The first half of RWBY Volume 8 has been about building up tension. With the internal conflict between Ruby’s group and the Atlesian military, as well as the big bad of the show preparing an assault on the kingdom, it has slowly moved pieces into place for what will hopefully be a huge payoff. So with ‘Midnight’, now is clearly the best time to finally give one of the regularly occurring villains a backstory.
‘Midnight’ opens with Cinder’s backstory, following her as a ten-year-old being brought up in an orphanage before she’s adopted by her stepmother and two stepsisters who treat her horribly. A complaint that fans had about Cinder is that her character is bland. She hasn’t very much character development in the past eight years, and though fans have been begging for a backstory to her character since she was introduced, it is better late than never.
One of the key motifs behind each of the characters is that they are inspired by fairy tales. For example, Ruby is inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, Weiss is Snow White, Blake takes inspiration from Beauty and the Beast, while Yang is Goldilocks. Even though there were hints towards her fairy-tale counterpart – her glass high heels in Volume 1, sneaking into the dance at Beacon in Volume 2 – realizing that Cinder Fall was inspired by Cinderella after all these years was a hell of a discovery.
Some fans made the observation that the orphan angle has already been done with Nora, but the world of Remnant has been established as a dangerous place with Grimm constantly plaguing humanity, so It’s not hard to imagine that there would be more than a few orphans living in this world.
‘Midnight’ continues with Cinder’s backstory, as the viewer bears witness to the endless tasks and abuses Cinder endures at her stepmother’s inn in Atlas, with Casey Lee Williams singing in the background. Any time she steps out of line – in one scene, lashing out her sisters for tracking mud on a floor she just cleaned – her stepmother electrocutes her via a necklace Cinder wears.
A discrepancy that regularly pops up with RWBY is that the show tells the audience what is going on instead of showing, and while the soundtrack has been one of the show’s most consistent strengths, it feels a bit on the nose in this particular instance. It would have done fine with just the visual storytelling, especially as the lyrics are literally telling the viewer what is going on.
As Cinder’s story continues, she eventually takes a shining to a Huntsman called Rhodes, who regularly visits the inn. After he discovers that Cinder stole a sword, he sympathises with her plight instead of turning her in and trains her in secret. Eventually, he gifts her the sword she stole.
On the one hand, it’s a nice scene: there’s a soft piano in the background with scenes of Cinder suffering abuse at her stepmother juxtaposed with her smiling whenever Rhode returns from a mission and training her. On the other hand, why wouldn’t Rhodes report her to the authorities? Huntsman in this world have some pull, there have been instances of them working alongside the military and police authorities.
He gives Cinder his sword as a symbolic gesture of putting his trust in her, but surely this isn’t going to backfire. Surely Cinder isn’t going to use it to viciously murder the people who have tormented her, right?
In the next scene, Cinder uses the sword to viciously murder the people who have tormented her, just in time for Rhodes to find her break her stepmother’s neck. Also, I liked having Cinder’s transformation occur at the stroke of midnight. Rhodes and Cinder ensue in combat, and there are some things worth mentioning here. The first thing is that the background music is awesome. As previously mentioned, Jeff Williams’ work has always been strong throughout each of the volumes and having this heavier track while the two duel it out is great.
Secondly, though the fight is short, it is well-coordinated. Perhaps a bit too much so, considering the situation. Granted, Rhodes did train Cinder for what seems like a couple of years, but logically, wouldn’t there be a huge gap in the abilities of a battle-hardened Huntsman and a girl he’s only trained for a short period of time?
Rhode’s hesitance being what causes Cinder to kill him was a good note to end on and while it is debatable that she was only able to beat him because he was holding back due to how he felt for her, he’s still a Huntsman who witnessed a murder. It would have made a bit more sense to have Cinder struggle a lot more to keep up with him in this fight.
At the conclusion of the fight, Cinder wakes up back inside the whale Grimm (who is called Monstra) with Emerald fretting over her and Mercury being cold towards them, with the latter finally revealing that he doesn’t answer to her anymore.
“Both of you, get out. I’ll let you know when you’re needed next.”
“Yeah, about that. Salem’s got other plans for me, I’m not going to be taking orders from you anymore.”
At first, it seems like this is going to go in an interesting direction. Cinder, who was always so smug, prideful and thirsty for power, is finally having that power taken from her. She’s never learned from her mistakes in the past, so maybe this would develop into the beginning of her downfall and finally build her up beyond her otherwise flat character arc.
‘Midnight’ moves to a battered and bruised Oscar talking with Ozpin, at first Ozpin offering to control their body so Oscar can take a break from Hazel’s torture before they both agree that maybe they can both sabotage Salem’s plans from the inside. They arrive at this conclusion just as Hazel walks in. This scene has some strength as it makes Hazel come off as a slightly sympathetic antagonist:
“Coward! All this time, it could’ve been you, but you let him (Oscar) suffer. Now tell us how this damn lamp works. The boy has suffered enough.”
Hazel continues to prove to be one of the more interesting antagonists, even the most interesting – not just within ‘Midnight’ but through the whole Volume. He admits that Salem cannot be stopped, seeing her as a force of nature, but hates Ozpin for “send(ing) children to their deaths, for a cause that has no victory, no end”. This piece of dialogue gives the impression that perhaps Hazel is very familiar with Ozpin’s actions.
Perhaps Gretchen was picked by Ozpin and failed in a similar task to what Ruby is currently doing. It would be interesting to see this affect their interactions in the future. Perhaps Hazel would pity Ruby, seeing his sister in her. Towards the end of their interaction, it seems like Hazel is really taking an interest in what Ozpin is saying just as Salem walks in and brings them both to the bridge of Monstra.
Salem addresses all the antagonists, noting how Watts has taken control of Penny before turning her attention to Cinder, who she starts torturing for disobeying her orders. This is good, this is more development for Cinder’s character. It looks like all her mistakes are going to add up to a big failure which will hopefully develop her as a character.
Then Salem speaks.
“Cinder…you chose to disobey my specific instructions. Just failed again, and I’ve realized it’s all my fault. You fought your whole life unwaveringly for what you want, and here I am holding you back instead of lifting you up. You deserve so much more than I’ve given you. Go to Atlas, recover Watts, he can lead you to the girl. Whether you or my hound get to her first, you will finally have the Winter Maiden’s powers, and I will have my staff.”
Why? It would have been such an interesting dynamic if Cinder’s failures caused her to lose her standing with Salem. Maybe have her tortured to the point of death and taken out of Cinder’s plans, maybe even have Emerald risk her life to give Cinder just enough time to escape and go rogue. It would be so much more interesting than just letting Cinder get away with just a slap on the wrist.
Meanwhile, the Ace Ops and Winter bicker about Penny, with one of them quite rightly noting that they shouldn’t trust Watts hacking into her before receiving a distress call from Jaune, Yang and Ren. Harriet continues to be stupidly antagonistic, just in time for the river of Grimm to attack Atlas instead of Mantle, disengaging the shield protecting the floating city. ‘Midnight’ concludes with Monstra beaching itself near the city, opening its mouth to reveal Grimm spawning.
Though ‘Midnight’ ends on such an exciting and strong note with Salem finally delivering on her threat to slaughter everyone, Cinder’s backstory is an interesting addition. It would’ve been a lot better to see it pop up earlier in the story, maybe all the way in volume 5 – where she suffers a defeat at the hands of Raven – or even Volume 3, along with the other flashback she had.
As for the backstory itself, it had some minor flaws. The biggest one is her relationship with Rhodes. He’s a Huntsman, a job which works closely with the authorities. In Volume 2, Sun and Neptune, Huntsman in training, decide to do a mission working with the police force. So why wouldn’t a trained one use his power to help Cinder out of a bad situation? The dynamic between him and Cinder is intriguing, but it could have used a little redrafting. Though Cinder’s backstory does have flaws, considering her character is a spin on the Cinderella story, it feels satisfying enough. Altogether, ‘Midnight’ is a good, albeit flawed episode.
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Midnight is a flawed episode which delivers a decent backstory of one of the villains, and concludes on a hell of a pay off.
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