This week’s Zankyou no Terror wraps up a huge chunk of the mystery while also delivering a heartfelt and dramatic change in the relationships between Nine, Twelve, and Lisa. It’s a return to form after the less fitting tone of the airport arc, and all that’s left is the thrilling conclusion.
The Athena Plan is laid out in near entirety for Shibasaki and Hamura courtesy of one of the people involved with the plan seven years prior. There’s nothing particularly surprising about it from a viewer’s standpoint. A group of orphans were taken to a facility run by the man Shibasaki had been investigating prior to his demotion and experimented on in an attempt to artificially trigger Savant Syndrome in them. It didn’t work, they pretty much all died, and only Nine, Twelve, and Five made it out alive. Previous episodes pretty clearly hinted at that exact situation, but it’s no less disturbing to see children treated as lab rats. What’s worse is that Five, Nine and Twelve are all dying, a degenerative side effect of the experiments (you’ll recall that Five and Nine suffer from headaches). Suddenly, Sphinx’s sense of urgency and recklessness makes a lot more sense. They’ve got a limited time to get things done.
It also may explain Five’s apparent madness. It’s possible that her brain has degenerated enough to completely blind her to the danger of her actions. Five is supposedly a highly respected spy, so surely she couldn’t have always been so reckless. I can’t help but wonder whether she was a relatively normal person at one point.
The high point of “Highs and Lows” comes when Twelve arrives at the ferris wheel to help Lisa. When he gets there, he finds she’s been strapped to a bomb, and he settles in to disarm it. The scene is gorgeously blocked and the tone is strangely quiet for such a tense situation. It’s the kind of dichotomy I’ve been wanting from Zankyou no Terror. As Twelve works, Lisa apologizes for getting them into trouble again. Her words prompt Twelve to stop for a moment, cup her face, and tell her that she doesn’t need to apologize for something that isn’t her fault. The moment between them is the pinnacle of Lisa’s characterization. The entire series, she’s been told by nearly everyone that she doesn’t matter, that she’s useless, that everything is her fault. Someone telling her that she does matter and that she’s done nothing wrong is the kind of sentiment that has the power to set her free. It’s exactly what she needs to hear. Add Yoko Kanno’s heartrending soundtrack and it’s enough to bring me to tears.
Twelve has no possible way of disarming the bomb in time, so he’s forced to reveal to Five the location of the item he and Nine stole from the facility six months prior. As it turns out, they didn’t steal plutonium, but an atomic bomb prototype, one that they stash in a locker at school. I was previously perplexed as to why they enrolled in a school and then never attended after their initial explosion, but it makes more sense now. No one would think to look for an atomic bomb in a high school locker, making it a decent hiding place. A hiding place that’s raided just as Nine comes to pick up the bomb. He barely manages to escape in time, but the police are in hot pursuit at Five’s behest. Unfortunately for Five, it looks like her card is one step closer to being punched, as she apparently suffers an aneurysm and faints in her handler’s arms.
Twelve and Lisa seem to be out of danger for the moment, but it’ll likely be up to them to try and save Nine before he gets caught. Of course, knowing that everyone’s days are numbered makes the future a little more tragic. Even Lisa, who isn’t immediately doomed, will probably face hefty consequences for her association with Sphinx.
Images are copyright of MAPPA.