My 2 Cents on RWBY: Volume 8, Chapter 1, “Divide”

(SPOILER ALERT—This is a full breakdown review for “Divide”)
What’s new, readers? I’m slightly disappointed Disney Plus isn’t dropping WandaVision in 2020 like we expected, although January 15isn’t that far away. Out of all the upcoming Disney Plus Marvel shows, this is the one I’m anticipating the most. Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch is such a powerful figure in the comics and Elizabeth Olsen does a bang-up job playing her, so it feels unfair that the MCU has chronically underutilized her. I hope WandaVision, which looks ubertrippy, succeeds at exploring her reality-warping abilities.

All right, let’s talk about RWBY, the Rooster Teeth Animation anime-style web series. Yes, folks, RWBY is back with Volume 8 having premiered on November 7 with Chapter 1, “Divide.” Sorry I’m posting this late; I had to wait a week to watch it because I don’t have a Rooster Teeth FIRST membership.

“Divide,” directed by Kerry Shawcross and co-written by him and Kiersi Burkhart, kicks off with a shot of who I’m assuming is a young Cinder Fall scrubbing the floor, which I interpret as an homage to Cinderella. Then we cut to Cinder in the present day flying a ship with Neopolitan, or Neo for short, to that weird Whale Grimm up in the sky. It seems to have taken inspiration from the Leviathans in The Avengers, except in this case, the ribs look like landing gear and the villains convene in a luxurious belly chamber inside the Whale. Funny thing is, that’s not too strange compared to the other crap that’s gone down. Cinder hands over the Relic of Knowledge to Salem (who is still wearing that cleavage dress of which I’m not a huge fan) and claims she retrieved it by herself, taking credit for Neo’s work. The peeved look on Neo’s face only deepens when Cinder goes on to call her a “valuable asset,” as if she’s property, and yep, it’s very obvious she’ll betray Cinder sooner or later.

Then Tyrian Callows comes into the belly chamber to rag on Cinder for a bit; I think if he had the chance to kill her, he wouldn’t hesitate to take it. This is followed by the entrance of Hazel Rainart (I despise his belted vest and the bizarre-looking ribs bulging from his exposed sides), Emerald Sustrai (I want to like her new design, but the fishnets covering her upper arm sleeves bug me), and Mercury Black (his decent costume revision amplifies his air of haughty indifference). Aside from Cinder, Neo, and Salem, Emerald is one of the antagonists who I actually find to be compelling, so I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her. I find it hilarious when they call Arthur Watts a “necessary sacrifice,” as if it hurts them to lose that slimy turdloaf.

Next, we cut to our little soulboy Oscar Pine in the slums as he gets some soup from a badger Faunus. Oscar’s friends pick him up, but there’s no explanation as to how they found him, which of course. They meet Joanna Greenleaf, May Marigold, and Dr. Pietro Polendina at a hideout, and again, I’m not sure how they found it, but okay. They lay out a plan to save everyone in Mantle from the “largest Grimm force” they’ve ever seen (even though we barely see any of the monsters). Apparently there’s no heat and no military protection, but they don’t explain why those things are happening. They want to evacuate everyone to the slums, which is inside this big crater; that in itself is right beneath the floating city of Atlas. It’s like they’re begging Atlas to fall and squish everybody. Oh, and Oscar decides to not tell his allies about Ozpin’s return and the reawakening of his magic. You’d think he would be smart enough to avoid making the same mistakes as Ruby last season, which just goes to show how tiresomely illogical the show can be.

On top of all that, they want to launch Amity Tower. Remember that whole satellite plotline from Volume 7? Well, I do! Their scheme to shoot it into space will involve breaking into the Atlesian military compunction at the base of the city and bypassing the lock in General James Ironwood’s terminal. Here’s what confuses me—if that’s all they have to do to get the Tower up and running, why doesn’t Ironwood just do it himself to mend the communications system and warn Remnant about Salem? I don’t see how that would interfere with his mad dictator goals. And isn’t there a way for Pietro to hack into the terminal remotely?

The characters fight over what their objective should be, launching the Tower or defending the Mantle civilians. It really did break my heart to see Yang Xiao Long argue with Ruby Rose over the best approach. It’s been a few volumes since they’ve even had a meaningful character beat like this, and they’re the kind of people who I would expect to always be of the same mind. Personally, I do have to back up Yang here; Ruby’s arbitrary secrecy in Volume 6, one of the most irritating aspects of that season, exemplified how poor she is at leadership. In the end, the group, as the title says, divides into two halves; Ruby, Penny Polendina, Blake Belladonna, Weiss Schnee, and Nora Valkyrie will head for the military base and start up the Tower, while Oscar, Lie Ren, Jaune Arc, and Yang will help Robyn Hill’s Happy Huntresses evacuate the people of Mantle.

After a brief segment where Ironwood calls Penny and fails to convince her to return to him (her headshot has been added to the fugitives list, so I don’t know why Ironwood would expect her to believe she’s still on his good side), we segue to the Atlesian military. The Ace Ops members are looking at Clover Ebi’s corpse, and wow, the show just mercilessly throws his death in our faces. The general has a talk with Winter Schnee, who is still recovering from her injuries at the end of last season. Then Councilmembers Sleet and Camilla come in to slam Ironwood for enacting martial law, at which point he declares, “I’m going to do everything I can to defend this kingdom, no matter the cost,” and shoots Sleet dead in front of Winter and Ace Ops. Oh yes, he won’t be getting off the tyrant track any time soon. I’m not shocked he did that after trying to kill Oscar in a similar manner, but now there’s definitely no possibility for a redemption arc. I’m guessing he left Camilla alive so he has a Councilmember who can support his oppression in public and put on the façade that all is A-OK within the government. It’s funny to see Harriet Bree and Winter exchange an “oh shit, are we the fascists?” glance after Ironwood murders Sleet in cold blood.

In the final scene before the opening titles, we go back to the Whale where Salem, holding the lamp, says, “I have questions for you. But first I need the one who can show me how. Bring him to me.” It will be intriguing to see what happens between her and Oscar/Ozpin. It’s obvious to predict Salem wants to ask the lamp a question related to the other Relics or the Maidens, although I think it’s as likely she’ll ask either for a way to defeat Team RWBY or something related specifically to Ruby and/or her mom Summer. I’m expecting Oscar and Hazel, since the latter blames Ozpin for the death of his sister, to renew their conflict as well.

The opening titles are visually appealing, but I’m not crazy about the song, which is jarring and reminds me too much of the Volume 3 theme. Some of the most notable visuals are Ace Ops appearing on Clover’s brooch with Harriet and Qrow Branwen showing up on both sides of one leaf, which could foretell something significant happening between the two of them; the shot with Qrow and Robyn, which makes me think they’ll get together, and isn’t that exactly what we need after the show took a huge shovel and buried Clover; Ironwood with Atlas inside him collapsing into a burning version of itself, indicating the general himself will bring about its ruin; Mercury popping up right before Salem in the villain beat, which might mean he’ll stay loyal to her, even if Emerald skedaddles (and she will, I guarantee it); Team RWBY getting pulled underwater by the Apathy, Grimm that I would love to see more of this season; and the phrase “Happy ever after” that gets changed to “Happy? Never ever,” which suits the show’s increasingly ominous mood.

Before getting into my general thoughts about the chapter, I want to make it clear that there are things I still love about the show in spite of its haphazard writing and its painfully frustrating attempts at queer rep, in spite of my recently rewatching Volume 4 to refresh myself as to why it’s my least favorite season of RWBY(edit out ninety percent of the plot and it affects nothing between Volumes 3 and 5), in spite of the fact that sometimes I feel as though I’ve been invited to a turd carnival. Yes, RWBY is an incredibly flawed and bewildering show that I continue to loyally watch for some inexplicable reason. I wonder if Lost devotees felt the same way.

Having said that, maybe it’s because I set my expectations low, but I came out of “Divide” thinking of it as an adequate season opener. Rather than being spectacular or atrocious, it’s a smidgen above the middle of the bar for me. The plot inconsistencies continue to be a weakness and the return of the satellite and Oscar being dumb enough to hide secrets both make my tummy churn, but the meat itself is engaging enough and it does a good job picking up immediately after Volume 7’s underwhelming cliffhanger. However, this is in no way a sign that Volume 8 will be more narratively coherent than the previous season.

If there’s anything I’m confident will happen, it’s Watts escaping prison and hacking Penny. He’s nowhere near done causing trouble with his techy fingers; she’s a robot who inherited the Winter Maiden’s potent powers and would be a frightening force to reckon with if she became a puppet (keep in mind, she’s based on Pinocchio). Plus, there’s a shot in the opening titles where Teams RWBY and JNR are gathered together and Penny is flying toward them as if she’s about to fight them. It will hurt deep when that comes up.

This might become the volume of betrayals. One, Neo double-crossing Cinder. Back when Neo worked for Roman Torchwick, he regarded her with respect and appreciation. Cinder doesn’t give her any of that, and she should know better, considering Neo is such a badass fighter. Two, Emerald leaving at some point, what with Cinder treating her like crap, too. Three, Winter and/or Ace Ops turning their backs on Ironwood as they realize how much he’s lost his humanity. Four, Penny fighting her companions, albeit being forced to do so by Watts’s hand. All this feels especially plausible if Volume 8 continues to build on the atmosphere of mistrust and anxiety in “Divide.”

The last major issue I need to touch on is how the show could handle the aftermath of Fair Game. As I said before, I vehemently object to Qrow and Robyn becoming an official ship, and I also don’t want Qrow to drown his grief in alcohol. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t surprise me if those things become part of the plotline. Overall, I just don’t have faith in the writing staff’s ability to accomplish this with deftness and respect, particularly after I read those notes on the Volume 7 commentary on Tumblr. To this day, it still aggravates me that the writers manipulated the plot in order to make Qrow side with Tyrian and become partially responsible for Clover’s death. Their carelessness is the reason why I’m not expecting Bumblebee or May’s status as a trans woman to become official canon.

Okay then, we have thirteen more chapters of Volume 8 coming our way, for better or for worse. Buckle up, everyone. And hey, please go watch The Mandalorian. “The Heiress” is competing with “The Marshall” for the spot of my favorite episode of Season 2.

All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.

Windup score: 58/100

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