Lykos, Chakuro and Masoo have reached Falaina, the strange being at the heart of the Mud Whale. The Council of Elders order its desctruction, but the trio intervenes, and the hunters tasked with killing Falaina in order to sink the vessel lose heart. The Council retreats, reinstating Suou as chieftain and leaving it to the youth of the Mud Whale to decide how they will face the crisis.
Injured in the confrontation, Lykos reveals more about her homeland’s fixation on Falaina, and the existence of other nations besides. Though powerful, the Empire she hails from isn’t invincible, and their rivals may see fit to protect the residents of the Mud Whale… assuming they can survive the oncoming genocide.
Like my compatriots, I’ve been kind of up and down on Children of the Whales since episode three. I like its melancholy and at times claustrophobic atmosphere, and it presents a uniquely alien world that I’m still excited to learn about. However, the abrupt arrival of the evil Empire (because aren’t they all?) threw a huge wrench into any hopes for a moderately-paced world-building exercise. The Council of Elders’ sudden decision to literally go down with the ship also kicked that dream down the road.
Because of this wonky pacing, I’m also conflicted about episode five. We learn a bit more about the world outside the Mud Whale, but it’s entirely exposition from Lykos, whose shift from heartless killing machine to teary-eyed defender of the downtrodden seems extremely abrupt. With only four days left before the Empire returns to go full Exterminatus on the inhabitants, it feels like the pendulum is again swinging towards another brutal yet unfulfilling massacre. The show has simply loaded so much oncoming disaster into 3/5ths of its episodes that we have no time to focus on anything else. Had this happened after we’d gotten to know our protagonists and seen how they lived for awhile, it would have made Lykos’ returning emotions and Chakuro’s pleas for a chance to save his friends more moving. As it is, I’m just not feeling the impact.
This doesn’t mean that the episode doesn’t have anything worthwhile in it. We learn that Falaina is one of nine Nous (Nouses? Nousi?) that control a sand ship, and it is the only one that doesn’t feed on emotions. How it continues to survive and keep the Mud Whale afloat is anyone’s guess, but it at least clears up the reason why the Empire wants to purge it; allowing emotions to run free would endanger the fierce military machine they’ve built up. Lykos’ statement that there are more nations out there that are arrayed against the Empire makes it seem like they consider this an easy win to solidify their power and remove a distraction or potential threat. It may be a clunky way of expanding the world, but at least we’re getting a taste of the larger picture.
I’m also enjoying the shift in the power dynamic of the Mud Whale as the Council of Elders pulls back and the young people step up to the plate. Suou is trying to become the leader his people need in spite of his passive nature, and Ouni seems to have the makings of a real warrior. It’s a shame that the bout between him and the eyepatch-wearing Captain revealed nothing except that the Captain is a boring fatalist, but if he gets offed in the upcoming battle, maybe that will give Ouni time to temper his angst with some genuine leadership skills. Meanwhile, off in the wings, Masoo seems to be running up against his Marked lifespan just when his friends need him the most. He’s probably the character I’m most interested to watch at this point, and I hope he gets some time in the limelight, regardless of his final fate.
Despite being another oddly-paced episode in an already oddly-paced show, episode 5 does provide some greater context for the struggles we’ve seen so far and the trials on the horizon. The denizens of the Mud Whale now have both short- and long-term goals; survive the oncoming assault from the Empire, and find allies somewhere within the other nations to secure their future. Hopefully the show can give us more reasons to care about the fate of our heroes before the onslaught begins.