By Matthew Moorcroft
Episode 4 (Happy Progress Day!) – Highest Recommendation
Episode 5 (Everybody Wants to Be My Enemy) – Highest Recommendation
Episode 6 (When These Walls Come Tumbling Down) – Highest Recommendation
- Directed by Pascal Charrue & Arnaud Delord
- Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Ella Purnell, Kevin Alejandro, Katie Leung
Progress is a bitch, isn’t it?
I could really just end this review there cause that’s pretty much the thesis of Act 2 of Arcane, but that wouldn’t be fun and there is a lot more going on then simply that. In fact, there is so much going on that I can’t discuss all of it right here in this review and there are numerous others who can discuss the series more in-depth better then I can.
Suffice to say though, Arcane Act 2 is fantastic. One of the best pieces of television released over the past several years, it takes a unique turn in it’s second installment of episodes to dive more into the world and ensemble cast of the series. For a show that initially rested it’s laurels on the sisterly relationship between Vi and Powder, now known as Jinx, Arcane expands it’s horizons to become both an action-family drama about two opposing factions and also a compelling, shockingly detailed political thriller. It’s Jayce’s descent into darkness and greed.
And what a boon to his character too. Jayce was easily the least interesting of the major players in Act 1, and immediately Act 2 changes that by placing him in the middle of his own minefield of technological advancements, shady dealings, and sultry romances that feels like something out of Game of Thrones. His decline is almost inevitable in hindsight – a man with very little power being given a lot very quickly is bound to make some morally questionable decisions and it’s actually kind of a miracle Jayce stays likable and rootable within that grey area. He’s ultimately still trying to do the right thing, or what he believes to be, and that’s part of what gives his sections a far more interesting angle then before. His relationships with Viktor and Mel are both indicative of this – opposite sides of the same coin and both instrumental to him in different ways, with Viktor in particular getting a meaty arc that gives him a much different role then expected.
The meat of the show still is the Vi and Jinx sections of the show however, and if Act 1 was Vi’s showcase this is absolutely Jinx’s. From the glorious usage of fast cuts and editing to convey her mental state to the 2D animation of her voices, Arcane finally lets loose on it’s animation and goes full experimental; her delusional state manifested as childlike drawings while everything else remains the detailed, 3D environments we’re used to. It’s the first time since Into the Spider-Verse that animation has really felt like a storytelling tool rather then simply another medium, and like that film it manages to work both thematically but also be wickedly entertaining. Half of this is elevated by Ella Purnell’s stunning performance as the character, giving what is easily the best vocal performance of the entire series thus far. She gives Jinx a perfect mix of innocent enthusiasm and maniac insanity, and her chemistry with Silco is impeccable, who continues to be a wickedly cool and compelling antagonist.
Vi’s side of the story is mostly one of reintroduction, particularly to a now broken Vi, whose singular motivations of “defeat Silco and save Powder” could make her one-dimensional but end up making her the crutch of the series. She’s the heart of the show at this point, the illustration of it’s themes and ideas without beating you over the head with it. The expanded role for Caitlyn, who partners with Vi for the majority of this act, helps in this regard as she goes through her own mini-arc about her own perceptions of Zaum through the lens of her relationship to Vi. Much will be said about Vi and Caitlyn’s obvious romantic teasing and while LGBTQ romance in animation is increasing, with shows like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, The Legend of Korra, and most notably The Owl House giving great examples of stellar representation, Arcane feels unique in it’s explicitness. This could be a result of the show’s higher age rating but being LGBTQ shouldn’t be blocked behind an age gate, frankly.
What’s interesting though as that theme of progress vs. stability also applies to Vi and Jinx, whose own character progression turns out to be antithetical to them getting back together as sisters. These characters are on separate journeys, and when Jinx lights her flare it’s less of an impactful moment of being reunited and more of a sad, lonely last cry for a relationship on it’s last gasps. It’s tragic, yes, but also wonderfully poignant in a way not a lot of storylines are, giving both Vi and Jinx their own autonomy while also connecting them as one.
Who knows how this is going to end, frankly. With only 3 episodes left to go and clearly a ton of material and ground left to cover, Arcane has the stage set not just for it’s climax but also future seasons as it leaps towards some kind of endgame. It’s animation has never been stronger then it is now, it’s writing has never been more compelling, and it’s character work is among the best on TV at the moment from a sheer thematic perspective. And all it took was just a nudge in a different direction in order for it to get there.
But like I said, progress is a bitch.