As Saber says, Kiritsugu still seeks justice. Why else would he so eloquently justify his crimes?
So, who’s right? None of them are. Saber and Lancer prioritized chivalry on the battlefield over any possible consequences their deaths would entail. Kayneth killed the priest in cold blood, so no one else could receive Command Seals, and he could win the game. Kiritsugu, well–there’s not much to say about him. His true nature spilled all over the episode, and even his harrowing speech on the human condition rang hallow.
So, who’s wrong? None of them are. Was Kayneth wrong in killing someone who isn’t technically real in order to protect his family? Was Lancer wrong for wanting to fight Saber on his terms–a chance at honor was a term of his contract, after all? Was Kiritsugu wrong for wanting to save the world?
What makes the Fate franchise fun is that you’ve got heroes from ages past duking it out in the modern world. What makes Fate/Zero good is how it takes advantage of this set-up. Seven different people, seven different heroes who embody different cultures and times, seven different teams that approach the battlefield. Fourteen different ways of life.
The result is moral ambiguity and moral pluralism. There are right and wrong ways to approach every situation, but there is not a single right kind of life. At the end of this episode, I felt sorry for everyone.
A final note: the directing this week was the best it’s ever been. Yeah, sure, there was too much chatting, but the moments that mattered were rightly framed. The horror as Sola lost her arm and, more importantly, her connection to Diarmuid. The gentle look from Kayneth to a sleeping Sola as he commanded her crush to commit suicide. Saber killing Kayneth out of pity–the most indisputably good act of the episode. And the moments I didn’t talk about that hint at things to come: Kirei saving Kariya, Iri collapsing into Saber’s arms. Last week, I said that Fate/Zero aired its best episode yet. That’s true–it had been the best episode yet–but this was the best episode so far.
Also sorry for the picture QUALITY. I may change them up later.
Where do you stand? On the episode? On the parties involved?
Thanks for reading!