(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full episode breakdown of “Ultimatum”)
What’s new, readers? Let’s get right into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 10 of Volume 8, “Ultimatum,” was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on February 27, directed by Connor Pickens and written by Kiersi Burkhart and Miles Luna. We open on General James Ironwood stoically watching the battle outside Atlas Academy from inside his study as a couple soldiers report to him about the jailbreak that resulted in Arthur Watts escaping with Cinder Fall’s help, Jacques Schnee staying in their custody, and Qrow Branwen and Robyn Hill eluding them and likely remaining inside the compound. Ironwood calls specifically for Qrow’s capture, because I guess he doesn’t give a crap about Robyn. We also get a peek at the prison when Qrow attacks the soldiers in crow form for a second before reverting to his human form. Oh, his crow transformation is so silly.
Then Monstra blows up from Oscar activating Ozpin’s cane, The Long Memory, in the previous episode, and the explosion of energy (which Rooster Teeth was thoughtful enough to precede with an epilepsy warning for viewers) sweeps through the City of Atlas to annihilate the Grimm in a striking bit of animation. Afterward, we see Neo blithely skip away from Monstra’s carcass with the Relic of Knowledge, then cut to another part of the battlefield where Marrow Amin worries over Yang Xiao Long, Lie Ren, Oscar Pine, and Jaune Arc being inside Monstra as it went kablooey. Ironwood calls Winter Schnee and the Ace Ops back to the Academy, and they lug the bomb back to their ship.
We segue to Cinder and Watts on a rooftop in the City of Atlas. After Cinder fails to get through to her accomplices, she states that they need to stick to the original plan while they wait for Salem to return: abduct Penny Polendina so that Cinder can drain her Winter Maiden powers. However, Watts informs her that he can’t directly control Penny; he merely infected her with a virus that’s commanding her to unlock the Vault, then destroy herself. Cinder points out that she can’t steal her powers if she’s dead, to which Watts replies that he doesn’t work for Cinder. Okay, but the burnt turnip works for Salem, who does want Penny alive for her powers, so I don’t see how ordering her to destroy herself furthers the game plan in any way.
An incensed Cinder grabs Watts by his neck with her stretchy Grimm arm and dangles him off the building’s edge, threatening, “Salem isn’t here right now, but I think we can still come up with a plan while she’s pulling herself together. First, I’m going to watch you plummet to an unremarkable end. And then I’m going to burn a path directly to the Vault where I will wait to tear that magical puppet to pieces and take what is mine.” Watts apparently resigns himself to his fate, taking his hand off her wrist and going off on a lengthy diatribe: “Oh, of course you are because that’s just what you do, isn’t it? And how has that worked out for you? You stormed into Fria’s room thinking you can take on Ironwood’s top fighter and war machine. But you couldn’t. And that machine became the Winter Maiden. Oh, and let’s not forget your deal with Raven Branwen. Get all your enemies in one place so you’d have a shot at revenge. If only someone could have warned you against such a miserable idea. Oh wait, I did! But you pushed ahead and you lost it when all you had to do was your job. You think you’re entitled to everything just because you’ve suffered, but suffering isn’t enough. You can’t just be strong, you have to be smart. You can’t just be deserving, you have to be worthy. But all you have ever been is a bloody migraine!”
The scene ends on Cinder pulling Watts back onto the rooftop (I really did think for a moment that she was going to drop him right then and there) and walking off to cry to herself. As much as I’ve complained about Watts being an obnoxious villain, I unironically think he’s well-utilized here. It helps that Christopher Sabat’s vocal performance and the animation for his character’s microexpressions combine to make him more enjoyable than usual. And as much as I’ve praised Cinder for being a compelling villain, it’s admittedly nice to see someone take her to task for repeatedly setting herself back through her own impulsiveness and obstinacy. However, I very much wish that Watts’s rant didn’t go into the hardships of Cinder’s childhood and that the scene wasn’t cut with shots of her backstory from Chapter 6 of Volume 8, “Midnight.” If you’ve been reading my RWBY breakdowns, you know I’ve already expressed my criticism of the show’s misogynist treatment of female characters who’ve weathered undeserved abuse—namely, Cinder and Salem. All of that applies to the show victim-shaming Cinder at the end of this scene, which is painfully reminiscent of Yang bashing Salem in the previous chapter.
We cut to a patch of land close to Monstra’s remains where Yang gets a call from Blake Belladonna, Jaune boosts Oscar’s Aura, and Emerald Sustrai is kneeling in the ash and grieving Hazel Rainart. Weiss Schnee sends a map to Yang’s Scroll that the crew can use to enter a subway tunnel and wend their way through the marked route. As the team does just this, they debate what they should do with Emerald. Oscar wants to work with her because they’re all enemies of Salem, Yang is vehemently against this plan, Emerald is up for parting ways, Jaune doesn’t want to let her go because of what she’s done alongside Cinder, and Ren concurs with Oscar and claims, “We can’t let all of our actions stem from fear.” I know he’s all about emotions and fear, but hey, maybe it’s not fear driving the kids to be suspicious of Emerald; maybe they’re simply remembering all the crap she pulled, including the hallucination that tricked Pyrrha Nikos into inadvertently killing Penny in Volume 3. Ren also sees purple petals floating around Emerald, which I personally interpret as her feeling either fearful of her current circumstances or ashamed for her past wrongdoings.
Then Oscar tells the gang that Ozpin came back and took him over during Hazel’s torture so that the soulboy wouldn’t have to suffer it. He goes on to reveal that the explosion was caused by “the massive amount of power he had stored up in it [The Long Memory]. Kinetic energy that he spent lifetime after lifetime accumulating in the cane he built.” Okay, the Plot Hole Alarm is blaring here. One, Oscar made a huge deal earlier about not letting Ozpin take the torture for him. Two, if The Long Memory really did release numerous lifetimes’ worth of kinetic energy, shouldn’t it have decimated the city instead of only wiping out Monstra and the other Grimm? Why did the kinetic blast disintegrate Hazel but not anyone else? Three, it’s indulgently convenient that the show never took the time earlier to set up the overwhelmingly powerful function of the cane—which is practically an upgraded version of Adam Taurus’s sword—and then all of a sudden it resolves our problems for the moment. Why didn’t he use it when he was first brought into Monstra?
Anyway, the scene ends with the group running toward the sound of a crying baby and finding a subway station in which the City of Atlas’s residents are taking refuge. Once again, the show seems to be pushing me to feel as sorry for the elite Atlesians as I do for the citizens of Mantle below, and once again, it doesn’t work.
In Ironwood’s study, Winter tells him that she and the Ace Ops still have the bomb and they weren’t the ones who blew up Monstra. After informing them of the prison break-in, Ironwood orders Winter to bring him Jaune, Ren, and Yang, whom he’ll use as leverage to force Penny to return to him. Harriet Bree, who has become so damn insufferable and is loathed by a majority of the audience, rats on Winter, revealing she let the kids sneak into Monstra to rescue Oscar. Ironwood briefly goes into Hulk Mode and smashes apart the table, which is followed up by an officer alerting him to a fleet of Schnee Dust Company freighters flying towards Mantle. “Weiss… I see. They’re trying to save Mantle. This has always been about Mantle, hasn’t it?” Oh yes, General Tinman, it’s always been about the same fucking fight over Mantle and Atlas, and after the way this episode wraps up, I’m just so exhausted by all of it. Also, why is he assuming that Weiss devised this? Any of her companions could have come up with the idea—although it was actually Whitley, since the show loves handing over the important decisions to the side characters.
Cinder receiving Neo’s message is my hands-down favorite beat in the episode and one of my favorites in the entire volume. “Your boss won’t stay dead… but you will without this ;)” her text reads. “If you want her name, you know what you owe me.” Neo being her own boss after realizing that she doesn’t have to put up with any more of Cinder’s shit—lovely, just absolutely lovely.
We cut to Yang’s crew arriving at Schnee Manor and reuniting with their teammates, which is when we get the Bumblebee moment—yes, the one where Yang tenderly touches Blake’s cheek, then the two of them lean in and rest their brows together. The way this beat is animated and paced would have been ideal for a kiss, a sweet gesture for them to share after being separated for almost this whole volume. But no, the show keeps gay-coding them and insisting that they need more romantic buildup despite Arkos and Renora having already gotten their kisses. I really do wonder how the script describes that moment and what the animators discussed when they made the conscious decision to frame it so affectionately.
Ren asks where Nora is, and Weiss talks to him as Ruby goes over to Oscar, whose arms are outstretched like he’s eager for a good ol’ RoseGarden hug. But he doesn’t get any of that when Ruby realizes Emerald is here and understandably goes on the offense. Oscar starts to tell her what’s transpired, but May Marigold calls Ruby and says that the SDC freighters they dispatched to Mantle aren’t alone. May then urges everyone to head to the mines, and we hear an explosion before the call disconnects. The crew’s Scrolls rings an alarm to alert them to an emergency CCT broadcast that shows Atlas military ships gunning down the SDC ships. Then, due to the show’s inability to tone down the cheesy drama, we cut to Ironwood delivering a monologue in a dark room under a spotlight: “I have always promised to defend this Kingdom. Its technology, its future, from those who would see it destroyed. Our enemy is crippled, but one individual still denies Atlas its salvation. The Protector of Mantle. Penny, wherever you and your friends are, I need you all to listen. I know how much Mantle means to you, so I’m going to give you a choice. You can bring yourself to Atlas Academy and do your duty, help me save as much of Atlas as I can, and Mantle will be left to fend for itself. Or… you can all watch as I destroy it. I have one bomb. That’s all it will take. If there is no Mantle then there is no reason for you not to work with me. Neither of us want it to come to that, but one of us is willing to do it. If anyone tries anything other than what I’ve ordered, Mantle… is gone. You have one hour to respond. I hope you live up to the title I gave you.” The chapter ends on Penny’s unconscious form, as if to remind us what a massive quandary it is that she isn’t awake to watch the broadcast.
Okay, here’s my personal analysis of the situation. Ironwood is driven by his goal to defend Atlas at all costs from Salem and any other threats. Since he knows Penny is equally determined to protect everyone in Mantle, why doesn’t he realize the most strategical move he can make is to evacuate the citizens of Mantle to Atlas, giving Penny motivation to side with him and guard the entire Kingdom? It would allow everybody to shoot off into space like Ironwood always wanted back in Volume 7. On top of this, if he actually bombs Mantle, he’ll also get rid of the last bargaining chip with which he can sway Penny. He doesn’t even know where the hell she is or that she’s been infected with Watts’s virus. The last time they got any data from her, she was out in the tundra, so why aren’t the Ace Ops continuing to track her down? It’s such a shame because I used to find Ironwood to be an engaging and intelligent character. Even when his fascism started to show through in the beginning of Volume 7, I kept cheering for him and trusting that everything he did was rooted in sincere concern for his Kingdom. Even when he wanted to abandon Mantle, it was a choice that made sense for the launch of his villain arc. But the show has unmoored him from any sense of coherence since then and saddled him with a string of irrational decisions purely for the sake of twisting him into a mustache-twirling villain. I mean, he shot Oscar at the end of the Volume 7—a heavy-handed way of showing how far he’d gone into Cuckoo Town, yes, but it was also idiotic because he essentially shot Ozpin as well. Then he shot that Councilman dead, an equally WTF move. And now this Mantle hogwash. *pause to rub my eyes with the heel of my hands*
Overall, the appropriately titled “Ultimatum” is bothersome. That’s really the best word I can use to sum it up. While it does have the appealing bits of animation, the Cinder-Watts interaction before her backstory gets involved, Neo’s trolling flair, and the Bumblebee moment that should have turned into a kiss, they’re not enough to save the chapter from sinking into a swamp of sloppiness and stupidity. Ironwood is a full-on dingbat, The Long Memory is a deus ex machina, the narrative feels as if it was written by an AI that took too much inspiration from past volumes, and the characters are continuing to react to the undercooked plot points rather than engaging in any proactive decisions. I know I’m sounding harsh, but I’m not the only one expressing these opinions. The last time I checked RWBY Reddit, I found that “Ultimatum” was pissing off an inordinately high amount of viewers. The show has had numerous problems, sure, but the fans don’t normally slam them to this extent. So much could unfold in the next four chapters, and yet so little.
Well, I’ll be back when Chapter 11, “Risk,” goes on public release on March 13. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 33/100