(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Strings”)
What’s new, readers? Just a few days ago was a notable day. No, not the holiday that commemorates the subjugation and genocide of Native Americans. I’m referring to the forty-second anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978. It was eleven months earlier when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. His short time in office saw him being an ardent champion of the LGBTQ+ community and leaving a long-lasting legacy that includes the quote, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” I recommend you look up his life and take a moment to realize what it meant in his time to be queer, both privately and publicly.
All right, let’s start in on RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series by Rooster Teeth. “Strings,” Chapter 3 of Volume 8, was dropped on Rooster Teeth FIRST on November 21, and it was directed by Dustin Matthews and written by Kiersi Burkhart. It begins with Ruby, Weiss, Blake, Nora, Penny, and May popping out of those pneumatic tubes they took from the snowshoe facility last chapter to break into the Atlas Military compound. Penny has a delightful gag where she’s asked where the group needs to go and she earnestly responds with an overwhelming list of directions. Animation-wise, I love the cute little flick Blake does with her bobbed hair as she emerges from her tube, while the cartoonish 2-D look of Nora’s anime spasms made my eyeballs cringe. As for May calling Penny “robo-girl” and Penny correcting her, it felt overly offhand and out of character for the Happy Huntress, who’s been written up to this point to be fairly friendly and not the kind of person who refers to others by somewhat derisive nicknames. It’s particularly iffy when this is a character who should be willing to call people by their proper names because she’s trans—according to social media, that is, not the official show canon.
What follows is a prolonged sequence where the team sneaks into the base with the help of May’s invisibility field Semblance, and hooboy, do I have plenty of opinions about it. First, they’re in the elevator with a couple soldiers, whom we overhear comment on how creepy it is that Salem and her space whale are looming over Mantle. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly on the creepiness, but also, how much longer is Salem going to loiter in the sky? Gee, it’s as if the writers have flipped the Plot Convenience switch to make her wait until the perfect time to strike. Then we get a charming Nuts and Dolts moment when Penny uses a dongle built into her finger to unlock a gate, eliciting an awestruck reaction from Ruby. Unfortunately, this is clouded by the plot hole klaxon that blares when Penny uses Pietro’s credentials to gain access. Considering Pietro is on the Fugitives list (go back to Chapter 1 and you’ll find his headshot between Oscar and Maria), the system should be going into lockdown over his ID.
Then Penny dissects Ruby’s Semblance through science and amusing chibi visuals, claiming Ruby is “capable of traveling at an extreme velocity by breaking herself down to her molecular components, thus negating her mass.” Ruby can also take others along for the ride, since “mass no longer matters.” Why are the writers trying to weave physics into a fantasy world when they could explain away Ruby’s Semblance through magic, especially since molecules and atoms, as a matter of fact, do have mass? Why is Ruby herself so blown away by this info when people have traveled with her on a few previous occasions? How is her Semblance supposed to work if she had trouble carrying Penny in Volume 2? Why did the writers wait eight seasons to retcon her power instead of either breaking it down in Volume 1 or leaving it unexplained so us viewers can keep theorizing about the mechanics? If Ruby is a flying ball of red molecules, (a) why does she give off rose petals and (b) how was Mercury able to kick her out of the air in Volume 3? So many bothersome plot contradictions.
We transition to Watts tap-tapping away at his terminal under the scrutiny of Ironwood and his soldiers. It’s funny how Ironwood adjusts his tie as he enters the room and says he was busy—sure, because murdering a dissenting political official occupies so much time and energy. The atmosphere gets very uncomfortable when he clenches Watts’s shoulders and say, “I’d hate for us to have to try motivating you again.” The physical gesture would be fine by itself, but combined with the suggestive line reading that Jason Rose does as the fascist general, it gives off some oddly sexual vibes. Then Watts sees Pietro’s credentials on the screen, so Ironwood puts the base on high alert and closes off the tubes. Again, shouldn’t security have denied access to the intruders and dispatched all the soldiers against them? And hey, why aren’t there cameras or guards securing the tubes?
We proceed to the team bypassing Central Command by tripping an employee and making him spill his coffee on one of his colleagues, sending the entire room into a frenzy as the guy runs out with scalding hot coffee all over his crotch. As everyone is distracted, Ruby speeds her friends through the room, while May goes off to prepare a ship for their escape. If these hijinks sound familiar, it’s because Team JNR essentially pulled the same stunt at Schnee Manor in Volume 7. It’s times like this when RWBY leans too hard into silliness for me. Don’t get me wrong, a part of me does favor certain aspects of this caricature of office ineptitude, particularly the #1 Dad/Dud mug and the Grimm Jaws poster. However, using this gag as a way for the crew to sneak in feels lazy, as if the writers didn’t want to devise a smarter infiltration scheme. But the endearing look Penny gives Ruby, who’s striking an anime salute, at the end of the scene is another great Nuts and Dolts bit.
They advance to Ironwood’s terminal, which Penny opens with Pietro’s credentials once again. Nora darts a quick glance at the terminal’s electrified door, foreshadowing later events. Then Pietro remotely controls his daughter so he can transmit a launch signal to Amity Tower—a procedure that I find very unsettling, especially with the gold in Penny’s eyes and the change in her physical mannerisms and voice. Considering Oscar is facing the prospect of Ozpin subsuming his soul, this show sure does love old men taking over kids’ bodies. *squirms in my seat as I type out that sentence*
The scene also has space for an unexpected but welcome character beat for Nora. It starts with her praising Jaune, Oscar, and Yang, followed by a silence as Weiss and Blake look on and wait for her to commend Ren next. Then she says, “Oh, and Ren is . . . I don’t know what Ren is.” Nora, you took the words right out of my mouth. She goes on to observe that she understands him less than ever, with which many of us viewers can sympathize. Then Blake advises, “When you’ve been at someone’s side for so long, after a while they become a part of you. But that’s just it, they’re only a part of you. Don’t forget about the rest.” Nora expresses frustration at not knowing who she is after being with Ren for years before asking, “What am I supposed to do, be strong and hit things?” I don’t know why she says that like it’s bad; being strong and hitting things certainly helps later on. I’m pretty sure the musical cue accompanying this talk is from “Nevermore,” which I interpret as an allusion to Adam Taurus. If that’s correct, I need to point out how wildly inappropriate it is to compare Blake’s toxic relationship with him to Renora. Adam was a cruel, controlling, and abusive boyfriend, while Ren is simply a partner with the emotional shell of a Cancer.
Next, we learn Pietro and Maria are going to stay on the Tower and they want Penny to tag along with them so Salem won’t be able to kidnap her—although I definitely think Salem could follow the satellite in her whale. The crew is about to leave the terminal when the door opens to reveal the Ace Ops. During the squabble they have with Ruby and company, all I could think about was, “Marrow, just point at your targets and say ‘stay’ and you can wrap up this mission in an instant.” But no, he waits until the very end of the upcoming fight to use his Semblance. Like I said in my review of “Refuge,” it drives me up the wall to see characters inexplicably refuse to use all the tools at their disposal in a conflict. It would have been effortless to mend the problem; the writers could make Marrow reluctant to use his Semblance because he feels guilty freezing people and technically violating their bodies. Instead, he just stands there while Harriet blames Penny for putting Winter in critical condition (not true, Cinder was the one whupping her) and stealing the Winter Maiden’s powers (again, Winter was busy with Cinder, and Fria did give her consent when she passed on her magic to Penny).
The Ace Ops try convincing Penny to hand over the Relic so they can save Atlas, to which Ruby counters, “But it won’t save Atlas. Salem will find her way to the Relic no matter where you go.” Good point, Ruby, good point. But as I said before, Salem could either go to space herself or deploy her Grimm up there. So what’s the point in sending Penny up with Amity Tower if Salem can track her up there? Seriously, why are none of the characters even bringing up the possibility of Salem traveling to space? Oh, and then Harriet tells Ruby, “One more word and I’m throwing you in jail next to your uncle, runt.” But Ruby doesn’t react at all to this revelation, which I attribute to careless writing.
When Penny crosses the threshold, Harriet clicks a remote to shut the door, separating Penny from her pals and forcing her to take on the Ace Ops by herself as the others attempt to break out of the terminal. The extensive showdown includes a good amount of fast-paced and creative choreography, but it’s difficult to enjoy it when the camera is insistent on capturing up-close shots. This contrasts with earlier seasons that let the camera pull back to provide us a clear view of everyone’s positions and moves in a clash. Penny sending that huge gust at the beginning is a fantastic moment, but as the battle unfolded, I found it strange that the Ace Ops could hold their own against Penny for so long. Being the Winter Maiden, she should be able to beat their asses faster than Team RWBY did last season. Elm even pinned her at one point, temporarily stopping her magic because . . . *shrug* Eventually, Marrow smacks her off the bridge with his boomerang saw-gun, but she flies up and is about to fire her lasers when Marrow finally tells her to stay.
Meanwhile, Weiss is attempting to break her crew out of the terminal with her Arma Giga projection, but to no avail. This is when Nora echoes her “Be strong and hit stuff” quote and extracts electricity from the gate until she’s strong enough to smash it apart. It’s a compelling beat that drives forth the chapter plotline and her character arc simultaneously. The way her hair sticks up is funny, too. However, the move also breaks her Aura and leaves her scarred and unconscious. See, at least we now know Nora has a limit to how much electricity she can handle; a drawback could be written into Marrow’s Semblance as well.
On Watts’s suggestion, Ironwood orders Harriet to nab one of Penny’s swords. Before the Ace Ops skedaddle, Marrow gives the kids a look like he’s ambivalent about the situation; his general attitude throughout the fight seems to hint that he’ll switch sides. The team subsequently departs the base on May’s ship, somehow slipping past security without her invisibly field, and Penny hugs Ruby, then flies off to the Tower.
The chapter concludes with the Ace Ops giving Penny’s sword to Watts, who remarks, “If you can’t beat them, then make them join you.” He has a thing for last lines, doesn’t he? Both this one and “At the risk of sounding cliché, James, I won’t be going down without a fight” are much more appealing compared to “What if I said you could have your cake and eat it too?” Getting back to the narrative, though, the technology in the sword is obviously going to help Steampunk Waluigi’s hacking efforts. Now that we’ve seen Pietro take over Penny, I guarantee you Watts will do the same thing when he takes control of her, which will be agonizing to watch. I can also see Pietro engaging in a hack-off with Watts, which means there will be two old guys fighting over Penny, and that won’t be fun either.
Overall, “Strings” boasts a sparse number of bright spots—one of which is Blake’s surprisingly upbeat demeanor—but the chapter is inundated with a plethora of plot holes, most of which could be easily fixed. I spent time nitpicking the plot discrepancies in the first two chapters of Volume 8, but they weren’t nearly as glaring. One thing I’ll applaud Volume 8 for, though: so far, the season isn’t boring, a flaw that has plagued specific chapters of previous seasons (and ninety percent of Volume 4).
It’s nice to see Nora, a character I still find appealing despite how flanderized she’s become, begin to do some soul-searching. I genuinely want her to figure out who she is at her core and feel she’s already a complete person without Ren. But I do think it’s narratively awkward for them to tackle these problems now instead of a few seasons ago. Volume 7 appeared to show them taking one step forward in their relationship, while Volume 8 is pulling them five steps back. It doesn’t help that Ren is as expressive as a Tupperware container. If they stay together, I hope their will-they-won’t-they arc is resolved by the end of the volume, because I don’t know if I can tolerate watching it stretch into Volume 9 and beyond. Plus, I’ve been shipping Renora since she first booped his nose and I very much want them to be adorable again.
Why is Ironwood being foolish enough to trust Watts? He’s supposed to be all about defending Atlas, but he’s giving a large amount of power to Watts, a man who continues to serve Salem’s agenda and will turn Penny over to Salem ASAP. I’m still seeing a lot of death flags for the general, for whom I’ve lost all sympathy. Same goes for the Ace Ops because of their loyalty to him and their willingness to abandon Mantle.
I’ll return when Chapter 4, “Fault,” goes on public release. I still can’t wait for the confrontation between Salem and Oscar/Ozpin. RWBY fans have theorized the ooze that the Hound dripped on his face might mutate him into a Grimm, which would be frightening to see. And hey, have you seen the live-action version of Clifford the Big Red Dog? While I’m not crazy about his looking like he’s been drenched in blood or ketchup, I don’t think he’s nearly as grotesque as the original live-action incarnation of Sonic the Hedgehog. Those human teeth and stick legs still give me the shudders.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 48/100