This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Episode 15
“I’m counting on ya, buddy.”
“Leave it to me.”
You didn’t think that it was going to be that easy, did you?
When caught up in the isolating throes of battle, it’s easy to idolize the cool lone wolves that operate like sleek armies of one. Someone who can handle their own is usually an intimidating visual, but partners can also be an incredible asset and awaken your fighting spirit in ways that you never thought possible. “Descent” is largely about such a partnership and the teamwork between Reiner and Bertholdt. It analyzes both the past and the present to illustrate how the two have bettered themselves with the help of each other and how that bond gets tested more than it ever has before. It’s about how the presence of someone else can help you rise above your faults and that their absence can push you past your limits in ways you never thought possible. There’s also a whole lot of emotionally charged warfare in here, too. Bertholdt nearly suffers a major loss in this episode, but without that pain, half of what he gets done here might not be possible.
In what’s turned into a bit of a pattern for Attack on Titan, after what appears to be another major death in the series, the show flashes back to some of the pivotal moments for that fallen character. It’s always appreciated to get more context on the relationship of certain characters and get answers to lingering questions, but it feels like poor timing for this detour on Reiner, Bertholdt, and the mysterious War Chief Zeke’s friendship. “Descent” comes in right in the middle of a massive battle and even though this glimpse to the past provides necessary information on Bertholdt’s current plan of attack, it definitely feels like it breaks the strong momentum that the series built up to last week. Perhaps holding this flashback over to the following episode could have helped in this regard.
In spite of the pacing issues of the most recent episodes, “Descent” gets into some deeply compelling material. Reiner and Bertholdt put together a meticulous plan to secure Eren and take out his support, but with Reiner now a smoldering husk, “Descent” turns back the clock to further analyze his grand plan. The duo’s days as trainees are looked at, specifically in regard to their big secret about being Titans. There’s a chilling sequence of events where a fellow soldier, Marco, overhears them discuss their special abilities. The two try to cover up the gaffe by insisting that it’s just a joke, but their insecurities get the better of them and it results in them leaving Marco defenseless and they ensure that he becomes Titan food.
It never seems like Marco is a legitimate threat to them or that their secret was ever really in danger or even fully understood, but the brashness and extreme nature of Reiner and Bertholdt’s actions against their fellow man is what stands out here. It’s also nice to get some more Annie during this flashback and explore her complicated dynamic with Reiner and Bertholdt, even if it’s a small dose. All of those earlier moments with the character before the Titan-cat’s out of the bag all resonate strongly as she stays in the closet and deceives her team.
These flashbacks all reiterate that Bertholdt, Reiner, and Zeke’s mission to retrieve the “Coordinate” is paramount in order to fix their “cursed history,” but the most significant moment out of these flashbacks is how Reiner tries to bolster Bertholdt’s confidence and teach him to function more independently. This perhaps comes across a little on the nose as the audience now knows that Bertholdt has to act on his own after the loss of his partner, but it still helps give Reiner increased motivations and stakes for the second half of this assault on Shiganshina District.
As “Descent” catches up to the present, we get to see the corresponding side of the end of last week’s battle. Bertholdt anxiously waits for Reiner’s signal so he can launch his stage of this attack and after the Survey Corps blow Reiner to pieces, Bertholdt finally hears that mighty roar. This battle cry is the quadrupedal Titan’s cue to hurl that mysterious wrapped barrel in the Survey Corp’s direction. This barrel actually houses Bertholdt and just when it is at the apex of its throw, he plans to explode into the Colossal Titan and completely hit the Survey Corp by surprise.
That’s right, the high note that “Thunder Spears” went out on was legendary, but now all of the Survey Corp’s celebration and success gets brutally yanked away once the dust gets a chance to settle. It’s a hell of a hiding place and the Survey Corps’ victory turns into panic as they now face another major threat in Shiganshina. It’s a little cheap that Reiner is able to ultimately survive the Survey Corps’ perfect attack by the transferring of his consciousness. It feels like a way to just further draw out Reiner’s involvement, but it’s not as if similar precedents weren’t already established with the Reiss family at the beginning of this season.
The second half of this episode sees some major quick thinking go into play by everyone involved. Erwin and his team frantically try to figure out how to avoid being crushed by the incoming airborne Colossal Titan, but after Bertholdt sees the poor condition that Reiner’s Titan is in, he abruptly switches course to instead try to save his friend. It’s genuinely suspenseful as Bertholdt struggles with what he should do during this moment. Armin doesn’t want to blow this brief moment of vulnerability and tries to reason with Bertholdt to come to some kind of truce here. Unsurprisingly, Bertholdt isn’t one for negotiation (especially when Armin tries to use the memory of Annie against him) and he only seems more convinced that it’s their job to erase what’s left of humanity.
It’s also dark territory when Bertholdt reveals that they don’t personally view humans as evil or think that they’ve done anything wrong, but simply that their death is a necessary ingredient for their master plan. It’s great to see Armin take a stand here when a leader is needed, too. This verbal sparring gains some physical bite when Mikasa swoops in to try and end Bertholdt before he’s able to get too far along in his bullshit. Sadly, she’s only able to go all Van Gogh on him. This sends Bertholdt on the defensive, with Hange and her squad in hot pursuit and seemingly with the advantage.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Survey Corps attempt to officially finish off Reiner, but face complications of their own when they learn that his Titan form has cleverly blocked off his concealed human form. Then, to make matters even worse, the retreating Bertholdt flips strategies and at last transforms into his Titan form. With Hange and her troops so nearby, the explosion of Bertholdt’s transformation appears to wipe out Hange’s entire squad. After this lightning fast reversal of fortune, Armin, Mikasa, Levi and their tiny team must square off with the Colossal Titan on their own, as the odds continue to get worse for them. It’s a terrible situation to be caught in, but they truly don’t have any other options here.
“Descent” is the perfect mix of emotional catharsis and suspenseful action. Reiner and Bertholdt’s friendship is something that’s appeared along the fringes of Attack on Titan in the past, but this direct focus on it helps provide an empathetic perspective for the enemies. Their friendship completely reframes the trajectory of this battle and whether it works out in their favor or not, it’s shining proof that Bertholdt and Reiner are ride or die. “Descent” goes out on quite the cliffhanger and tonally the Survey Corps are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than where they were at the conclusion of “Thunder Spears.” It’s a tough situation to be stuck in, but if anyone is able to pull themselves out of an impossible scenario, it’s Levi.
Maybe he’ll take out the Colossal Titan in the opening minutes of the episode and the rest will just be one big meat party.