Arguably the best detail of this week’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is the episode’s contrasting bookends. “Our Empty Selves” opens with Suletta eagerly throwing herself back into school life after Miorine severed ties with her in the last episode. She engages in class, aces exams, eats with her Earth House friends, and checks more items off her to-do list. But the final scene crushes Suletta’s illusory happiness and productivity, as Aerial becomes fully autonomous and leaves her, having no more use for a pilot. For the second week in a row, Suletta has been a pawn in other characters’ machinations, with painful results. And as much as Miorine, Prospera, and now Eri try to justify their actions as “for Suletta’s own good,” it’s a hard pill to swallow. One abandonment was bad enough, but considering Suletta has been tied to Prospera and Aerial her whole life, this week’s double abandonment feels much worse.
Overall, “Our Empty Selves” is pretty packed, moving through several plot threads in succession and keeping us up to speed as well as it can manage. Guel and Miorine, now business partners, are struggling to gain support for the latter’s campaign for president of the Benerit Group. Meanwhile, Shaddiq is building support of his own, partnering with Peil Technologies and negotiating with Prospera to acquire her Gundam technology for his own company. Prospera’s place in this stands out because of how effectively she is playing to both parties for her own benefit. Despite being in the background in these scenes, the episode does a solid job conveying that she’s the real string-puller here.
As the episode goes on, we also check in with several other players elsewhere. Lauda, the new head of Jeturk House, is struggling to live up to family expectations and inspire everyone the way Guel did. Guel and Miorine also plan to go to Earth to quell the anti-Spacian riots and build support for Miorine’s campaign. Shaddiq continues to assert control over Grassley and move forward with his own campaign. And much more…
Juggling all these plot points and characters proves to be a double-edged sword for the episode itself. On the one hand, it gives virtually the whole cast something to do and keeps us up to speed on their status. On the other hand, much of this is setup and passing glances rather than deeper character or plot development. The briefer scenes, like Martin’s encounter with Secelia, and Elan’s argument with Norea, don’t really lead anywhere new, and they don’t resolve so much as they simply end before jumping to another scene. If there’s any weakness to “Our Empty Selves,” it’s an insistence on doing too much.
Despite all that’s happening here, Suletta still forms the core of the episode, as she tries to deal with the fallout of losing Miorine and the Holder title. Her scene at the greenhouse is especially strong, as she insists she is the only one to blame for her misfortune, regardless of her mother’s and Miorine’s meddling. This moment effectively reinforces Suletta the child, who lacks the kind of assertiveness and self-confidence of her older peers. Still, she’s not alone, and one has to appreciate her Earth House friends, especially Chuchu, for jolting her out of her self-pity and inspiring her to resolve things with Miorine. There’s a subtle nod here to Chuchu’s own character growth, as well, as she acknowledges that sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is through an honest conversation rather than a fistfight.
The episode’s most powerful and significant moment, though, comes at the end, when Prospera sends Suletta to meet the Aerial Gundam under the guise of meeting Miorine. Everything seems normal, until Eri begins asserting herself in Suletta’s mind. The resulting scene is truly gripping, with Suletta talking with Eri directly, and learning she is a replicant created from Eri’s genes to serve as her physical surrogate. Now, Suletta has fulfilled her purpose—after all the testing and duels, Eri’s consciousness has reached a new level of self-awareness and no longer requires Suletta to activate her. As Suletta desperately pleads with Eri to stay, the Aerial unexpectedly jettisons her into space.
It’s hard to overstate the weight of this scene, especially the technical details. The “setting” of the meeting in Suletta’s mind, where she talks with a dozen floating Eri clones amidst a starscape, stands out for its surreal and otherworldly atmosphere. The visuals and direction do a superb job conveying everything Suletta is absorbing: her memories from infancy, her previous encounters with Eri, and her horrified realization that she is a mere “key” for unlocking Eri’s potential. The eerie serenity of the scene ends with a jolt, though, when Aerial suddenly kicks Suletta out of the cockpit, leaving her tumbling in silence in space. The episode even invites us to share in Suletta’s disorientation and reeling shock: the camera shifts to first-person view, letting us see the stars and the Aerial Gundam spinning past us. By far, it’s the most absorbing part of the entire episode.
“Our Empty Selves” closes with Prospera taking the Aerial and joining Miorine, leaving Suletta floating in space with nothing more than a rescue beacon and her grief. The painful irony of Prospera’s final musing—“Suletta deserves to live freely, doesn’t she?”—hits especially hard when we recognize that Prospera, not Suletta herself, made the choices for her. Like “Precious Things” before it, “Our Empty Selves” puts Suletta through a ringer, with multiple characters manipulating her and leaving her alone to deal with the trauma. Is there nowhere to go but up from here? Possibly, since Suletta still has her Earth House friends to lean on in this difficult stretch. But The Witch from Mercury is still a Gundam series, and if this franchise has taught me anything over the last 25 years, there’s always the chance that things could get even worse, even for a main character.