(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Midnight”)
What’s new, readers? It doesn’t shock me one bit that top Trump appointee Paul Alexander threw his lot in with the herd immunity tactic, but it still proves once again the casual inhumanity of the Trump administration, especially in light of the COVID-19 death toll surpassing 300,000 victims. Like I’ve said before, we all need to social distance and wear masks (over both our mouths and noses!). That’s why I support Tom Cruise’s diatribe for the most part. While I do believe he could have calmly and patiently handled the situation, his choice of words seems to imply it might not have been the first time protocol had been broken, in which case a harsh response would have been warranted. Plus, it’s unusual for him to lose his cool when he has a reputation for being professional on set. At the same time, this doesn’t mean all of us should mimic him and start shouting and cursing at every anti-masker we meet, because that will only incite more hate and alienation in our deeply divided country.
Now, let’s jump into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 6 of Volume 8, “Midnight,” was dropped on Rooster Teeth FIRST on December 12, and it was written and directed by Kerry Shawcross. We open on Young Cinder Fall scrubbing the floor and enduring bullying from other kids at your typical shabby farmhouse orphanage. Then a woman named Madame (obviously a stand-in for the Stepmother from Cinderella, a tale on which RWBY is putting an on-the-nose spin) adopts Cinder and brings her to the City of Atlas, where she’s forced to be a servant at a lavish hotel of the Madame’s called the Glass Unicorn. The show (a.) desperately wants to be a Disney Princess story and (b.) clearly thinks it has to bash the crappiness of Cinder’s life into our brains, since it takes a montage of Cinder doing her chores, eating very little food, and putting up with abuse from her bratty stepsisters and Madame, and accompanies it with a Casey Lee Williams tune that begins with these lyrics: “Clean the linens, sweep the floors. Shut your mouth and do your chores.” Cinder could have broken into song about her terrible conditions and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Also, I’m pretty sure it takes some musical cues from the Volume 2 track “Sacrifice.”
Next, the stepsisters tromp up to the hotel’s second level in their muddy shoes to mess up the floor that Cinder already cleaned. I wonder where they even found mud in Atlas, a futuristic city where dirt is probably scarce. Anyway, this seems to be the moment when Cinder unlocks her Semblance, using it in combination with her scrub brush to make a big dust cloud. Her outburst leads to Madame fettering her with a shock collar full of electricity Dust, which Madame activates with a little remote whenever Cinder irks her. She also forces Cinder to say, “Without you I am nothing,” a line that we recently saw Cinder echo to Salem. Wow, Volume 8 really is itching for depictions of child abuse.
One day when she’s ten, Cinder steals a sword from Rhodes, a Huntsman who’s part of the hotel’s clientele and has a Semblance that can turn his skin to metal. He’s most likely based on the X-Men superhero Colossus, who has impenetrable metal skin and takes his nickname from the Colossus of Rhodes. The Huntsman, who has touches of Greed from Fullmetal Alchemist as well, then talks to Cinder, saying things like, “I’ve seen you around, and I think it’s safe to say you’re not getting the most fair treatment,” and, “But hurting them isn’t going to make your life any better. You can run, but you’re going to be running for the rest of your life. Or you could find another way to handle it.” After finding out she’s ten, he says she’ll be eligible for the Huntsman exam in seven years: “Just a few more years and you won’t need your guardian’s permission. You’ll be free.” You know, there are plenty of movies, TV shows, and books where an adult takes action to help a child escape horrible mistreatment, and Rhodes is breaking all the principles set up by those narratives. Granted, it’s not like Cinder is being raped or sold off as a prostitute, but Rhodes could have given Child Protective Services a ring at the very least. Hell, Din Djarin did more to protect Baby Yoda, and all this fool does is present himself as a nice guy and shame Cinder for wanting to flee her abusive household. He strikes me as the type who’s only a Huntsman so he can reap the fame and glory of the profession.
Rhodes trains Cinder over a yearslong period, during which we get some nice shots of the fragmented moon (is anyone in Remnant baffled by its broken state, or have they just accepted it as one of the many oddities of their world?). Rhodes, despite being aware of Cinder’s toxic home, gives her one of his swords. Madame goes into zap-zap mode when the stepsisters alert her to Cinder obtaining a weapon, after which Rhodes comes back to the inexplicably and conveniently empty hotel to hear a noise coming from a storage room that doubles as Cinder’s bedroom. He passes by a “no Faunus” sign on the way there, because of course Madame is racist, and he encounters the stepsisters’ bodies and Cinder strangling Madame to death. Unaffected by her shock collar, Cinder—who seemingly strangled everyone, even though she’s holding Rhodes’ sword and could have used that to kill them—remarks, “You’re right. Without you I am nothing. But because of you, I am everything.” It doesn’t quite sink to the level of Watts’ cake quip, but it’s still an eye-roller.
Cinder gives Rhodes a shaky smile and says, “I won’t have to run now,” to which Rhodes replies, “That’s all you’ll ever do,” and draws his dual maces. Oh, so now he thinks she’s an awful person for killing her abusers, even though he told her to stay with them. I do love the hard rock bop for the ensuing battle; “Awake” by Casey’s band, OK Goodnight, does an excellent job at setting the mood. Cinder breaks Rhodes’ Aura surprisingly fast, then he breaks her Aura, and he’s about to go over and pat her on the head when she stabs him. But he’s still able to pat her before dying, since he’s just so kind and empathetic. Finally, Cinder sheds a tear and easily rips off her collar—so easily that I’m left baffled as to why she didn’t remove it earlier.
The episode segues to Cinder waking up inside Monstra and being hostile to Emerald in spite of her being concerned about Cinder’s state. After seeing her origins, it does clarify why she feels the need to mistreat Emerald, someone who sincerely gives a shit about her. Mercury enters to tell Emerald that Cinder doesn’t care about her, then announces that he obeys Salem now instead of Cinder—essentially confirming my theory that he’ll stay loyal to Salem if his accomplices ever decide to leave—and Salem wants everyone to join her on the bridge.
We transition to a battered Oscar having a discussion with Ozpin that leads to them figuring out they can sabotage Salem’s circle from the inside. When Hazel comes in, Ozpin takes over Oscar so he can try to reason with the big guy. Hazel twists the circumstances in his own head by berating Ozpin for letting Oscar face the torture, even though Hazel himself is the one choosing to do Salem’s bidding and maul the soulboy. He then declares, “Salem can’t be stopped. She’s a force of nature.” As he breaks off the sharp tip of a bone that he apparently plans to use on Oscar, he goes on to blame Ozpin for sending kids “to their deaths for a cause that you know has no victory, no end.” In Ozpin’s defense, he did have a solid plan to hide the Relics in the Academies and educate teenagers in fighting Grimm. While he definitely isn’t the trustworthy mentor he once was, Hazel shouldn’t be laying all the blame on him. Ozpin is about to explain what will unfold if she succeeds in acquiring all four Relics, but Salem interrupts with a line deliciously read by Jen Taylor: “Ozma. You have wonderful timing. The show is about to begin.”
Salem reveals to her subordinates on the bridge that Watts called Tyrian and told him about hacking Penny, whom she calls a “puppet” as an overt nod to Pinocchio. Her petting Tyrian is reminiscent of the same gesture in the previous chapter; between this and the Ironwood-Watts shoulder moment, there sure are some kinky things going on in the show. She proceeds to punish Cinder for her disobedience (yay, more torture), and it’s cut with a shot of Young Cinder being electrocuted to make the resemblance between Cinder’s poisonous relationships with both stepmoms supremely evident, just in case we viewers haven’t understood by now. Then Salem, as a way of asserting control over Cinder, offers her the chance to retrieve Watts, who can then lead her to Penny. The scene ends with Ozpin warning, “You’ll only be helping her bring about the end, for all of you!” and Salem countering, “You’re too late.”
We move on to Winter and the Ace Ops as they track down Penny, with Elm questioning, “Did the hack just not work? How do we even know we can trust Watts?” Yeah, no shit. Elm also calls Penny “broken junk,” an insult that I do not care for at all. After receiving a broadcast from Jaune warning them about the Grimm advancing towards Mantle, they land their ship to meet him, Yang, and Ren. Harriet, rather than take a second to notice the Grimm river directly on her left, presses them for intel on Penny. The squabble doesn’t get far before tremors shake the land, followed by a sludge geyser shooting up from the river, penetrating Atlas’ Hard-Light shield, and generating a few Centinels that burrow into the earth. A ship destroys one of them with lasers, but the other bugs uproot two shield pylons, shutting down the whole shield and letting Monstra touch down on the farmland. Monstra upchucks tons of sludge from which numerous Grimm spawn. What I love most about this is the flying monkey in the background. Finally! We haven’t seen any of those since the Volume 6 post-credits scene, but now they’re back. They may be one of the silliest things on this show, but they’re the right kind of silly.
Overall, “Midnight,” named after Cinder’s dual swords, is a competently made chapter that makes the most of its character-driven content. I’m glad we have Cinder’s gritty childhood to provide context for the increasingly crucial role she’s playing as one of the major villains, though there are troubling issues that I’ll touch on in a minute. The second half of the chapter strongly indicates my predictions about Oscar and Ozpin attempting to convince Hazel that Salem is the wrong person to follow and Cinder and Emerald betraying Salem are correct. After watching the conclusion, it’s safe to say there will be Grimm chaos and Man of Steel-level collateral damage on Atlas. Boy, Volume 8 is getting mental. If there’s one thing I can give the show credit for, it’s the willingness to consistently top its own insane achievements, as though it’s stuck in an endless “hold my beer” challenge with itself.
In regard to Cinder’s backstory, it makes me feel icky inside because of its parallels to Blake’s toxic history with Adam. It feels like the show uses both relationships to deliver the message that women are cowards if they run away from their abusers, that women should do nothing but grin and bear the misery, that women who dare to give abusers their just desserts deserve punishment. Oh, but the show also wants us to pity those same women and praise them for summoning the fortitude to rise from their pain and suffering, like Game of Thrones wanting Sansa to derive strength from getting raped. Hmm, anyone think this has connections to RWBY being helmed by men?
I’ll be back when Chapter 6, known by the deeply reassuring title “War,” goes on public release on December 26, after which we’ll have a mid-season hiatus for a month and a half. By the way, I advise you to look up a recent Twitter thread by @saysthefox if you’re up for an inspiring anecdote that will brighten your day with its pure kindness, something we all need more of in these strenuous times. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy, stay strong, and happy holidays!
Windup score: 69/100