Duplicity is a central theme of “Envoys from the Earth,” the opening episode of the new season of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury. Insidious plans unfold in seemingly normal situations, and supposedly trustworthy characters hide ulterior motives. This is especially apparent in the opening scene. Back at the Asticassia School, life is going on as usual: Suletta and her refit Aerial Gundam continue to take part in mobile suit duels, while the school is planning its “Open Campus” festival for prospective students. Dawn of Fold’s attack at Plant Quetta, which nearly killed Suletta, Miorine, and the other Earth House students, has been quietly covered up, with most students unaware it even happened.
But amidst all this, it’s obvious this “return to normalcy” is a façade, if only for Earth House. Lilique reflects on the battle—“It was real combat, wasn’t it,” she says, trembling—while Suletta is still traumatized from brutally killing a soldier. Miorine is still off-campus tending to her critically injured father, and her Gund-Arm company’s activities have been suspended. By the end of the episode, the table is set for other potential conflicts on and off campus involving several players, with Asticassia at serious risk of becoming a battleground with “real combat,” not duels. As Season 2’s first outing, “Envoys from the Earth” is all exposition and setup, but it effectively conveys that things are not so normal, no matter how they appear on the surface.
Despite being a reintroduction to the series, some of the episode’s biggest highlights involve the antagonists—admittedly a welcome development, as Season 1 rarely had a consistent villainous threat in the Gundam tradition Char Aznable or Master Asia. Especially notable here is Shaddiq, who secretly hired Dawn of Fold in the first place to assassinate Delling and overthrow the Benerit Group. Shaddiq established himself as a classic “string puller” type in Season 1, and this time is no different. While reporting on the attack, he shifts the blame to Lauda Neill and his late father Vim’s company, while his father Sarius pretends to mourn Vim’s death and Delling’s injuries. Soon after, Shaddiq and Sarius vow to wipe out Dawn of Fold and avenge their Benerit “comrades.” The irony, of course, is that they’re really trying to clean up their own mess, under the guise of saving the Benerit group they just tried to destroy, and no one is the wiser. It’s cleverly executed duplicity, and I’m eager to see how long they can keep the ruse up.
Although Shaddiq’s main scheme involves the Benerit Group, he is also making inroads at Asticassia itself. With his classmate Elan’s help, he has arranged to have Sophie and Norea, the two Gundam pilots from Dawn of Fold who attacked Quetta, transfer into the school and join the Earth House. Some of their initial interactions are genuinely charming—particularly a cute montage where Suletta takes Sophie on a tour of the campus—but it isn’t long before they start putting more insidious schemes into motion.
While these middle scenes effectively move the episode along, they also do a nice job of reinforcing Sophie and Norea’s contrasting personalities. Most notably, Sophie’s freewheeling, carefree nature is at stark odds with Norea’s grim cynicism. When Norea tells Elan, “What an inspiring campus you have. Clean, well-circulated air, a sky of vivid blue, lush vegetation, cheerful, smiling faces… it makes me sick,” we can’t help but wonder what darker parts of her past could have influenced this perspective. And while Sophie’s enthusiasm and “jump right in” attitude is fun when she’s on her campus tour, we already know from last season she’s the same way on the battlefield. When she gets violent, “jump right in” becomes “shoot first, ask later.”
With so much focus on Shaddiq, Sophie, and Norea, there admittedly isn’t much for Suletta and the other Earth House protagonists to do in this episode, other than play off of them. The one character who does loom large, though, is Nika, who is caught between her current loyalties to Earth House and her past ties to Dawn of Fold. We don’t know too many details about Nika’s past, but we do know she hasn’t escaped them—Shaddiq’s ability to easily blackmail her into helping him last season was proof enough of that. With Sophie and Norea joining Earth House, the situation has only gotten more uncomfortable, especially since the House’s leader, Martin, has been suspicious of Nika since the Quetta incident. When Martin finally confronts her about it face-to-face, she simply deflects and walks away, but it’s obvious this issue won’t simply disappear. One has to think some difficult choices are on the horizon for Nika, with potentially serious consequences for the Earth House members, Sophie or Norea, or even Nika herself.
In what’s become almost a cliché for this show, “Envoys from the Earth” closes with Suletta challenging Sophie and Norea to a duel after she and Nika discover them trying to steal Elan’s Pharact Gundam. It’s yet another case of a setup for a duel Suletta is almost 100% certain to win, but at least the stakes might be higher this time, since Sophie and Norea view mobile suit combat as genuine war. More consequential, though, is the after-credits epilogue where Lady Prospera introduces Miorine to “Quiet Zero,” a project Delling was working on, and one Prospera wants to use to “rewrite” the world and eliminate war. Gundam has a long history of masked characters—Char, Zechs, Rau le Creuset, etc.—with ambitions to alter human history, and it’s great to see The Witch from Mercury continuing that tradition. But, like her predecessors, Prospera’s ambitions have obvious violent and ominous undertones, and considering her character so far can mostly be summed up as “Suletta’s kind, caring mother,” her own duplicity might turn out to be the most dangerous of all.