You don’t expect a happy half hour when you watch Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury lately, but when an episode has a title like “The End of Hope,” you know it’s going to be particularly rough. It seems there’s no stopping season 2’s brutal story arc, and while episode 19 ended with Prospera lighting the fuse, episode 20 focuses on the ensuing explosion and its fiery aftermath. It’s a fast-paced torrent of violence, with an intense duel between two former friends and yet another harrowing assault on Asticassia, with tragic results. It all adds up to a heavy, painful episode with a high body count, and the death of a significant character.
Although Prospera’s actions last week wreaked havoc on the Earth city of Quinharbor, the fallout has been felt virtually everywhere, including Asticassia, and “The End of Hope” mainly takes place on two separate fronts at the school. First, we have the space front, where Guel and Avery’s squadron confront Shaddiq and attempt to bring him to justice for his recent schemes. Inside the school itself, Norea manages to commandeer her Lfrith Thorn Gundam and attacks the campus in an enraged response to Aerial’s latest assault on Earth. It’s a sharp break from the more politically oriented previous episode, and an impressive example of how fast this series can go from a tense, dialogue-heavy installment to an utter bloodbath.
Out in space, the duel between Guel and Shaddiq works on several levels. Notably, it allows both characters to air out their deeper feelings about one another and acknowledge their sins and misdeeds. It also answers a lot of questions about Shaddiq’s motivations, which have been a bit vague up until now. Not only is Shaddiq disgusted with the Benerit Group members’ infighting and need to one-up each other, but he also resents the Spacians’ exploitation of Earth through proxy wars, which have greatly damaged many of its institutions and its economic stability.
Shaddiq ultimately gets some great character development from all this, as “The End of Hope” does a fantastic job highlighting his dual loyalties. He may have been raised as the adopted son of a powerful Spacian, but his earliest years were spent as an Earthian war orphan and a victim of his adopted family’s ventures—and, by extension, the ventures of the entire Benerit Group. It’s fascinating how Shaddiq values his Earthian roots above his Spacian upbringing: despite his life of privilege in space, he still feels a stronger affinity towards Earth as his true home, and he’s willing to betray his adopted heritage in order to “break this unjust peace” that has caused so many problems for Earthians who weren’t as lucky as he was. This is a compelling revelation for one of the most enigmatic characters in the series, and it’s a believable motivation to boot. One even wonders if Shaddiq is driven in part by some kind of self-loathing or survivor’s remorse, as he became indoctrinated into the very world that took the lives of countless Earthians just like him.
Of course, it also helps a lot that the space battle is top-notch from a technical standpoint. The fast-paced exchanges between Guel and Shaddiq perfectly match the characters’ intense emotional states, with the two chasing each other around, trading blows, and using a myriad of weapons to engage at long range and in close combat. The final phase of their duel—a barrage of multi-directional assaults from drone weapons and wire-extended limbs—ratchets things up even further and adds an extra layer of complexity to the fight. Shaddiq’s support team, consisting of the girls from Grassley house, also provide a solid background for Guel and Shaddiq’s duel as they hold off Avery’s squadron.
As intense as the space battle is, Norea’s assault on Asticassia, and the ensuing attempts to stop her, is arguably even weightier. It’s certainly the far grittier part of the episode: Norea’s attack is a blaze of hatred, directed at anyone or anything in sight. It’s truly chilling to watch, but for dual reasons. On the one hand, the scenes of students getting slaughtered in the attack are a lot more graphic and intense than most action anime. This truly feels like a warzone, pure and simple. But on the other hand, Norea herself comes across as pitiable and locked in her hatred. She embodies the episode’s title perhaps more than anyone else, as she truly feels that vengeance against the Spacians is all she has left to live for. There is no hope for a better future or for happiness, and no choice to make: violence is the only fate she can accept.
One notable aspect of this part of the episode is how all the other characters at Asticassia react to Norea’s assault. Virtually everyone puts aside their petty rivalries and contributes to preventing the loss of life: Petra and Suletta carry survivors to safety, while Secelia loans a mobile suit to Chuchu (of all people!) to help stop Norea, and an injured Nika even helps calibrate it for her. Before long, Chuchu finds herself on the battlefield helping Felsi, a Spacian from Jeturk House, defend the campus. It’s a striking development for all of them, as they recognize there are far bigger concerns in the world than student pecking orders or Earthian/Spacian divisions.
On this front, Elan—or more specifically, the fifth clone of the original Elan—deserves special attention. For the longest time, he was one of the series’ more unlikable characters: snake-like, manipulative, and willing to go to great lengths to save his own skin and complete his missions for Peil Technologies. His dialogues with Norea in recent episodes have clearly had an impact, though, as he desperately pleas with her to stop and tries to convince her to focus on building a better future instead of succumbing to hatred. This might be the first time he’s actually cared for someone other than himself, in part because he identifies with her fear of death and need to escape from a violent, seemingly meaningless existence.
Sadly, though, the episode viscerally reminds us again why it’s called “The End of Hope,” as Norea is shot down and killed the moment she lowers her defenses and hears Elan out. I’m not sure if the Witch from Mercury writers know episode 4 of Gundam Unicorn, but Norea’s fate here bears a striking similarity to Loni’s, and the battles in both episodes have several parallels and unfold in almost the exact same fashion. In any case, this sequence is arguably just as powerful as its Unicorn predecessor, but one fears that the “end of hope” here wasn’t just for Norea, but for Elan as well. We can only wonder how he’s going to react to her death as the series winds down.
The epilogue of “The End of Hope” is more like a post-mortem, showing us the awful aftermath of Norea’s assault and Shaddiq’s duel with Guel. Shaddiq and his collaborators from Grassley are arrested, while Asticassia is devastated, with hundreds killed in the violence (Petra might be among them, although it’s unclear if she’s dead or seriously injured). As security and clean-up crews assess the damage and console victims, though, Suletta inspires the Earth House members to look for as many survivors as they can and rescue them from the rubble. It’s ironic: as much as the episode bombards us with dramatic intensity and violent battles, this brief, quiet finale might just be its most powerful moment. Suletta’s simple gesture of doing something—anything—to save lives, even when the chances are so low, reinforces the special resilience and strength that have been so central to her character, especially recently. For an episode that tries so hard to convince us that this really is “the end of hope,” in the end, it’s Suletta who has the final word: “No, it’s not.”