「存在忘却のパンドラ」 (Sonzai Bōkyaku no Pandora)
“Pandora of Forgotten Existence: Sealed Reliquary”
I think we sometimes forget with multi-cour series that a season is still a season. They don’t all do it, and as far as I know Steins;Gate 0 isn’t taking a break so it doesn’t need to, but most series seem to stage an intermediate conclusion at the end of the first cour. To say that there was a sense of that with this episode is understating the case – the feeling of transition was so distinct as to almost seem like finality. We’re certainly transitioning from one phase of the story to another – what exactly that means in an adaptation of a VN that’s not especially linear even by VN standards is not yet clear.
Maybe it was that sense of finality, but on balance I think this episode broke Steins;Gate out of a mild stall it had been in for the last couple of weeks. I think this version has worked best when the sense of pathos has hung heavy in the air, and it certainly did here. And a lot of that surrounded Kurisu’s laptop, which is in the hands of Daru – who turns out to be the trustworthy anonymous expert Maho has hired to hack and analyze it. He’s less surprised than Maho and Okabe are when they walk into the back room of that cosplay shop – Daru had pretty much figured out who his client was as soon as he saw whose computer he was given.
Someone is being tracked here, and my guess is it’s Maho, and that some sort of tracking device was planted on her when Prof. Reyes saw her in Akiba (I’m too lazy to check, but I seem to remember there being a hug involved). That doesn’t make complete sense (obviously Maho has changed her clothes since then, and she doesn’t seem to regularly carry a purse or bag), but it’s being strongly hinted that Reyes is the Celty lookalike who keeps raiding Okabe’s hideouts (though Yuki is also being implicated by inference, I think that’s a feint).
I’m also not 100% sure why the Russians – if indeed that’s who it was – would destroy Kurisu’s laptop rather than take it after ambushing whoever it was that ambushed team Okarin at the cosplay shop. Even if it had already been severely damaged by their gunfire, you’d think they’d grab everything they could find rather than blast it into even tinier bits. In any event that laptop is at the center of pretty much all the drama here – both in terms of plot implications and what it means to Maho. The complicated nature of her feelings for it reflect the complicated nature of her feelings for its former owner.
Okarin is certainly the tragic figure of “Zero”, but one can’t help but feel badly for Maho too. Just like Okabe, she’s a prisoner of Kurisu’s memory – both of them have so much unfinished business with her. The Salieri metaphor is an apt one, because it’s clear that Maho considers herself a hack scientist compared to her old friend. But Maho takes it so literally that one wonders if she – unintentionally or intentionally – may have had an indirect (or even direct) role on Kurisu’s death. Her obsession with Salieri and her overall bearing suggest there’s something more specific and concrete involved in her feelings about Kurisu’s death than simply the regret at losing someone she cared deeply for.
Professor Leskinen and Maho are heading back to America, certainly – and so is Judy Reyes, for that matter. But are they really out of the picture for a while? Maho has been one of the best things Steins;Gate 0 has brought to the mythology, and her absence (and that of Leskinen, too) would leave quite a gap in the narrative. But one gets the idea that this series is ready to enter a new phase, and with the two most important new characters shuffled to the side for now, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that might herald a return to something more like the original Steins;Gate in terms of style and substance.