I mentioned before that the plot had so many secrets-within-secrets that it felt like the story was just spinning its wheels. The very next disc I watched got things moving again, and it didn’t stop again until the conclusion. Characters started dying, the world started changing, and they started to get to the final level of secrets. Most other people have said this thing dragged in the middle of the series. I think that was my big problem with it. If we’d hit that final plot arc about 15 or 20 episodes earlier I would have been a lot happier.
I have not seen the movie, which I understand gives us the “full” ending. So, here are my thoughts on the ending of the series. Major spoilers ahead.
Let’s start with the bad:
The final alchemy that Edward performed made no sense. The writers already had a built-in Deus Ex Machina. They had a “get out of impossible situation, free” card. From the writer’s standpoint, the Philosipher’s Stone can do “anything”. So, they did the miracle, and then Ed somehow undid the miracle, even to the point of losing his arm again. What the heck? That is some powerful alchemy. Ed’s miracle was arguably more miraculous than the one Al performed, and Ed wasn’t even using a Philosopher’s Stone! The writers had a free pass to write any ending they wanted, and they still had to resort to cheating?
What happened to Gluttony? Yes, it hints that Gluttony ate Dante, but we didn’t get to see her fate for sure, and unless we assume Gluttony ate himself then we know he went free. I was looking forward to seeing both of them get their comeuppance, so this was very unsatisfying. After all this time we learn that Dante was the main villain! Is it too much to ask that we see what happens to her? Emperor Palpatine wasn’t killed off-screen. After all of the gruesome deaths that befall sympathetic characters, all we see of Dante’s end is that surprised look on her face and then we cut away. Boo.
The memory reset on Al – as a side-effect of the cheating they did with Ed’s alchemy – was lame. A memory reset? Are you kidding me? That kid grew and learned so much. At the end I wanted to see Al gain his dream of becoming human again. Instead of completing his quest, it was like he never went on the quest in the first place. He became a much less interesting character to me.
These are some pretty serious flaws, but on balance I still liked the series. There was a lot about the ending that was right. There was a lot of good packed into those last few episodes:
I loved the explanation for where the energy for alchemy came from. Early in the series they explained that you could make something into another thing of the same mass and composition – like changing the fragments of a broken teacup into a teacup. This made sense in terms of not creating or destroying matter, but was obviously a major violation of other rules: You can’t create order from chaos without using energy. I just assumed this was one of those holes in the science we had to accept. Then to discover that energy really was being used, and that it came from somewhere – that was very satisfying.
I liked the alternate history explanation. Our world and theirs were identical until the middle ages, when the subtle differences and links that bound the two worlds together became manifest. On our side, Alchemy did not deliver on its goal of transmuting common metals into gold, or of formulating a panacea, but the experiments of those times did lead to the birth of modern science. In the other world, Alchemy was real, powerful, and able to deliver on many of its early promises. Our world moved towards science, their world towards the perfection of Alchemy, and as time went on the two become increasingly estranged. At the start of the series we know nothing of this. The world is like a Final Fantasy world, unrelated to our culture or history. Then the links are revealed, and we learn that in the two worlds it is 1921. (Although the other world uses a different calendar by now.)
I liked the resolution of the story between the brothers and their father. We always knew we would see him again, and after so much build-up and speculation on my part I was afraid that it would be a letdown. It wasn’t. He was neither a saint, nor the dark figure who’d been pulling the strings. He was a villain who’d found redemption before this story arc even began, and was now facing the consequences for his past crimes. Interesting guy.
I found the ways in which the various homunculi died (or whatever you call it when you destroy a homunculus) were done well. It was nice when they finally started biting the dust for good.
On the balance, I’m not sure what to make of the writing in this series. Sometimes it was brilliant and subtle – like when Ed and Mustang parted ways. Other times it was childish and clumsy – like with Rose’s baby. The good parts made the sloppy parts stand out more, and I never understood how the writing could be so uneven.
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Here is a 13 part series where I talk about programming games, programming languages, and programming problems.
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