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

(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Refuge”)

What’s new, readers? It’s fascinating to witness Hollywood’s slowly increasing reliance on streaming services. Disney is considering dropping the live-action reboots Cruella, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan and Wendy on Disney Plus, which would fall in line with their decision to release Pixar’s Soul on Christmas. On the superhero side of things, that’s the same day Wonder Woman 1984will arrive on HBO Max. And I’m amazed Apple missed the opportunity to pump up their platform by acquiring No Time to Diefor the reported price tag of $500 million. If only Tenet went to streaming alongside movie theaters. But nope, Nolan insisted on it coming exclusively to theaters in the middle of a pandemic, and look how that turned out.

Okay then, let’s dive into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. “Refuge,” Chapter 2 of Volume 8, was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on November 14, and it was directed by Paula Decanini and written by Miles Luna. It starts with a shot of Clover’s bloody brooch in Qrow’s palm; thank you very much, show. As it turns out, Qrow, Robyn, Jacques, and Watts are all being held in adjacent hardlight prison cells, which is quite a convenient way for them to be able to clash. I like Robyn sticking it to her inmates, especially Jacques. It’s hilarious when he victimizes himself and says he contacted Whitley to round up his legal team. Two points I have about that: one, I’m certain the last thing Whitley and Willow want is for the supremely pompous jerkass to come back home, and two, I’m certain Trump would try the exact same thing if he were locked up. Another moment I love is the soldier gun-smacking Watts in the face before he gets dragged off to see Ironwood. Then Qrow ends the scene by reminding us of his intention to kill Ironwood. This season is pushing Qrow’s desire for retribution so hard that I’m predicting it will actually be either Winter or Harriet who bring about the general’s demise.

The episode segues to Joanna interrupting a newscast and urging the citizens of Mantle to come together and head for the slums, followed by a brief run-in with Sabyrs. I have to agree with the banana-haired Jaune when he says the shield bomb is “so much better than the bikes.” It’s not only because the bomb is creative (I particularly like how it magnetizes onto Jaune’s shield), but the hoverbikes themselves have a boring design. The animators could have whipped up something as eye-catching and futuristic as the light cycles from Tron, but they settled on these bulky grayish rectangles for some reason. At least there’s a funny gag where Yang’s hair flies in Oscar’s face as they ride together and he has this “bleggh” expression; apparently, this wasn’t originally in the show, but a storyboarder ended up inserting it.

Jaune and Ren are about to combine their Semblances to cloak the crowd from Grimm, but one of the citizens objects to everyone moving to the crater and living alongside Faunus. Her name in the credits is “Disgruntled Grandmother,” but it should be “Granny Karen.” Then Yang stands up to her and defends the Faunus, which comes off as such a white-savior move. Again, Miles wrote this chapter, so the clumsy “let’s all be friendly” approach that the show has generally taken to racism doesn’t shock me. Also, it was never established that the Faunus are all packed in the slums of Mantle, a detail that would have been interesting to dissect back in Volume 7. But no, all the show is capable of is making facile attempts at social commentary that amount to the message, “Hey, did you know racism is bad?”

In the Oz one-to-one, I rooted for Oscar when he got irritated with Ozpin. The prospect of their souls blending together is a terrifying experience that nobody should have to go through. Hopefully, Oscar will be able to resist somehow.

As for the scene where Ruby’s team goes to a snowshoe shipping facility owned by the Schnee Dust Company to sneak into Atlas, it provides my favorite beat in the chapter: Nora inadvertently sucking Weiss up a pneumatic tube. Honestly, that’s a chef’s kiss right there. It takes me back to the lighthearted and irreverent humor that was plentiful in the first few seasons before the show became Zack-Snyder-level gritty. The Nuts and Dolts moment is touching, but it does annoy me that Penny considered Ironwood to be a friend when she pointed out last season that he told her she doesn’t have time for friends.

The next segment takes place in the slums as Yang’s team reaches it with the Mantle citizens. Yang seems to take offense when Fiona remarks nonchalantly that she’s surprised they’re able to get things done without their teammates. It echoes a similar sentiment that May expressed when she met up with Ruby’s team at the snowshoe company. I like how Fiona casually uses her Semblance to store her map, and hopefully this is meant to set it up for narrative purposes later on. The badger Faunus who gave soup to Oscar shows up for a second; not only is he Fiona’s uncle, but he’s voiced by Rooster Teeth cofounder Gus Sorola. When Yang’s team gets called out to take down more Grimm, there’s a moment I appreciate where Yang gives a weary little sigh. Remember, the kids have been dealing with tumult since the end of Volume 7, and I don’t see a break coming their way anytime soon.

The first half of the fight is okay but nothing to write home about, though I’d like to see more of the gravity Dust grenade. However, this leads up to the Hound, a Grimm that we got a peek of at the end of the previous chapter. Good lord, this is a spine-chilling abomination that belongs in a horror movie. Is this the only Hound, or does Salem have more of these monsters waiting at her beck and call? Even before it brutally ambushes Oscar, you can see it stalking him from the background in a few shots. The sound effects of its limbs stretching and contorting enhance the terror of watching it morph from a lupine form into a vaguely humanoid state. It’s intelligent enough to hold up Oscar’s limp body as a shield so his teammates won’t attack and growl the word “No”—by the way, the voice was done by Jason Liebrecht, the VA who plays Qrow. To top it all off, its back froths momentarily before sprouting wings that drip primordial black ooze, after which it flies off with Oscar and forces his companions to pursue them. Admittedly, this scene does get dampened by the fact that Yang, Jaune, and Ren had time to clobber the creature during both of its ghastly transformations, yet they just stood there and gaped in fright. Generally, I can’t stand the trope of characters losing a fight solely because of their inertness. Aside from that, this is a well-executed sequence that reminds me of Volume 6 leaning into horror with the Apathy.

Overall, “Refuge” is akin to “Divide” in the sense that they’re both perfectly fine chapters. For me, “Refuge” ranks slightly higher than “Divide,” largely because of the Hound and the chuckleworthy gags. It’s nice to see more of the Happy Huntresses, too. My biggest issues continue to be the writing, which would benefit from some significant tightening, and the cast, which is bloated and doesn’t devote enough attention to the team that the show is named after. White writers tackling racism this heavy-handedly is something I’d love to see go away as well.

I recently came across a fan theory predicting Emerald, who is allegedly based on Aladdin, will ask the lamp about Cinder’s mysterious past, then betray her after learning a dark secret. I firmly believe Emerald will switch sides down the road, and this would be an intriguing way for her to do so while also exposing Cinder’s backstory to the audience.

Something I failed to address last episode was Ironwood getting a whole new bionic arm. Seriously, why did he need that? Doesn’t Atlas have skin-grafting tech to heal his arm after he pulled it out of Watts’s hardlight trap? It’s like when Tyrian replaced his entire scorpion tail with a bionic substitute, even though only the stinger was cut off. How did General Tinboy even amputate his arm and then undergo surgery for a new limb that expeditiously in the midst of the apocalypse? Oh RWBY, how you baffle us.

All right, I’ll be back when Chapter 3 goes on public release. I’m eager to see Ironwood and Salem interrogate Watts and Oscar/Ozpin, respectively. The name of Chapter 3 is “Strings,” which has to be hinting at Penny’s “puppet strings.” My prediction is that Ironwood will order Watts to hack into her and return her to the general’s command. If that turns out to be correct, there will be pain deep in my heart.

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

Windup score: 60/100

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