The village in this week’s episode is a microcosm of the world around them. Hell, the story in this week’s episode is a microcosm of the entire series. This episode may as well be Leon’s own reflection on not just his past, but his present and future as well. In that sense, the episode is almost dream-like in nature, wherein every character represents something important in Leon’s life. I mean, just look at Alois and his mother Aurelia. They’re essentially Leon and German respectively. Alois wants revenge; the villagers killed his father, and he wants them to pay a blood price for that heinous crime. Leon wants revenge; the Valiante Kingdom killed his mother, and he wants… well, what does he want? He wants someone to pay, but the truth of the matter is, society is what’s broken. Society is what allows these terrible atrocities to occur. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to square one.
The villagers are superstitious folks. They don’t take kindly to outsiders, and to make matters worse, they’re quick to point fingers. The situation here is like The Wicker Man in a way. Should misfortune ever befall the village and its inhabitants, the latter will conduct a ceremony to exorcise the demon from the town. But obviously, this is no exorcism. Obviously, they have no idea if anyone in the village is truly a demon or not. But it doesn’t really matter to them. They simply want a scapegoat to “sacrifice;” they need a scapegoat. Life in this universe is brutish and ugly. When something goes wrong, it’s often easier to just blame someone else for your problems. As a result, the village chief murders people to appease a bunch of easily-frightened, superstitious folks. And honestly, you can blame the village chief all you want, but he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without a mandate.
Alois’s father was hardly innocent himself. He participated in these heinous exorcism ceremonies too. One day, however, the guilt got to him, so he tried to out the entire fucked-up practice to the outside world. Needless to say, he didn’t succeed. He got taken out to the woods where the rest of the villagers punished him by bludgeoning him to death. Unfortunately, Alois had seen the murder of his own father, and since then, he’s harbored a deep hatred in his heart. He’s consumed by revenge, and as a result, he has fallen under the influence of a Horror. You can thus see the parallels between the kid and Leon. Leon also lost a parent to a rotten, broken system, and he’s gripped by anger in every waking moment. The obvious lesson here is that he may very well end up like Alois if he isn’t careful. So when he says, “No, you can’t think that way,” his words barely come out. He can’t speak with conviction, because deep down, he knows he needs to follow his own advice.
Likewise, Alois’s mother is no different from German: “Alois. I’m sorry. Mother couldn’t do anything for you!” Then right on cue, German walks up to the crestfallen Leon and puts a hand on his son’s shoulder. They’re in the same damn situation. Recall German’s words near the start of the episode: “What’s the point in rushing like that?” Leon replies, “Isn’t it obvious?” German then says, “You’re not going to say revenge, are you? Goodness. You’re not possessed by a Horror, are you?” This emphasis is mine. So what do we see next? A story about a kid who is more or less possessed by a Horror. German isn’t a perfect father by any means; by sleeping around so much, he’s eroding what little respect Leon has left for him. Nevertheless, German is trying his damndest to keep Leon on the right path. That’s why he seems so lax with Leon. He takes Leon’s outbursts of hate and anger in stride, because he knows his son needs patience more than anything.
What makes the episode truly poignant, however, is the blatant hypocrisy at the end of the episode. The village chief, now implicated for his crimes, are led away to the shed where he’ll likely be murdered. The village chief is now the scapegoat. Don’t get me wrong; he certainly isn’t innocent. But justice won’t be served by killing one man the same way all those previous murders didn’t exorcise demons. The reality is, the village chief was merely echoing the desires of his people. He’s just one man. He can’t make an entire village scapegoat anyone. The latent fear, hate, and distrust in people’s hearts is what makes it possible for the heinous ceremony to even exist in the first place. The village chief killed people to appease his people. If he hadn’t, they would’ve just appointed someone else to do his job. And if this episode is supposed to be a microcosm of the entire story, you can see the darker implications at hand.
Suppose Leon and German succeed in deposing the king and taking down the evil, manipulative Mendoza. Then what? My point is, will that get us to the root of the problem? Where do Horrors even come from? They are attracted to humanity’s negative feelings, are they not? Sure, Mendoza orchestrated the massive witch hunt, but we can’t assume that the citizens of Valiante are completely and utterly powerless. We can’t assume that they are simple bystanders who cannot resist a corrupt government. Like with the villagers in this very episode, fear, hate, and distrust is what makes it possible for so many innocent lives to be lost. Ultimately, Horrors exist in our world because society is fundamentally rotten. Rewatch the start of the first episode and listen to the people attending Leon’s mother’s execution: “I heard the last epidemic was her doing. Death to the witch!” Their beliefs are no different from the villagers we just watched.
German tells Leon that it isn’t their place to judge humans. Their job is to exterminate Horrors, and that’s all they will do. They won’t interfere even though it’s clear that the villagers will torture and murder the village chief. At the end of the day, our heroes can only go after those that are clearly evil. Horrors are clearly evil. As for humans… well, evil in this case is a little more insidious, isn’t it? This evil is a little harder to pin down — a little too nebulous for the likes of a warrior to combat. And that’s all Leon is. He’s a warrior; nothing more, nothing less. You can almost feel this insidious sort of evil taunting our heroes from a distance: “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.” And that’s the truth. Leon can only strike down the Horror that has possessed Alois. He can’t, however, heal the boy’s heart. Likewise, he can kill Mendoza, but he can’t stop Horrors from appearing in this world.
In the end, Leon must divorce himself from his emotions. Of course, this means getting rid of the hatred in his heart. He needs to give up his mad quest for revenge. But divorcing himself from his emotions also means something else. He has to rid himself of both his compassion and his mercy. When the Horror flashes Alois’s face a second time to avoid certain death, Leon hesitates. He eventually gets the job done, but for a second there, his heart falters. Our hero eventually murders a part of his innocence, but it doesn’t come easy. If there’s anything that we can know for certain, it’s that Leon isn’t quite ready to become a hero of justice just yet. His quest to stop Mendoza is still a personal vendetta. And of course, in our hearts of hearts, we may find it incredibly satisfying if and when Leon does stab Mendoza right through the chest with a blade, but that’s not what a hero of justice is supposed to think.
I think Leon is coming into his own just fine. He’s not the most charismatic hero, but his development is compelling. Not every hero needs to be this badass, cocksure protagonist who has it all together. I’m a little disappointed that Zaruba didn’t play a role in this week’s episode, though. We went out of our way to get the ring, and he doesn’t offer our hero any advice or guidance! Do your job, man! Also, I wouldn’t mind seeing Alfonso take on a bigger role. At the moment, we’re only getting breadcrumbs at best about his fate. But anyway, even though this may seem like a one-off episode at first glance, it ends up meaning so much, much more. I gotta say it is a strong episode.