Volume 8 so far has been in a perpetual state of build up, focusing on the rising threat of Salem and the action that has been a consistent strength for RWBY. However, ‘Ultimatum’ introduces developments to the plot which change how the season seemed to be going very quickly, and it’s debatable whether this will turn out good or bad for the volume.
One of the stronger points of this episode is the visuals. ‘Ultimatum’ opens up with Ironwood looking out into the distance as Atlesian airships join aerial combat, emphasising his solitude. The camera changes to two of his soldiers telling him that his prisoners, with the exception of Jacques Schnee, have escaped. Also, the fear in the soldiers’ face as they give him the news is a nice little touch. Ironwood orders them to bring Qrow back to custody and calls for an update on the battle when again, the visuals come into play.
In a huge flash of light, Monstra is blown up by what looks like a lightning bolt, which simultaneously wipes out the Grimm (it also explains the photosensitivity warning at the start of the episode). It’s later revealed that this was Oscar using his power at the conclusion of the previous episode, striking before the Atlas forces had a chance to use their bomb. The visual effects as well as the soft musical piece that places in the background are beautiful. In the confusion, Neo skips away with the Relic of Knowledge in tow and the Ace Ops struggle to comprehend what has happened before they are called back to base by Ironwood. Take note of the fact that the bomb hasn’t been used, because it will come back later.
Meanwhile, in Atlas, Cinder and Watts figure out what to do as they watch the aftermath of Monstra’s destruction, the former of the two still interested in getting the Winter Maiden’s power, and the latter urging them to do a different plan. During this argument, the writers address why Watt’s plan of taking over Penny’s system didn’t work properly.
‘I said I have Penny under control, not that I could telekinetically force her to do whatever I want…I implanted a virus in her, you dimwit. She’s on a set path now, or at least she should be. As much as I hate to admit it, there seems to be some part of her capable of resisting.’
The dimwit comment almost feels like ‘Ultimatum’ is breaking the fourth wall slightly, as if the writers are poking fun at those who expected Penny to turn immediately when Watts activated his virus. Their argument escalates to the point where Cinder has Watts hanging off a building, which leads to a fantastic character moment from Watts. Even though he is at her mercy, his pride refuses to let her have the upper hand. It’s also through this monologue the writers address the weaknesses of Cinder’s character.
‘Oh, of course you are [going to take the maiden’s power!] Because that’s just what you do, isn’t it? And how has that worked out for you? You stormed into Friya’s room, thinking you could take on Ironwood’s top fighter and war machine, but you couldn’t, could you? And that war machine became the Winter Maiden! Oh, and let’s not forget your deal with Raven Branwen. You had all your enemies in one place, so you’d have a shot at revenge. If only someone could have warned you against such a miserable idea. Oh, wait… I DID! But you pushed ahead, and you lost when all you had to do was your job! You think you’re entitled to everything just because you’ve suffered, but suffering isn’t enough! You can’t just be strong; you have to be smart. You can’t just be deserving; you have to be worthy. But all you have ever been is a BLOODY MIGRAINE!’
This whole monologue is nothing short of brilliant and probably some of the best writing in the whole volume, maybe even the whole show. It’s a fantastic scene for multiple reasons: it’s the strongest moment for Watts as a character – before the monologue, he is clinging to Cinder’s arm for dear life, but during his monologue, he completely lets go. All she has to do is drop him off the edge of a building, and yet by only using his words to bring her down, he is the one in power.
Additionally, despite his arrogance, he clearly understands that nothing is gained without effort. It’s also a breaking moment for Cinder. The writers have had ample opportunity to develop her as a character and make her learn from the mistakes of her previous defeats, but hopefully Watts’ words will finally be enough for her to change. In a show that has writing that can be clunky and heavy at its worst, this part of ‘Ultimatum’ really stands out for all the right reasons.
Back at the battlefield, Blake is able to re-establish contact with Yang’s group, giving them directions to reconvene at the Schnee manor. Travelling through the subway network, they converse about what to do with Emerald and how Ozpin returned to help Oscar. First, Oscar says to the shocked group that Ozpin helped by letting him rest while Hazel tortured them, then saying he showed him how to use his cane and its power – ‘Kinetic energy that he spent lifetime after lifetime accumulating in the cane he built.’
Why go for this explanation which is, frankly, daft? Kinetic energy? Really? In Volume 6, Ozpin’s first incarnation Ozma was brought back by the god of light for the specific reason of being the protector of Remnant. Surely that god would’ve given him powers to help Ozma in his task? Why not just say that the cane is a way for Ozpin and Oscar to harness that energy? And as mentioned before, it looks like a lightning strike takes down Monstra.
Is this just another lie Ozpin told Oscar? Maybe he’s trying to hide the true potential of what the cane is capable of? The group pass by the Atlesian civilians hiding in the subway tunnels, and similar to Penny watching the refugees in Mantle, this is a brief but powerful few seconds to conclude the scene on.
Meanwhile, at the Atlas command centre, Winter and the Ace Ops return to announce to Ironwood that it wasn’t them who took out the creature. As the dialogue continues, there are a few aspects to examine – first, there’s Ironwood commenting that ‘Penny still hasn’t come to the vault, meaning Watts was incompetent or he betrayed us’. In the past I’ve criticized the plot point of Ironwood using Watts – an enemy to Atlas – to control Penny, but now I’m in two minds whether Ironwood took this into his calculations and was desperate enough to take a gamble, or if he really isn’t that smart.
Secondly, there is the moment when Ironwood commands Winter to bring Jaune, Ren, and Xiao Long to him so that they can be used as hostages to bring Penny out, only for Harriet to tell him that Winter let the trio go. I was waiting for Ironwood to shoot her on the spot, and the fact that he didn’t is slightly underwhelming.
While I previously thought him shooting the councilmen in the first episode was out of turn for his character, someone pointed out to me that it was foreshadowed back in volume 3, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t do that to Winter, someone who he considered his closest ally. This volume’s opening mentions how some ‘lives would end much too soon,’ and none of the cast have died so far.
But these notes aside, the whole part of ‘Ultimatum’ is done so well. Having the camera angles positioned in a way to emphasise Ironwood’s dominating power in contrast to Schnee’s submissiveness and mix them in with the facial expressions of the two characters, it’s again a strong moment. Also, I cannot wait to see Harriet’s loyalty to Ironwood come back to blow up in her face. The scene concludes with Ironwood being notified of the SDC cargo ships being piloted down to Mantle, and he, in an almost comical ‘look at me, I’m evil now’ manner, sits down in his chair and says, ‘I need to make a call.’
Back in Atlas, Cinder is blackmailed by Neo, offering her the Relic of Knowledge in exchange for Ruby. The selfie Neo sends Cinder is equally insulting to her and hilarious for the audience. Also, it’s kind of humorous to think how much effort Neo put in to get the right photo to send.
At the Schnee manor, Yang and Ruby’s group have a nice reunion scene. It’s cool how ‘Ultimatum’ contrasts them splitting up in the first episode – it’s brightly lit and the setting is gorgeous, while in the first episode the setting was dark and dingy when they split up. Also, the brief moment between Yang and Blake is so cute (but if the writers are going to make Bumblebee a ship, just let them kiss already!) It would have also been nice to see Ren and Nora having their own personal reunion – especially after what Nora went through, it would be a lot more emotionally impactful.
However, ‘Ultimatum’s strong notes pale badly in comparison to the way it ends. Ironwood uses an emergency broadcast to show the SDC Cargo ships being gunned by the Atlesian fleet and giving the group their ultimatum – have Penny return to Atlas and leave Mantle to fend for itself, or he’ll blow up Mantle. The idea of having Ironwood turn into a villain is not a bad one. Far from it. Having a character change their alignment can provide intriguing developments for the plot and its characters, and granted, Ironwood has been slowly mentally deteriorating since the battle of Beacon back in Volume 3. But it’s unbelievably cartoonish how much Ironwood is being shown to be the new villain – in his speech, he’s backlit by a white light, hiding most of his features.
The reason he wanted to abandon Mantle in the first place was that he couldn’t split his forces to defend both cities. It was more cold and detached decision making – which is in his character – than it was the decisions of a mad man embracing his insanity. His biggest threat has just been temporarily eliminated, and it’s questionable at best to imagine he would openly want to kill thousands of innocents when at the end of volume 7, he was backed into a corner and forced to save only who he could.
One of the popular fan theories is that his semblance Mettle – which strengthens his resolve and gives him hyper focus – is giving him tunnel vision, but if that’s the case, that feels like a cheap copout. Also, having a secondary character’s semblance be revealed at a panel instead of integrating it into the story is bad writing: fans could have easily missed this and remain unaware of information that could affect the plot.
Finally, having Salem, the main antagonist of the series, whose siege of Atlas was built up for so long only act as an opening to Ironwood’s turn is a really weird choice, and one that doesn’t really seem to work. It feels like filler is being set up while the big bad of the series is out for the count, and considering how the broadcast went over all of Atlas and Mantle, it’ll be very interesting to see how loyal Ironwood’s tired and demoralized forces react to having to do something like that.
In the previous episodes, I mentioned how there were strong points that overshadowed any minor problems that popped. However, the reverse is true for ‘Ultimatum’. The opening was a huge surprise and gorgeously shot, there’s a couple of instances of the visuals and production really shining through, Watts’ monologue is on point.
However, the ending doesn’t do the rest of the episode or the volume justice. I hope I’m wrong and that this change turns out to be brilliant, but after having the threat of Salem being built up only for Ironwood to steal the limelight, ‘Ultimatum’ stands as the weakest episode of RWBY Volume 8.
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Ultimatum is a jaw-dropping episode for polarizing reasons – there's gorgeous visuals and strong production value, alongside some bizarre plot progression.
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