(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full episode breakdown of “Witch”)
What’s new, readers? Let’s get right into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 9 of Volume 8, “Witch,” was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on February 13, directed by Paula Decanini and written by Eddy Rivas. We open with the camera sweeping over the theater of war right outside Atlas, where the military is holding off the Grimm pouring out of Monstra and soldiers’ bodies are visible for a second. Then we cut to Yang Xiao Long, Jaune Arc, and Lie Ren sneaking into the whale. While they take a minute to catch their breath, Yang gets a funny line: “How are we supposed to find Oscar? It’s going to be like finding a needle in a… giant… whale… Why did we think this was a good idea?” Then Ren claims his newfound ability to locate people by homing in on their emotions could help them find Oscar. If you’ve read my breakdown of Chapter 7, “War,” you know that I said it was lazy for the show to turn Ren into an empath as a way to simplistically announce the Ace Ops’ emotional state. In this case, however, I appreciate that his power is being wielded more plausibly, though I’m still wondering why it’s all of a sudden possible for Semblances to evolve when we’ve never seen that occur before. Hopefully, the show will eventually answer that question.
We transition to Oscar Pine and Ozpin’s torture chamber as Oscar says, “She brushed off her bumps and bruises, for nothing hurt worse than the loneliness in her chest.” According to Ozpin, this is a line from a fairy tale called The Girl Who Fell Through The World. Oscar observes, “I thought the idea of falling through Remnant into a new world was exciting. I never understood why she was so sad when she finally made it back home. But now it makes more sense.” Ozpin responds, “She wasn’t the same girl anymore.” Maybe this could be a story that will be explored in the recently-announced Rooster Teeth animated series about the fairy tales of Remnant. Ozpin goes on to say that their scheme to divide and conquer isn’t working and they need to use magic to escape. Oscar objects to this because he feels their souls merging faster every time they use magic. Then the chamber door opens and Hazel Rainart enters to haul Oscar off the floor.
Next, Winter Schnee and a unit of soldiers that includes Flynt Coal and Neon Katt from Team FNKI are gathered in a trench to prepare a landing zone for the bomb payload they’re going to put aboard Monstra. Vine Zeki pops in to alert them to an approaching wave of Grimm. As they climb out of the trench and head into battle, Marrow Amin says, “But… they’re just kids,” for which Elm Ederne criticizes him and advises him to concentrate on fighting Grimm. It’s interesting when you remember General Ironwood once rebuked Ozpin for sending children into war several volumes ago, now that Ironwood is doing the very same thing himself.
We return to Monstra as Hazel lugs Oscar to the Relic of Knowledge’s chamber and tells the soulboy, “I’ve been thinking about what you said. If it’s a lie and I took that lie to Salem, the punishment would fall on my head before yours. If what you said is true and I used the password myself, well, I don’t know what happens when this thing activates. So let’s see if you’re bluffing.” Emerald Sustrai shows up to the party but doesn’t try to stop Oscar from summoning Jinn (you know, the nude spirit whose design can probably be credited to the show being helmed by a bunch of white dudes), during which we see a quick shot of Grimm liquid frothing and then stiffening up. When Jinn asks if the group has a question for her, Hazel says his questions have already been answered, then declares his intentions to get the two kids out of this place, since that’s what his sister Gretchen would have wanted. He’ll return for the Lamp later because removing it from the room now would set off the alarm, and Salem doesn’t know the password anyway. As the trio exits, Neo emerges from her hiding spot (because of course she’s here) and starts toward the Lamp—perhaps to ask Jinn if Ruby Rose is truly responsible for the death of her boss Roman Torchwick? If that were to happen, it could very well lead to her breaking away from Salem’s circle as she comes to understand she doesn’t need to carry out retribution against Ruby and she was being manipulated by Cinder Fall all this time. I don’t know if she would go so far as to team up with the heroes, but it would be immensely fun to watch a fighter as capable as her join Team RWBY and company on their quest.
We cut back to Jaune, Ren, and Yang as they rush through the passages in search of Oscar, with Jaune amplifying Ren’s Aura enough for him to cloak their emotions. Kudos to the animators for including the amusing bit where Jaune, who is exhausting his Aura, stops to rest his hand on the slimy wall, then slips his hand off the wall and shakes away the goop with a grimace of disgust on his face. He tells Ren to focus only on tracking down Oscar and give directions so he can scout ahead. When Jaune hurries off, Yang jokes, “Well, at least you guys being friends again takes the sting out of impending doom.” Ren responds, “It’s okay to be afraid, you know. You don’t always have to hide it with a joke.” After agreeing that they’re both afraid, Ren says about Jaune, “Him on the other hand… There’s no fear at all. I can see it. He believes we’re going to get this done.” If anyone can explain why the show insists on putting Banana Mane on a pedestal as the knight in shining armor, the noble hero to whom everyone should look for hope and benevolence, I’m open to hearing it. Then Jaune races back and forces them to hide from a passing Seer. Unfortunately, it detects them when Ren’s Aura fizzles out.
Meanwhile, Hazel and Emerald are walking through the tunnels when he asks her, “You sure he’ll be okay on his own?” She starts to answer but cuts herself off as Salem arrives. She asks if Hazel has pried info from Oscar yet, becoming wary when he stutters. Then she’s diverted by the screeching of the Seers and commands Emerald and Hazel to catch the intruders before gliding down the tunnel (whatever happened to her legs?).
We cut back to Yang, Ren, and Jaune as they kill the last of the Grimm that the Seer dispatched against them. When Ren asks, “What now?” Yang replies, “Let’s do what we do best: charge blindly into danger.” Jaune says, “Would’ve gone with ‘keep moving forward,’ but sure. Ren?” “Forward, no matter what,” agrees Ren. I think this is meant to be an homage to show creator Monty Oum, and look, I understand the crew wanting to find ways to honor him through RWBY, but they’ve recycled the “keep moving forward” line so many times by this point that it’s starting to come off as tacky.
On the battleground outside, the military is guarding the landing zone from the Grimm while a fleet of Mantas convoys the bomb carrier. Marrow shoots an anxious glance at Monstra and says, “Come on, Juan.” Hold up, does he mean Jaune? Is it supposed to be funny that Marrow got his name wrong, or is it simply a bad line read? *thinks for a moment, shrugs*
We return to Ren, Jaune, and Yang as they bump into Hazel and Emerald. The former raises his hands in surrender as Emerald does away with her Semblance hallucination to reveal that “Hazel” is actually Oscar, explaining why he faltered in Salem’s presence. Yang makes it clear she’s leery of Emerald, but Ren says she’s equally as scared as they are, and Emerald claims to know how they can hightail it from the whale. Now, does this scene break the rules of Emerald’s Semblance? I thought the way it functions is that she targets a certain person and projects a hallucination for them and only them to see. Then again, there was that time in Volume 5 where she created a Salem illusion for multiple people, though in that case, it seemed like she was spreading the extent of her power. Here, she projected Hazel’s form Loki-style in spite of her abilities having always operated psychologically, not physically. Keep in mind that Ruby’s Semblance was muddied up earlier this volume, too.
On the battlefield, Winter commands the military to clear a path to Monstra, load the bomb onto it, and set the timer. Marrow reminds her that Yang’s team might be alive in the glopwhale, but Winter reasons that they had their window. “Would you say the same thing if it was your sister inside? Are you gonna tell her what you did to her friends?” Marrow questions. Winter, after a beat of distressed reluctance, says, “Yes, Marrow, because that’s my duty. Now you do yours.” I acknowledge the show wants me to feel for Marrow because he’s the Ace Ops officer who is sympathizing the most with the kids, but good heavens, he’s just so irritating. We get it, show—he’s feeling deeply conflicted, so can you stop pounding this into our brains? At least Winter has been behaving consistently and realistically for the most part.
Oscar, Yang, Ren, Jaune, and Emerald are bolting for one of Monstra’s landing bays, but stop on hearing a rumble that Emerald realizes is an omen of Salem. Almost immediately, we hear an ear-piercing screech, and the witch herself flies out of the wall in an explosion of magic that throws everyone but Emerald to the ground, then stretches her arms to snatch up Emerald and menacingly says, “You really have been honing that Semblance of yours.” Ren and Jaune try to take her down but fail because, well, come on, this is Salem with whom they’re dealing. Yang has a bit more success, shoving her sticky grenades down Salem’s cleavage (yes, the animators made a conscious choice to attach the grenades there, not her shoulders, arms, back, or anywhere else on her body) and then leaping out of range to trigger them. In an grotesquely well-executed piece of animation, Salem’s body twists backward and the purplish-black flesh of her mutilated chest is exposed when the grenades explode, but she proceeds to easily regenerate while spewing a tendril from her hand to trap Yang.
Oscar projects an energy beam at Salem, but it doesn’t stop her from summoning sigils to pin all the kids in place with Grimm arms. Then she asks Emerald what she did with the Lamp, since it’s gone missing (Neo!). Emerald stands firm on her innocence, so Salem switches the interrogation to Oscar and asks why he, or rather Ozma, keeps coming back. I have a phobia towards anything getting too close to my eyes, which is why seeing her clamp his head in her hands and place her thumbnails that near his eyeballs frightens me.
Yang throws Salem’s question back at her, then says, “All of this endless death, because something bad happened to you once upon a time? Nobody gets a fairy-tale ending! Everything I’ve lost, every person I’ve lost, is because of you!” Salem asks who it is she took from Yang, and she responds, “Summer Rose… my mom,” which seems to elicit a strange sort of amusement from Salem. So yeah, Summer is alive in some form, probably as a Grimm à la the Hound. Now, let’s take a minute to analyze Yang’s assessment of Salem. The way she said that “something bad” happened to Salem made it sound like she wasn’t present for Jinn’s explanation of her backstory back in Volume 6. To remind you what that “something bad” was, it was Salem losing Ozma, pleading the God of Light and then the God of Darkness to resurrect him, the Gods being complete douchebags by not only finishing off Ozma for good and then cursing Salem with immortality, the Gods wiping out humanity when she gathered an army in a hubristic-but-still-understandable quest to defeat them, and the God of Light suddenly deciding that it’s actually acceptable to resurrect Ozma as long as he manifests through an endless string of reincarnations. Obviously, I don’t condone the destruction and death she’s caused, but it makes me feel icky that the show constantly views her in a misogynistic light. It’s essentially saying that all the misery that’s been wrought upon Remnant after she lost Ozma falls on her shoulders, that she deserves infinite anguish for disobeying the Gods. There hasn’t been one character, not even Ozpin, who has shown a single ounce of empathy for Salem and the crap she had to endure. Considering what comes up later, I’ll have more to say on this topic.
When Hazel shows up, Salem tells him to bring Oscar back to his chamber while she disciplines a crying Emerald (if I were to play a drinking game where I threw back a shot every time one of the kids is either being tortured or facing the threat of torture this volume, I’d be quite tanked up by now). Hazel glances at the kids as he walks past them, then picks up Oscar, whispers “No more Gretchens, boy” in his ear, and hands him back his cane, which I recently learned is officially known in RWBY canon as The Long Memory. Before Salem can inflict her magic on Emerald, Hazel hits her with a massive punche that blasts her across the bay, and she creates a tornado to stabilize herself. Hazel urges the kids to flee as he rips off his vest (was it purposely designed like that specifically for this type of moment?), jams numerous Dust crystals (lightning, wind, fire, ice, earth) into his scarred and muscle-bound body, and uses his Semblance to draw power from them. “So you’ve decided against vengeance for your sister, after all this time,” Salem taunts him, to which he counters, “I’m doing what Gretchen would have done!” The ensuing brawl is surprisingly violent, particularly when Hazel pulverizes her to the point of making blood splatter from her mangled body. I guess it’s technically supposed to be Grimm juices rather than human blood, but it’s still brutal. But she recovers, calling on her Grimm arm sigil to snare Hazel as her body regenerates. Side note: it just occurred to me that Hazel and Gretchen is probably a literary allusion to Hansel and Gretel, siblings who were tricked into entering a gingerbread house owned by a witch (Salem) with a stomach for delicious children. Oh, RWBY, you and your insanely silly obsession with fairy tales.
As the kids skedaddle, Oscar ends up staying behind, claiming that Salem will merely pursue them again. We get another chilling bit of animation when Salem’s face reforms and she cracks her jaw, followed by her firing magic that’s blocked by a hard-light shield made from one of Hazel’s crystals. She heaves him into a wall, then slams his head over and over into the ground. I just have to pause here and say that this is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining fight sequences I’ve ever seen in the show. I’ve consistently found Salem to be one of the most compelling characters on RWBY, and it’s amazing to see her in action for the first time. Not only that, but she’s able to go full-on Salem, repeatedly bouncing back from what should be fatal attacks and unleashing ruthless blows on her enemies. The fact that she’s fighting Hazel, a sympathetic and intriguing character who is now joining the heroes after realizing that Salem manipulated him, adds to the appeal of this scene.
Salem starts flying toward Oscar as he tries to activate The Long Memory (seriously, what the hell does this hilariously stupid name even mean?), but Hazel wraps his arms around her. A sigil materializes beneath him to strangle him with Grimm arms, and he opens his mouth to reveal a Dust fire crystal on which he bites, swallowing himself and Salem in flames. As she shrieks in fury and agony, Hazel looks at Oscar and says, “Do it.” The episode concludes with Hazel’s eyes going glassy and Oscar using The Long Memory to project a green forcefield around himself, then flood the room with blazing yellow light. It reminds me of the way Ozpin and Cinder’s Volume 3 duel ended with a huge blast of magic followed by a fadeout.
Overall, “Witch” is a somewhat typical RWBY chapter—fifty percent enthralling, twenty percent annoying, and thirty percent misogynistic. I’m not saying the third element is present in every episode, but there have certainly been plenty of times when the show has proven in both vague and overt gestures just how prejudiced its primarily male writing staff is against women. Don’t they have any idea how toxic and tasteless their “burn the witch at the stake” bit is? Don’t they have any desire to frame Salem as a sympathetic villain? Considering things like their problematic handling of Adam Taurus’s aggressive misogyny and their depiction of Ilia as the predatory lesbian stereotype, I’m going to say the answer to both of those questions is “no.”
As for the rest of “Witch,” one of the best parts is seeing Salem kick ass in combat for the first time; I’d love for her to clash with her opponents again before the end of Volume 8. The other great beat is the long-awaited U-turn in Hazel’s arc. They’ve been building it up since Volume 5, and I’m satisfied that they’re delivering the payoff through such a cathartic sacrifice. Emerald switching sides is another neat part of the episode, and it should be interesting to watch how the rest of the crew reacts to her coming aboard. I’m also curious about what Neo will do with the Lamp; while she can’t talk, I’m sure Jinn would accept a question if she were to write it down. And now that Oscar expended such a giant blast of magic, is it possible that he and Ozpin will have completed merging the next time we see them? If “Witch” weren’t weighed down by its need to mercilessly dunk on Salem, the good parts would be enough to bump it up to my favorite or second-favorite episode of Volume 8.
There’s a break in the show schedule because no new episode was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST this past Saturday. The next one will drop on February 27, so I’ll be back when it goes on public release on March 6. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 67/100