(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Fault”)
What’s new, readers? It recently came out that Oscar Isaac will play Snake in the upcoming movie adaptation of the Metal Gear Solidvideogame franchise. He really is keeping a hustling schedule for his future, with him also starring opposite Jessica Chastain in the HBO miniseries Scenes from a Marriage, playing the eponymous role in the Moon Knight series on Disney Plus, and portraying Leto Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune reboot. He’s such a charismatic actor and I’m happy he’s able to find more work post-Star Wars. I still think it’s funny that he co-stars with Domhnall Gleeson in Ex Machina (I urge you to watch it if you’re up for an intelligently executed sci-fi thriller with a spectacular Isaac performance), since the two of them are in Star Wars as well. Oh, and Rudy Giuliani just tested positive for the coronavirus. I know some people are sending their prayers to him, but personally, I think the patients who are sick with COVID-19, their families and friends, and the doctors and nurses who are putting themselves at risk by taking care of them deserve our sympathies much more than a creep who looks like his soul has been bound to a cursed trinket.
Now, let’s get into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 4 of Volume 8, “Fault,” was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on November 28, and it was directed by Connor Pickens and written by Eddy Rivas. It begins with Robyn at the end of an anecdote she’s telling about Joanna in a failed attempt to keep things upbeat for herself, Qrow, and Jacques inside their prison cells. This is followed by the lovely beat where a fly buzzes around Jacques. What is it with white dudes who have tons of money and political influence attracting these little bugs? This feels so coincidental that I wonder if the animators inserted it on purpose as a Pence jab.
The scene quickly shifts into a somber talk about the challenges Qrow and Robyn face in connecting with other people because of their respective Semblances. This falls short for me largely because it focuses on Qrow’s shame over his bad luck Semblance bringing about Clover’s death. Hey, Qrow, maybe it’s not your bad luck. Maybe you should blame the writers who manipulated the plot so that you’d team up with a serial killer, then toss away Harbinger so Tyrian could pick it up and stab Clover in the back.
When Harriet and Marrow show up to return Watts to his cell (why is he back so soon? Did he finish hacking into Penny that fast?), Harriet scolds Qrow for keeping Clover’s badge and accuses him of committing the murder. Robyn tells Harriet her truth-telling Semblance can reveal what really happened, and it looks like Harriet would have opened up her cell and taken her hand if Marrow didn’t interrupt. Even if their innocence were to be proven, though, I’m certain Ironwood would keep them locked up, viewing them as threats to his seat of power. Plus, as Robyn tells Harriet, “You don’t care about the truth. You just want someone to be mad at. Easier than taking an honest look at what side you’re on.” This, combined with Harriet’s flash of ambivalence, continues to indicate Harriet and/or Marrow will be the most likely members of the Ace Ops to walk out on the general.
Next is an extensive chase scene involving Yang, Ren, and Jaune’s pursuit of the Hound and Oscar. This exhibits some of my favorite shots in Volume 8 so far, including Ren swinging from the Hound and Yang and Jaune launching their hoverbike over the Teryx and the Centinels. The camera keeps the viewer hooked by sweeping through the sequence with a dynamic perspective. The new Casey Lee Williams jam is the perfect accompaniment, especially with the guitar solo. I truly love the reveal of the Hound’s ability to summon other Grimm for support, and I’m curious what else it can do. Then Jaune and Yang crash their bike and fall off a cliff, but Ren catches them with the help of his StormFlower guns and uses his Semblance to hide them from the Hound as it passes by and flies up to Salem’s whale, Monstra. Yes, that is the creature’s official name, a nod to Pinocchio’s Monstro, which probably means Penny will be caught and brought inside it sooner or later.
The chapter segues to Ruby, Blake, Weiss, and May bringing Nora to Schnee Manor, which has none of its staff left, and convincing Whitley to let them stay there while Nora recovers. This is also where we find out Willow has secluded herself in her room, the implication being that she’s hitting the bottle. While I sympathize with her struggles, she shouldn’t be leaving her son all alone. He’s such a privileged white boy that he’s probably helpless in the kitchen. I’m not sure he even called his father’s lawyers. I still hope this is setting up a redemption arc that will end with him being reconciled with his sisters.
After Ruby worries about Yang not answering her calls, the episode transitions to Yang, Ren, and Jaune heading for a nearby outpost in the tundra with their only surviving hoverbike, the other two having been wrecked in the previous chase. When Yang says, “We need to get out of this weather before the cold drops our Auras completely,” it’s a bit puzzling because it’s never been shown that cold weather can erode your Aura. Then again, the show has always had trouble consistently following the rules of Aura. And if the kids are really so concerned about keeping warm, why don’t they wear winter gear instead of clothes that leave so much skin exposed? Anyways, Yang gets embroiled in a dispute with a moody Ren as he criticizes their inexperience as Huntsmen and shows his inclination towards Ironwood’s goal of opening the Vault with Penny and using the Staff to lift Atlas into the sky and away from Salem. Yang counters, “So what, we should just give Ironwood what he wants? Abandon Mantle? You think Atlas is still gonna be able to float to safety now that she’s here?” Honestly, I was thinking that even before Salem arrived. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Manticores, Teryxs, Wyverns, the Hound, and those flying monkeys are just some of the Grimm that could fly up to Atlas. The fight reaches its breaking point when Ren reminds Jaune that he made it into Beacon Academy by cheating. Yang says to Ren the scene-ending line: “Seriously, is your goal just to push everyone away?”
I gotta say, Ren is really becoming intolerable this volume. He’s always had walls around himself since the beginning of the show, but now he’s augmenting them with drones and electrified fences. All that bottled-up emotion and stress has to vent itself somewhere, though, and the place where it happened was in this quarrel. I still wish the writers overcame this character development a few volumes ago, but now that it’s here, I hope this will progress to him starting to open up and repair his relationship with Nora by the end of Volume 8. And I actually appreciate Ren calling out Jaune’s cheating. The show virtually ignored that issue after Volume 1 in spite of it being one of the many pieces of evidence that Jaune was an absolute douchebag. To his credit, admittedly, Jaune hasn’t bugged me too much over the past couple seasons. I think I’m even getting acclimated to the bananas on his head.
We move on to Oscar waking up inside Monstra and Ozpin telling him, “Oscar? Don’t panic. We’re going to be okay.” Yes, because we always calm down when people tell us things will be okay, even if the neck of our coat is in the maw of a beast. Salem comes in with smoke above her hand creating the shapes of her daughters as they laugh and run in a circle. After all, isn’t that what we all do to psych ourselves up for interrogating our ex-partners? She asks Oscar if he knows how to uncover the Relic beneath Beacon, believing him when he says he doesn’t. Then she asks him for the Lamp’s password, he responds, “The Lamp is all out of questions,” and she blasts him with rainbow beams. I need to give credit to Oscar’s VA, Aaron Dismuke, for jacking up the terror level with his screaming. I also love the line reading that Salem’s VA, Jen Taylor, did for the remark, “Lies come out of you so easily. Like-minded souls indeed.” It’s particularly chilling when it’s combined with Salem flashing a sweet smile and gently, almost lovingly touching Oscar’s cheek.
Things get even more horrifying when Salem sends in Hazel to pummel the shit out of Oscar. “That was for Haven Academy,” Hazel says after the first couple punches. Then he kicks Oscar into the wall and adds, “Everything that follows will be for my sister.” Holy crap, I’m almost as scared for the soulboy as I am for Baby Yoda. But I am glad we’re seeing more of Hazel, a villain I find sympathetic because of his desire to avenge his sister, who died while Ozpin was training her. Not only would I like to find out what truly caused his sister’s death, but I also want a redemption arc for Hazel; maybe Oscar could persuade him to break away from Salem and find a healthy way to process his grief.
Next up is Cinder and Neo’s encounter with Salem and the Hound. When Cinder asks what the Hound is, Salem calls it an “experiment.” While I’m interested in the fan theory that Summer, Ruby’s mom, is the Hound, I think that would be a smidgen too dark for the show. And sure, we did just see a kid get tortured, but twisting Summer into a Grimm would be a step into body horror territory that the show most likely won’t be willing to explore. The Hound is probably just Salem’s attempt at toying around with her powers and exploring how far she can stretch the limits with her monsters.
It’s amazing to see how dismissive Salem is of Cinder when she eagerly volunteers herself for hunting down Penny. When Cinder says, “Without you, I am nothing,” it gives you a real sense of the deference and abuse she has to bear as Salem’s underling, and it explains why Cinder (whose backstory I still want very much) has been treating Neo and Emerald so contemptuously this volume. Cinder ends up going behind Salem’s back and planning out a trip to Amity Tower, while Neo floats on her parasol along the way, giving me strong Mary Poppins vibes. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… Then Emerald, after overhearing their talk, offers to tag along, claiming she’s been honing her Semblance. I’m keen to see three of my favorite villain gals team up to face Penny, Maria, and Pietro at the Tower, especially since it’s been years since we’ve seen Emerald use her Semblance.
The last scene unfolds at the outpost where Jaune, Yang, and Ren are fixing their bike. The part that sticks out most is the exchange between Yang and Jaune. She asks, “Do you think she thinks less of me for not helping out with Amity?” He assures, “Ruby is your sister. She’s always going to love you, even if you disagree with each other.” “Yeah. Ruby…” she says, which leads me to believe she was actually referring to Blake. It’s a touching moment, but at the same time, the show really needs to get Bumblebee together already. It’s slightly humorous when Yang says she’ll “make sure Ren doesn’t brood himself to death out in the cold.” As Jaune says he has “a bad feeling” and “things always seem to get worse before they get better,” the camera moves away from the outpost and down the hill to a shot on the fracturing ground—the first literal fault in a chapter full of people chiding each other for their metaphorical faults. This reminds me of the shot in the opening titles where the ice falls out from beneath Team RWBY and they drop into Apathy-filled waters, so I wonder if those specters are the ones causing the cracks.
Overall, I’m surprisingly high on “Fault,” my favorite chapter of Volume 8 currently. It efficiently packs enthralling chunks from four subplots into seventeen and a half minutes, showcases the most beautiful and sleek animation and camera work I’ve seen in a while for the show, and keeps the plot holes to a minimum. It’s nice to come away from a RWBY episode feeling general satisfaction and enjoyment rather than varying levels of dismay, anger, and frustration.
Those are my two cents on this particular episode of Volume 8.
However, I have more to say in regard to Marrow’s Semblance. You may remember what I said in the “Strings” chapter about how he should have immediately used his extremely powerful ability on Penny to freeze her at the end of the bridge so the Ace Ops could capture her and get their task over with. A good portion of the RWBY fandom has been taking issue with this as well and trying to come up with their own reasons to explain away Marrow not using his Semblance. Does it drain too much of his Aura? Is it hard to use it against opponents with high Auras? Does he find it ethically troubling to freeze people without their consent? Well, Eddy Rivas, the writer of “Fault,” decided to contribute to the discussion with a lengthy post on a Reddit RWBY thread.
“I appreciate all these a lot, and it’s a great runner for why this stuff is so difficult to balance. I hesitate to get involved with discussions like this about our reasoning because usually people will take it as an invitation to argue with me about the reasoning or tell me it’s stupid, which is kind of fruitless since 1. the volumes have long since been written and 2. our reasoning isn’t ever going to change. It’s more productive to talk about other ways of communicating the reason, which is exactly what you’ve done here, and I really enjoy those types of discussions. It’s hard to walk the line of telling versus showing. A rule of thumb that we try to fall on is, does the audience need to understand the precise details of x for the scene to make sense? If the answer is yes, the next step of the flowchart is, is there time or opportunity? If the answer to that is yes, then it gets shown. If the answer to that last one is no, then you unfortunately have to tell. Often we try to get a mix and match of both in different ways, because as much as people love to throw around “show versus tell,” if you’ve ever written for an audience, and as we’ve seen a few times in the last two volumes, pure showing doesn’t always communicate certain things as concretely as you’d think. The tricky part with Marrow’s semblance, or any Semblance to be honest, is that you can still see the Semblance in play and establish rules about it. And while some might argue that it is necessary—your mileage may obviously vary here, as comments have shown—there are other dramatic points to consider. During RWBY versus the Ace Ops, is the best use of your limited fight time showing Marrow failing to use his Semblance and then using his dialogue to explain the when, how, why, or is it more important to keep the highlight on the breaking of trust that’s happening between them and the various feelings of each of the Ace Ops in their enforcing Ironwood’s orders? My Hero Academia is a show that gets away with this kind of screen time and exposition drama time. They’ll spend an entire ten to fifteen minutes on how and whys of a particular quirk working, failing, amping, and then take you through like thirty seconds of actual fight time. But that’s not our show, and we won’t ever have that luxury or even the interest to write that way, personally speaking. I’m not saying we made the perfect call with the balance. I’m just offering up the points to consider and the reasoning for the calls to be made. I don’t want to get into all the ins and out of the internal logic we use in regard to Marrow’s Semblance here, since the volume is still underway, though what I would like to highlight is that once Marrow uses his Semblance on somebody with Aura, he is pretty well burned out at that point, which we saw in the Weiss fight and caught it again when struggling to capture Penny in Chapter 3. Using it at an exact opportune moment—when your opponent is showing signs of being on the ropes or distracted, for instance—is much more critical than burning that trick shot right out of the gate with a focused opponent staring at you at the ready. As someone who does some amateur fighting, I’ve got a lot to say about that particular piece. Generally speaking, you don’t burn up all your fuel and swing for the fences until you see your opponent stumble or make victim faces/noises. That, I might save for another comment, since this one is already getting very long. This post is awesome, and I appreciate all the thoughts. There are some great examples of good writing/exposition in what you’ve laid out here. I was trying to take to heart what is confusing or not for the audience. When it seems fifty-fifty or if there’s enough arguments to counterbalance, that’s generally something we can live with when we’ve got limited screen time and prioritize character drama over exposition. But I know it’s always worth the improvement. Again, please don’t take this as arguing or objecting critical thought. I wish I didn’t have to make this caveat so much. All I can do is offer our reasoning and our mode of operation. The execution on everything else is obviously up for debate and it’s in the audience’s hands now.”
You may take from that what you will. Personally, this is my translation: “Why can’t you understand the genius of my work? I’m the writer, so that means I’m always right and you need to follow my infallible logic in order to comprehend the story. And you know what that logic involves? Not being able to figure out how Marrow’s Semblance works. Look, it’s just not that crucial compared to character drama.” Eddy took on a similarly defensive attitude when he—as I learned not long ago, much to my displeasure—posted on Reddit during the conclusion of Volume 7 to explain why burying Clover was perfectly fine. He could own up to his art and take responsibility for the fact that he and his co-writers neither showed nor told Marrow’s Semblance, but no, he just wants to victimize himself and shove all the blame onto the audience. What makes this even more aggravating is that Marrow’s Semblance only being strong enough to freeze people with weak Auras would be a good explanation. Unfortunately, it was never shown or told in Marow’s Volume 7 battle with Weiss or his fight with Penny in “Strings.” That chapter spent half a minute of concrete exposition on Ruby’s Semblance, so why didn’t they do the same thing for Marrow, too? As for the line about waiting to attack “until you see your opponent stumble or make victim faces/noises,” what the hell? It’s been years since I took martial arts, but I don’t recall victim faces (what does this mean, scrunching up their face or shooting up their eyebrows?) and noises (whimpering and squealing?) being an important aspect of my teachings. Daniel LaRusso definitely didn’t wait for Johnny Lawrence to make a victim face before doing the crane kick. And the “fifty-fifty” line basically says if only half of the fandom gets the mechanics of the show, Eddy is satisfied with that. Seriously, how can he be so arrogant and lazy that he thinks it’s unnecessary to lay out Semblances and other details in the show, that it’s acceptable for the fans to create their own reasoning? This was partially why I was shocked by how much I liked “Fault.”
I’ll be back for Chapter 5, “Amity,” when it goes on public release on December 12. By the way, it was recently announced that after Rooster Teeth FIRST drops Chapter 7 on December 19, there will be a mid-season break until February 6. The break for previous volumes has typically lasted two weeks, not almost two months. But I’m glad the animators are getting time to rest during the ongoing pandemic rather than diving into crunch time the way animation crews have been forced to do for the videogame industry and for movies like Sausage Party.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 82/100