God, what a bummer of an episode.
This episode of Princess Principal, Case 18 – Rouge Morgue, is by all regards a fantastic episode, but is by far the heaviest that we have seen thus far. It follows in the footsteps of episodes 3 and 5, in which we got to know Beatrice and Chise through their own focused episodes, respectively, and this time, our sights are set on Dorothy. Unlike the other character-centric episodes so far, however, this one has little high-octane action, if any, and instead hones in on story. What also sets this episode apart, however, is how decidedly somber it is, and how tonally different it seems to be from the previous episodes. Personally, however, I believe that this brief departure from the show’s established norm makes for a solid, deeply interesting episode, dealing with love, betrayal, and ultimately, death.
In Rouge Morgue, Dorothy is given a task by Control that is not within the confines of Operation Changeling. A cipher of some sort is being muled through a corpse, and is headed to a morgue in Albion.The Duke of Normandy, of course, wants to get his hands on that cipher, and as such, he has an inside man in the morgue who knows what to look for. As luck would have it, the inside man is Dorothy’s father, Danny MacBean, from whom she has been separated for years. Somewhat begrudgingly, Dorothy takes on the task, but she decides to have Beatrice accompany her. Soon after they arrive at the morgue, Dorothy is reunited with Danny, and we pretty quickly learn a few things about him – he’s lost a hand, he’s a perpetual drunk, he takes his anger out on anyone and everyone besides himself, and he has many debts to pay off, as is accentuated by a group of loan sharks that pay him a few visits.
From conversations Dorothy has with Beatrice, we find out that Danny used to be a massively successful steam engineer, and a genuinely kind, caring man. As tragedy is wont to do, however, Danny gave in to despair after losing his hand in an accident. He became incredibly abusive, resulting in his wife walking out on him and Dorothy, and eventually, on the day of the Revolution, Dorothy herself ran away from home, escaping the abuse of her father, and being cut off from him entirely because of the wall. As many of these “deadbeat dads reunited with their children” sort of stories tend to go, so does this: Danny is still completely out of control, but he tries doing what he can to start over and be a better guy for his family. Part of this comes about when Danny tells Dorothy that the corpse with the cipher is going to have a cross-shaped scar on his hand, and that the cipher will be in a specific tooth of his. Now that he’s found his daughter, it seems that he wants to have a new start with her with the money that he is supposed to get from the Duke. For a good bit of the episode, it really is left up in the air as to whether or not Danny is actually going to get his act together – the loan sharks even ask him at one point whether or not he might sell off Dorothy in order to pay his debts. In the end, though, Danny truly does love Dorothy, to the point where he refuses to sell Dorothy off, and he also tries to haggle more money from the Duke so that he can provide for her better. Stories like this, however, don’t often end well.
In terms of structure, when compared to previous episodes, Rouge Morgue isn’t exactly special. There aren’t any big twists or huge reveals, and the story’s trajectory is, to be honest, fairly predictable. That being said, the story’s predictability does not dampen the emotional impact that this episode manages to convey, and this comes about in a few key instances. The first of these, and probably my favorite of all of them, is the great interactions we get between Beatrice and Dorothy. After their first time at the morgue, Beatrice asks why Dorothy asked her to come along, and why she was revealing her past to her – something that, as Beatrice understands it, is essentially suicide for a spy to do. Dorothy basically says that she felt that Beatrice would be the most understanding of the situation, considering that she also comes from a home in which she was abused by her father. The connections and the conversations that these two have as a result of their shared traumas are deeply heartwarming, and Beatrice comes to consider their relationship as comrades no longer a cover, but the blossoming of an actual friendship. It’s a very sweet moment, and the trust that they feel in one another does seem heightened as they continue their work, but for me, it was a great moment to see the girls break down their facades and form renewed bonds with one another.
The other major issue that manages to strike hard emotionally comes from Danny’s final attempts to do right by Dorothy, and what ultimately comes of it. As stated before, Danny meets with an associate of the Duke of Normandy in order to, as he assumes, trade the cipher for funds. When he initially tries to haggle for more money, we’re immediately brought back to the image of Danny as a greedy, self-obsessed man, and on some level, I am sure that is still true of his character. However, he says that he should get a share of money for Dorothy, since she assisted him in finding the cipher, and he talks, rather fondly, about how he wants to dote on the daughter that he had treated so poorly before. Danny is very much a broken man, and has had his share of hardships, many of which were ultimately brought on by himself. By the end of things, though, we do see a man that is finally trying his hardest to turn things around. Danny’s dreams of a better life for and with his daughter come to an abrupt end, however, when the Duke’s associate mercilessly cuts him down. Meanwhile, Beatrice and Dorothy are waiting for him at his favorite pub, as he instructed them to, while the pubgoers are led by Beatrice in a song that Danny always used to sing to Dorothy, back when he was the kind, gentle father that she remembered. She thinks simply that he is very late, or just living up to his reputation of not being a man of his word, and that she has ultimately saved her father in a sense, all the while unaware that we as the audience are watching his corpse being counted as one among those that he worked with in the morgue. In a smart turn, the show also opted to not play the sweet, bubbly ending theme for this episode, leaving us on the most somber note this show has produced so far. It really and truly is, as I said before, a bummer.
When I think back to this show in future seasons, I think this is likely going to be one of the first thoughts that come to mind for me. I deeply enjoy seeing the White Pigeon Team do their spy shenanigans and having a good time doing it, but I also really appreciate that this episode shows how the series can take on tonal shifts like this and not make it feel heavy-handed. I certainly do not think that every episode would benefit from a tonal shift such as this, and I do not believe all future episodes will do so, but it is a refreshing twist in a show that is consistently keeping me interested and entertained with each coming week.