In this episode, Ewan challenges Mikey to a battle where one must die for the other to win and escape. Why yes, they did put Christopher in charge of this operation... how did you know?
From the moment the Fusion Fighters arrived in Underworld, you can tell the usual script has been thrown out the window. Between the fall they took, the contrast to Bright Land and the overall look of the place, the characters appear to have a hard time not upsetting the censors and outright calling this place hell. The reality is even worse, however. Hell is chaotic with nothing but torture and pain. Between the various floating plains and the two home bases, Underworld is orderly by comparison- the concept of hell turned into a Starcraft map. It feels like an artificial creation, and turns out to be an elaborate playground for Ewan. Welcome to the Digital World's PvP server!
While the course of the action has always made the stakes obvious, they're never stated flat out in advance. When Mikey got his Fusion Loader, he isn't handed a sheet of paper that explains how he'll die if he loses, even if becomes apparent soon enough. That makes the rules, fight until either Mikey or Ewan is dead, particularly ominous. The way Ewan delivers them is downright creepy, as is the way he grants the Fusion Fighters their own castle, their own satellite radar and time to prepare. It's not about playing the bad guy: he's so convinced that all of this isn't real that he goes out of his way to play fair.
This is where the show gets incredible mileage out of Ewan's unique delusion. He's not carrying out his secret desire to be the bad guy and conquer the world, he's carrying out his desire to live in a world without consequence. His decision to play Horde is incidental; he figures he's just as likely to be a good guy next time. Meanwhile, AxeKnightmon plays up the fantasy with a stirring speech to his forces praising Ewan and giving the general the floor to present the big strategy. Who doesn't want to feel that rush?
The big strategy is no illusion, however. More than ensuring victory for AxeKnightmon, Ewan wants to take on Mikey in a game of wits. His strategy is beautiful, accounting for established attack patterns that the Fusion Fighters have leaned on in the past. The “Mikey engages the bulk of the army while Christopher goes for the surgical strike” plan was utilized in some fashion against NeoMyotismon, Zamielmon and Gravimon. At the same time, while it checks the boxes, Ewan's plan still feels like the kind of simple, ambitious Zerg Rush that an immature boy would think of.
Speaking of immature, how about Ewan getting bored as soon as they appear to have the upper hand? While keeping Ewan oblivious is integral to AxeKnightmon's plan, Tuwarmon suddenly has to put the genie back in the bottle and make sure Ewan sustains interest until Mikey's dead. The same ignorance that helps them is also why arguments about keeping focus go ignored: it's not real. Ewan reasons that if he did somehow lose, he can either hit the Continue button or stop the game and go back home. Tuwarmon's guilt about keeping this secret starts to show, and is a sign of the illusion's inevitable cracking. The dub, seemingly aware of how meta its editing has become, chooses this scene to use the word “die” for the first time.
As it turns out, they do not have the upper hand. Knowing that Mikey would inevitably go soft, Christopher demands control of the operation. But instead of using this power to hog the glory, he uses it to install deception. Yes, the Digimon pretty much go where Ewan expects them too, but the generals do not. Nene controls Mikey's troops that engage the bulk of the army, while Christopher's surgical strike is done with the weaker Cyberdramon and is actually the decoy. It demonstrates the level of trust that has suddenly formed between the three, and it gives Mikey the opening to go straight to Ewan with MailBirdramon. It also gives Mikey the chance to reason with Ewan, and for Ewan to respond by challenging him to a swordfight to the death.
My Grade: A
- This is the sort of scenario where having somebody like Christopher really helps. While he acknowledges the reality of the world, he's just dispassionate enough to play the game anyway, where neither Mikey nor Nene would be able to put their all into it. He not only puts Mikey in a good position to make the call on what to do with Ewan, he understands Nene's family connection makes her unable to make good judgments about him and keeps her guarding the fort.
- AxeKnightmon calls the army Twilight, hinting at a disconnect between himself and Bagramon's plans. There's really no indication that Bagramon is aware of, or would approve, of all of this. Give me a minute and I'll even come up with a great in-story reason why he calls the team Twilight instead of sticking with Midnight. This episode's too good to write it off as a dub error, especially one that reverts back to the original Japanese.
- Wisemon's observations of Underworld strengthening evil is really cool. It's simultaneously an acknowledgment of the way good always somehow finds a way to overcome the odds, and an intriguing inversion that puts the good guys at a disadvantage.
- Ewan's reaction at the big ruse is telling. He's not upset because he's losing; he's upset because the game didn't behave the way he expected it to. The computer cheats.