I’d like to take a moment to talk about John Wick. Really, we could talk about any number of slam-bang action blockbusters, but the John Wick franchise is cool as hell, and it’s well-known enough to illustrate my point about The Promised Neverland‘s disastrous second season (and I promise, there is a point). Keanu Reeves‘ series of over-the-top, puppy-avenging, headshot-counting murder ballads have rightly garnered countless accolades for their entertainment value and craftsmanship, and they all perfectly nail that incredibly tricky balance that any action film about a superhumanly deadly one-man army has to get absolutely right; namely, the John Wick movies manage to be suspenseful and exciting, even when the outcome of each chapter is a foregone conclusion. Anyone with a single iota of moviegoing experience can be certain of one irrefutable truth from the minute Reeves walks onto screen with his permanent scowl, his slicked-back hair, and his devilishly dapper formal wear: John Wick is going to kill himself an ungodly amount of gangsters and assassins, he’s going to look damn good doing it, and there is no human being on the planet that will get in his way.
How is it then, when John Wick’s invulnerability is so presumed that it becomes a running joke within the universe of the movies themselves, does the franchise manage to be so damned exciting and fun? A lot of it boils down to craftsmanship: The action sequences that Reeves and his stunt team get into across the movies are second to none, and you get the same electric thrills from watching John Wick do his murder thing as you would when an elaborately crafted song-and-dance routine goes off without a hitch in a musical. Another thing the movies do well is that they always manage to sell you on the work that John and Reeves both put into all of that killing. The character gets beat to hell constantly, and even low-level goons can sometimes give him a run for his money. Sure, at no point are you ever tricked into thinking that John Wick won’t win out in the end, but he never walks out of a movie completely unscathed, and the circumstances leading into each sequel become increasingly dire.
All of this is a very long-winded way of establishing that, if John Wick is emblematic of everything that an action-adventure story starring a preposterously talented hero figure can do right, The Promised Neverland is an example of everything wrong, and that has never been more clear than in this second season’s penultimate epiosde. On paper, this should be the most action-packed, suspenseful, and downright dangerous mission that Emma and Co. have ever undertaken in their lives. Escaping Grace Field House was a monumental undertaking in and of itself, requiring an entire season of careful planning, dangerous maneuvers, and heartbreaking sacrifice just to allow the kids to barely scrape by with their lives.
In the years since, the compound has been reinforced with dozens upon dozens of armed guards, security measures have been amped up tenfold, and the villain at the helm of the operations is Peter Ratri. Now, we’re already seeing how badly TPN has mishandled every aspect of its grand finale, because Peter Ratri is an absolute nothing of a villain, possessing all of the menace of a mediocre Snidely Whiplash cosplayer, and about half as much charm or wit. Still, the show keeps telling us that he’s an evil genius mastermind – the big bad of the entire story! – so it stands to reason that he and his army of demons should pose some kind of threat to our heroes, right?
Nope. Not even a little bit. From the moment that Norman and his crew commandeer a battalion of hot air balloons that they somehow just found in the middle of this demon wasteland, I knew exactly what the score was going to be, and it depresses the hell out of me to have been so right. Somehow, despite everything I just outlined about the threats that the kids needed to overcome to take back Grace Field House, rescue their long-lost younger siblings, and secure access to the human world once and for all…it doesn’t just go off without a hitch: It is such a ludicrously unqualified success that it retroactively damages the integrity of everything that came before it. In other words, “Episode 10” might honestly be bad enough to have irrevocably tainted the whole of The Promised Neverland.
Remember when the kids first learned of the demons that inhabited their world and preyed on the meat of the young and innocent? How much mystery, danger, and terror that all evoked? Well, screw all of that, because the demons that the kids fight here are presented as incompetent and powerless fools, incapable of putting up so much as a scrap of resistance to a gaggle of idiotically grinning children armed with some exploding balloons and some bows and arrows. Remember how Grace Field was randomly revealed to be an impenetrable fortress sitting atop the single most valuable secret in all of existence a few episodes ago? I hope you didn’t expect that to actually mean anything, because ol’ William Minerva’s silly deus-ex-machina from last week really did turn out to be an automatic win button of sorts for the crew. Emma and the kids manage to infiltrate and navigate the hitherto unseen corridors of Grace Field House with so much ease that you have to wonder why the elder Ratri brother didn’t dispense with all of the pointless escape room clues years ago if he could have just shown the kids how to sneak in and out of the house without so much as a scratch.
All of this is but a prelude to the episode’s biggest insults to our collective intelligence, unfortunately. For there is one last dangling plot thread that the show needs to wrap up, and that is Isabella’s “character arc”, and this is an instance in which I am legally compelled to qualify that term with the biggest irony quotes imaginable, because what actually goes down with Isabella is less of an “arc” and more of a suicidal plunge off the cliffs of reason and common sense. I had neither the patience nor the inclination to go back and count exactly how many lines Isabella has had this season, but I’d wager the number is low enough to be countable on one hand. Yet, when Isabella and her army of fashionable Murder Moms raise their machine guns to the group of frightened children that Ratri has corralled, The Promised Neverland has the gall to have Isabella turn her gun on Ratri, and reveal that she and every other Mama has decided to turn traitor to the demons and help out those kids that she has spent most of her adult life actively abusing and murdering.
What’s that? You can’t even hear your own thoughts over how stupid, shallow, and comically mistimed that twist is? I absolutely feel your pain, and I’m sorry to have inflicted it upon you, but the show isn’t done yet; when The Promised Neverland is done single-handedly dashing any and all goodwill it had ever earned over the course of its scant two seasons, it pours even more salt on the wound by having Mujika and Sonju show up with a literal army of civilians that have all been cleansed by the power of that sweet, sweet MuJuice, and it takes them all of a minute or two to storm the orphanage and bring Ratri blubbering to his knees. Don’t ask me where all of these Nice Demons came from, since we only ever saw one desperately poor village of nearly starved demons in the whole series; and don’t ask me how Mujika and Sonju managed to convert seemingly hundreds of demons to their cause, raise an army, and make it all the way to Grace Field without being detected in a matter of, what, hours? Minutes? In the world of The Promised Neverland, the maximum distance between every place of value is apparently a single, uneventful afternoon’s stroll.
Do you see what I mean when I say that this episode devalues not just this second season, but the whole of The Promised Neverland? That first season understood what movies like John Wick make plain as day, which is that a story about survival requires conflict, stakes, tension, and believability. These aren’t optional necessities; without any one of these qualities, such narratives completely cease to function. None of that was enough to stop “Episode 10” from revealing that everything the kids accomplished over the course of that first season is literal child’s play to them now, something to be outdone twice over in the span of twenty agonizingly boring minutes. No muss, no fuss. We’ve got one more episode to go, but honestly, who the hell even cares, at this point? The Promised Neverland has just gone out of its way to make absolutely clear to anyone watching that there is nothing of consequence left in the tale it has to tell, nothing to inspire, or intrigue, or move us. There is no coming back from that.
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