(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full episode breakdown of “Risk”)
What’s new, readers? Let’s get into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 11 of Volume 8, “Risk,” was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on March 6, directed by Paula Decanini and written by Kiersi Burkhart, Miles Luna, and Eddy Rivas. We open on the Grimm swarming through the kingdom as the people of Atlas take shelter in the subway system and the people of Mantle lie low in the mines, all while being an audience to the let’s-bomb-Mantle speech that James Ironwood gives under his evil spotlight. This scene includes a shot of the Disgruntled Grandmother (aka Granny Karen) from Chapter 2 of Volume 8, “Refuge,” and Fiona Thyme’s mole Faunus uncle holding hands in the mines. Isn’t that a great message—scold a racist once, and they’ll see the world in a new light and be able to positively socialize with the marginalized who used to deal with the ex-racist’s discrimination. That’s how you cure racism! Also, why are the Grimm still here? I thought the kinetic blast of energy from The Long Memory obliterated all of them last episode. The show made such a huge deal over Salem and Monstra being wiped away by a bomb that Oscar and Ozpin completely pulled out of their shared assholes, and now that’s supposed to be pretty much irrelevant? Oh well, you can’t rely on something as decent as logic when you watch this show.
We cut to the Ace Ops arguing over the possibility that Ironwood’s ultimatum might be a bluff. Hmm, a man who shot one of his own Councilman before their very eyes might not be dead serious when he threatens to blow up Mantle if Penny doesn’t return to him? Yes, what a sensible theory that is. Vine Zeki says, “It may push the kids to finally see reason,” which makes me wonder why they’re assuming Penny (someone they really should be looking for at this moment) is with Team RWBY and company when they don’t have any evidence pointing in that direction. I guess he’s been watching the show along with the rest of us. Harriet Bree, always the one who’s gung-ho for tyranny, says, “Who cares?” before Ironwood comes in with Winter Schnee to order them to prepare the bomb. Marrow Amin has clearly had enough of this nonsense, because he launches into an anti-Ironwood monologue that Harriet cuts off halfway through. Like I said, she’s a fanatic for despotism and destruction. Marrow wraps up his harangue with, “I used to wear this rank with pride. Now I see it for what it really is—a collar.” Get it, because Marrow is a dog Faunus? Yeah, I think I felt my internal organs rearranging in reaction to that line. He’s about to walk away, but then we hear Ironwood cock his gun (its name in the official canon is, fittingly enough, Due Process), at which point I’m thinking to myself, “Not again.” Fortunately, Winter is quick on her feet, punching Marrow to the floor and putting him in handcuffs. But she also tells him, “You want a collar? Fine,” and I get that she’s pretending to be Ironwood’s lackey as she works out a plan to escape with Marrow, but that unnecessary line only served to rearrange my organs for a second time.
Next, Team RWBY, Oscar Pine, and Emerald Sustrai are discussing the situation in the dining room of Schnee Manor. The atmosphere of agitation thickens when Weiss Schnee and Yang Xiao Long direct a reasonable amount of distrust and hostility at Emerald, whom Oscar defends. The last thing Ruby says before she runs out of the room with her sister close behind is, “Nothing has changed! We’re in the exact same spot we were yesterday, arguing what to do while the kingdom waits to die.” Ruby, you took the words right out of my mouth. The events of Volumes 7 and 8 could have been compressed into one season and we wouldn’t have lost anything. Instead, the show has been stretching out this Atlas plotline for far too long, leaving me keen to move on to another part of Remnant ASAP.
We segue to Weiss Schnee’s room, where Jaune Arc attempts to heal Nora Valkyrie’s scars, but to no avail. Out of all the characters, Nora is definitely the one who’d love to show off her scars, so I don’t get why she cares about getting rid of them. Also, why are they everywhere on her body except for her face? It wouldn’t be the end of the world if one of the hero girls on this show had scars on her face. Anyway, she and Lie Ren have a heart-to-heart that involves him apologizing to her and Jaune for pushing them away and saying terrible things earlier. If the latter is a reference to the argument he had with Jaune and Yang in Chapter 4 of Volume 8, “Fault,” then let me say that I actually believe he made some valid points about their messing up and not being ready to be Huntsmen. But now we’re meant to think he was being too tough on them? *shrugs*
The show gives us a nice beat of comic relief when Jaune awkwardly skedaddles from the room after picking up on the intimate vibes between his teammates. The Renora talk continues with the two of them admitting that they love each other, Nora revealing the heart-wrenching detail about her mom abandoning her and declaring that she needs time away from her partner to figure out her identity, and Ren seeing white petals fluttering around her (contemplation, maybe?), agreeing with her, and then booping her on the nose as a cute callback. As frustrated as I’ve been with the show unnecessarily complicating their relationship over the past few volumes (there were even times when it felt like the show forgot Renora entirely), I appreciate the mature and frank conversation they have to finally confess their love and get in the same headspace together. I’d love for this to have ramifications in the future so that Nora can explore a compelling arc of introspection, but the inconsistent writing of this show doesn’t give me much confidence in that regard.
Next, Qrow Branwen and Robyn Hill are sneaking through the Atlas military base, having fetched their weapons and set the security cameras on loop (a popular trick in heist plots, though I think it’s just movie magic). Robyn stops Qrow from pressing for the elevator and tries to persuade him to resist heading up to Ironwood’s study and killing him: “Listen, I get it. You are hurting. You’ve been hurting for a long time. But let’s stop pretending that what you’re trying to do here is for anyone but yourself. Clover was a lot of things. You respected him, but I gotta tell ya, I think you’re the better Huntsman. Not because you’re the one who walked away, but because you’re the one fighting for what was right. Don’t go telling me that’s changed.” Okay, what led Robyn to believe that killing Ironwood is a self-centered goal on Qrow’s part? After all, many of the issues would be resolved if someone offed the psychotic general. And it’s bizarre that Robyn goes on to say that Qrow is a better Huntsman than Clover, a deduction that comes out of left field in my opinion. This also fails to take into account the fact that Qrow teamed up with Tyrian to fight Clover, then illogically threw away his sword, allowing Tyrian to grab it and stab it through Clover. God, that was such a mess. I very much hope I’m wrong when I say that the way Qrow and Robyn are animated here seems to imply they might get together (yay, isn’t that wonderful, especially when people who are involved with the show keep insisting that there was absolutely no queerbaiting and that Qrow and Clover were nothing more than good bro-buds). The scene ends with the elevator arriving and the two of them looking astonished by the passengers, whom we don’t get to see for the rest of the chapter but are most likely Winter and Marrow.
The show segues to the foyer of Schnee Manor, where Yang jokes around about the Hound. It’s discomforting when you realize that the Hound used to be a living person and that the show should be treating this matter with a tad more tact. Then Ruby, staring at the statue that crushed the Hound (aren’t they disturbed by the corpse remaining there?), shares a hunch with Yang: Salem captured their mom, Summer Rose, for the experiments she ran to mutate the silver-eyed Faunus into the Hound. Ruby goes on to regret wasting time on the effort they put into the plotline black hole that is Amity Tower. Then Yang talks about how they need hope and they need to take risks before hugging her sister and calling Summer her hero. I’ll be ready for Grimm Summer whenever they give it to us.
Then we hear glass breaking, and everybody rushes out of the Manor to find Penny Polendina restarting her fight with Watts’s virus. Ruby, Ren, Blake Belladonna, Weiss, and Emerald (I recently learned her chain-sickle guns are known as Thief’s Respite) all pitch in to prevent Penny from leaving, and she pleads Ruby to kill her so that the Winter Maiden powers will transfer to Ruby. Nora assures Penny that the virus is “just a part of you, remember? If you were only a machine, you never could have fought back for this long.” This gives Ruby the idea to tell Jaune to boost Penny’s Aura as a way to ward off the virus, albeit temporarily. Penny says the virus remains in her, and Ruby says, “But you’ve got an Aura, Penny, a soul. That’s who you are—our friend, not a machine.” I don’t know if these kids missed the memo, but we’ve known Penny has an Aura since Volume 2. Why are they acting so dumbfounded at the notion that Penny is her own person? She’s repeatedly shown empathy for others, including this very beat where she’s willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of everyone else’s safety. It’s been genuinely enthralling to watch her struggle with her identity over the past two volumes, but of course the show has to bungle up her character growth.
Emerald chimes in, “I think you’re wrong, by the way,” initially sounding as if she doesn’t believe Penny has a soul. However, she’s actually disagreeing with Ruby’s earlier point about them being at the same place they were yesterday. Then she blurts out that she’ll be “super pissed” if they quit right as she’s going to switch sides, which leads into a baffling bit where everyone laughs at Emerald. Watching this felt like one of those comedies where the characters crack up at their own tiresome gags in order to push you to chortle along with them.
Oscar has Ozpin come out to tell the crew that he’s reminded of “an old fairy tale” (please, no, we don’t want to hear your boring fairy tales), which he uses to explain that he should have trusted the kids with the truth and shouldn’t have fled when they found out by themselves. Yang, Blake, and Weiss all agree that “trust is a risk.” As the virus attempts to compel Penny to head to the Vault, Ruby has a lightbulb moment and says, “That’s actually a risk we haven’t considered.”
The chapter concludes with Ruby calling Ironwood to tell him that Penny will unlock the Vault, Arthur Watts hooking up a Scroll to a beat-up Atlesian Knight so that he can listen in on the call while Ironwood instructs Ruby to have Penny arrive at the academy entrance alone, and Neo coming to aim her parasol at Cinder Fall.
Overall, “Risk” is definitely not the episode that the writers were claiming is beautiful enough to make us cry, but it’s also not the flop we got last week. I was invested in certain segments, e.g. Winter saving Marrow’s butt, the Renora talk, and the five seconds when I seriously thought the show was going to branch off in an interesting direction by killing off Penny and passing on her Winter Maiden powers to Ruby. Everything else demonstrates the show’s predilection for sloppy and repetitive writing. Again, I’m fully prepared for the show to call it a day on the trivial second half of this equally hollow two-volume Atlas saga.
Since we only have three chapters left, I’ll make some Volume 8 predictions:
1. Either Emerald or Cinder will use up the Lamp’s last question
2. Emerald will trick Ironwood with her hallucinations
3. The show’s current obsession with trust, risk, optimism, and fear will build up to a moral message that turns out to be infuriatingly vapid
4. Deathflags for Ironwood, any of the Ace Ops officers, and/or Pietro
5. The reveal of Grimm Summer
6. The show will keep shoving the fact that Penny has personal feelings in our face
7. Salem will show up again before the volume ends, but merely in an incorporeal form
8. Oscar and Ozpin will finally merge together
9. Amity Tower will be successfully launched, but it won’t have any consequential impact on the plot itself
10. The show will canonize the Mettle Semblance that Miles Luna claimed Ironwood possesses
11. Qrow and Robyn, the two characters with misspelled bird names, will kiss
12. The heroes will save everyone in Mantle and Atlas, but it won’t feel earned
13. The heroes will conclude the volume by hitting the road for Vacuo
I’ll be back when Chapter 12, “Creation,” goes on public release on March 20. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 50/100