It turns out deals with devils generally aren’t the most reliable bargains. The consequences of Sayaka’s choice begin to pile up in this episode, as her rescue by Homura only seems to prolong the inevitable. Sayaka’s self-image and motivations are fundamentally incompatible with the nature of a magical girl; the more she struggles, the worse things become. And Kyubey knows this, and always knew this, but he doesn’t care – Sayaka herself is not important to him. Sayaka is leverage, one more tool moving him closer to his actual prey.
The episode opens back at Homura and Kyouko’s confrontation, with the two shot vividly through more of Kyouko’s chains. Kyouko demands to know “who’s side” Homura is on, but Homura’s answer seems like a misdirection – she claims she’s an “ally to those who maintain their composure.” This answer, like her powers and her strange knowledge of the others, sets her up as a dangerous third party – but in reality, she’s actually telling the truth. Homura’s actions are consistent throughout – she wants to help the others, but has given up on trying to actually get close to them, and so she merely demands they do what she wants. This led to confrontation with Mami, and it’s leading to confrontation with Kyouko, but in the end, it’s both of them that lose their cool. Homura may not have a good plan, but she certainly has a consistent one.
Of course, Homura’s lack of overt camaraderie plays directly into what Kyubey wants, as well. As Homura’s frustration leads her to lash out at Madoka, Madoka wonders what she herself has done to warrant this treatment. And Kyubey is right there to pick up the pieces, slinking onto Madoka’s shoulder and whispering that “it’s obvious she’s planning something.” Homura may have dedication, but she lacks Kyubey’s cold, infinite patience.
Kyubey’s machinations continue to dominate the next scene, as Sayaka uses her last Grief Seed to drain just a bit of darkness from her soul gem. Sayaka wants to sacrifice of herself, but the magical girl system inherently pulls against that. If you only give, you won’t last long – your soul gem will darken, and your magic will fade. The system punishes magical girls for not optimizing their harvesting of Soul Gems, and rewards selfishness and callousness. And on top of that, Sayaka now has Kyouko to contend with, a representation of everything she hates about this system. But Kyubey sees Kyouko not as a threat, but an opportunity – talking about Madoka’s potential, she urges Sayaka to convince her friend to fight.
But Sayaka is certainly not the kind of person who’d ask for help from anyone – she sternly declares that “this is my fight,” and heads off to handle the witches herselves. Her line is quickly paralleled in the next scene, as we see Homura say the same thing. Madoka wants all of these magical girls to get along, but the system inherently promotes isolation, and the personalities of all three current magical girls support that tendency. Madoka will need more than her own words to bring companionship to these sad girls.
Madoka’s next attempt to reach her friend occurs back at the alley, in a scene that opens with a nice series of establishing shots. Madoka urges Sayaka to talk things out, but Sayaka can’t back down on her convictions. Made bitter by seeing the reality of Kyouko’s values, she assigns the worst possible motives to Homura as well, saying that Homura “let Mami die because she wanted the Grief Seed.” “Mami was an exception. All the other magical girls are like those two!” she says, her instinct towards heroism making her choose to be a martyr once more. And when Madoka asks Kyubey for help, he just says what’s most likely to prompt Madoka to make the contract.
This clearly isn’t a situation Madoka can handle on her own, and so she turns to the one person she can trust – Momdoka. As usual, the brief scene between Madoka and her mother ends up being an unexpected highlight of the episode. In contrast to the other girls’ firm but clearly adolescent values, Madoka’s mom directly says that “you can’t expect a happy ending just by doing what’s right all the time.” You need to compromise, and in Sayaka’s case, “somebody has to be in the wrong to balance out her desire to be in the right.” If Sayaka can’t make a selfish or imperfect choice, you have to make that choice for her.
Her next lines apply equally well to Sayaka and Homura: “would you rather give up on her, or let her have the wrong idea about you?” This works as immediate advice regarding Sayaka, but with the benefit of hindsight, we can see this is also advice that Homura has internalized. Homura’s actions throughout pretty much always lead to the other girls getting the wrong idea about her – but they are reflective of the fact that she refuses to give up on them. And finally, Momdoka offers the critical “you should learn how to make mistakes when you’re young.” The power of Kyubey is that he’s a nearly omniscient being tricking adolescent girls – they’re bound to believe in things they shouldn’t, and make all kinds of mistakes. But the seemingly innocent Kyubey offers no margin of error.
Sayaka continues to move towards her destiny through the rest of this episode, as an aborted visit to her crush ends in Kyouko confronting her once again. Kyouko sneeringly refers to her idol as a “little rich boy,” and taunts “you wasted your only chance for a miracle on something that stupid?” Kyouko’s actions don’t seem reflective of a desire to push Sayaka out of town – they seem intended to goad Sayaka, and reflective of some legitimate anger about Sayaka’s choices. If you’re trying to scare a very proud person away, you don’t attack their core values. Kyouko is clearly looking for something else.
Their confrontation ends as it must, in an actual duel over the highway. It’s a night duel, of course – one foreshadowed by a quick shot from the previous scene, and one that reflects how at this point in the series, the slow overall shift from bright daytime to sunset colors has now left nearly every scene in twilight or full darkness. In one more cute bit of foreshadowing, Kyouko agrees to let Homura fight until she finishes eating, which Homura says is “plenty of time.” And then Madoka decides to make that mistake her mother mentioned, and throw Sayaka’s soul gem away.
Sayaka collapses at this, and Kyubey reveals the truth – that the soul gems are actually now the repositories for their souls, and that their actual bodies are simply just empty organ dolls. We see vulnerability in Kyouko for the first time here, as she demands answers of the little mascot creature. And we see the full extent of Kyubey’s inhumanity, as he describes human bodies in grossly clinical terms. “You always react like this when you’re told what’s going on,” he says. “Why are humans so touchy about the placement of their souls?” The real enemy is revealed for the first time here, as the four girls learn the truth of how he sees them on the dark overpass.
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