It is fairly easy to say that, up until this point, Violet Evergarden has been fairly single-minded in its approach to the conveyance of its narrative, plot direction, and character development. Though episodes three through six have very much contained their own interesting, well-detailed vignettes that feel quite distinct from one another, they have invariably followed, to some degree, a formula of sorts for each episode. Through the course of each story, we follow a side character who initially misunderstands Violet, learns more about her, and feels they understand her a bit better by the end of the episode, and during this period of time, Violet comes to understand an emotion that had previously been inaccessible or unknown to her. Beyond that, while there have been a small number of deviations from the standard course of the show thus far, Violet Evergarden has stayed the course in keeping with its low-key, slow-burn delivery of its tale to us. Episodes seven and eight change that.
I want to preface this piece by stating that I have greatly enjoyed Violet Evergarden’s first six episodes (as well as episodes seven and eight, but we’ll get to that). As it has been said by us previously, I fully understand that this show is certainly not going to appeal to everyone for a variety of reasons. Some might take issue with the pacing, which is quite slow, but I am personally a fan of stories that develop without much rapidity to them. In a way, it has felt akin to Kino no Tabi in that we are finding our wandering protagonist meeting interesting companions in curious locales, though we of course find much less focus on philosophy, and more on the complex emotions that comprise the human experience. For myself, Violet Evergarden has served as a thoughtful, relaxing show through which I have come to care about Violet and her development, despite the fact that I cannot say I relate to her as a person. This, I understand, has also been a point of contention, and again, that is more down to simply a personal preference, I believe – if it is difficult to watch a show simply because you cannot fully identify with its main cast, that is fine, but for myself, it is fascinating for me to see these complex characters slowly develop and come into their own. In short, the first six episodes, while slow, have been a joy for me to watch, and though it has not done anything that I would consider groundbreaking, Violet Evergarden has certainly succeeded in making itself stand out from the crowd this season.
Normally around this time in a season, we have reached the end of the first half of whatever show we happen to be following for our episodic posts here at The Backloggers. With Violet Evergarden being 14 episodes, however, this particular post places us in a fascinating position – episodes seven and eight end the first half of the show and begin the second. Of course, it does this quite literally, numerically speaking; but it goes quite far beyond that, as it feels somewhat like night and day when watching the two episodes back-to-back, despite their thematic similarities. Quite obviously, spoilers are coming.
We have seen Violet come to wrestle with and understand concepts like loneliness, familial affection, empathy, and conveying one’s true feelings, among other concepts, all while trying to comprehend love itself. In this pair of episodes, however, Violet comes to face loss, and wrestles with the myriad ways through which one copes with loss – loss of a loved one, of innocence, of the walls one builds in their heart and mind that impedes understanding and connection. Episode seven sees Violet hired by the famous playwright, Oscar Webster, in order to assist him in transcribing his newest theatrical work. A recluse and, apparently, a drunk, Oscar clearly has issues that are holding him back from getting his writing done when Violet first arrives. Through some gentle persuasion (read as: hiding his alcohol), Violet manages to get Oscar back on his feet as they work together to pen his children’s play. Over the course of the episode, we find Violet showing a fair greater amount of emotional investment in her client in comparison to those before her, largely because she feels such a sense of empathy for the character of Olive in the play. She finds herself caring for her, worrying for her safety, and feels as though she is right there with her, experiencing the events just as Olive does. That, in and of itself, is an incredible development for Violet in the emotional register department, but when Oscar opens up and explains to Violet that he is writing the play for his young daughter Olivia who died from illness, which in this particular incarnation of the story looks quite akin to cancer, we see Violet crying as she comes to understand the pain that can come from being separated from someone you care for deeply, which is easily the most incredible development that we have seen from her thus far. But we have yet to reach the hardest hit of the episode.
As Violet and Oscar write the final scene of the play, Oscar jokingly asks her to enact a scene wherein Olive uses her parasol to fly home across the water, which is a throwback to his daughter Olivia’s dream to fly across the lake outside of their summer home. Though Violet obviously fails in the endeavor, she makes it quite a ways, and Oscar remarks to her that she has fulfilled Olivia’s “one day” wish of doing just that. While it seems like a simple, interesting remark to end on, the experiences of the past months have come to take a toll on Violet, and she comes to realize that, as Hodgins said, she very much is burning; that her body is on fire, and that in the course of the war, when she thought only of herself as a weapon, she must have taken away countless “one day” wishes from those she killed. Having seen little extreme emotional register from Violet sans some impassioned outbursts in the first few episodes, seeing her go through such a deep bout of resurfacing trauma and questioning whether or not she still deserves to even live due to what she committed was incredibly hard to watch. Much like Violet felt confusion and pain alongside Olive, my heart broke for Violet. Just when you think that things could not possibly get any worse, however, a conversation in a chance run-in with Mrs. Tiffany Evergarden reveals to Violet that Gilbert is not in recovery, but is, in fact, presumed dead, and after confronting Hodgins about it, we find ourselves alongside Violet as she storms the residence of Gilbert’s brother Dietfried to conclude the episode. These last few minutes are, to put it lightly, a substantial tonal change from the prior episodes. And it has kid gloves on compared to episode eight.
Where episode seven did still work within the framework of Violet accepting a job and doing her thing, episode eight shows us no such thing; it is an extended series of flashbacks from both Gilbert and Violet’s perspectives, interspersed with small bits from the present time throughout the episode. In many ways, there is not a great deal to say about the episode if you are looking for new information. We see the progression of Violet and Gilbert’s relationship from when he takes her in, all the way to a fairly significant instance in the fated fort storming that claimed Violet’s arms and, allegedly, Gilbert’s life. We see with visceral confirmation that Violet was, indeed, a weapon on the battlefield. With laser-like precision and a natural stealth that seems akin to a jungle cat, we see Violet tear through enemy forces, and come to understand why so many saw her as nothing more than a weapon. But we do see how much Gilbert cared for her. It is quite clear that Gilbert did not want this life for Violet – every time he sees her injured, watches her slay enemy soldiers, see the horrors of war that no person, let alone a ten-year-old girl, should ever have to see, there is visible pain, remorse, guilt, even, in his eyes. When nobody else would even think of her as human, Gilbert works to make sure that she learns how to speak, read, and write. He tries his best to help her understand the world around her. He does what he can to give her the closest approximation to the experience of a human being, despite being entrenched in a caustic, volatile war. In all regards, we see the care that Gilbert has for her, in the way of a foster father, almost. As the appointed time of the war’s final assault approaches, Violet expresses concern over potentially having to leave Gilbert after the end of the war, in reference to a conversation with Hodgins about him possibly hiring on Violet, should he manage to found a company after the dust settles. It is clear that Gilbert feels pain in the idea of leaving Violet, and vice versa, but that conversation never comes, as he asks to postpone it until after the assault.
Back in the present time, Violet goes rogue and decides to re-visit the old home of Gilbert, where, when she asks if Gilbert is there, she is directed to his gravestone. Though the body was never found, she is assured that Gilbert is, in fact, quite dead. It is as Violet is hunched over his grave that we see the full ferocity of the final assault, as they fight to take the fort and succeed. Only then, as the calm begins to come, and Gilbert and Violet are both battered, bruised, but fully intact, are we given the final scene of the episode, as Gilbert is shot in the eye.
Though episode eight is still staying within the purview of the show’s theme of Violet’s emotional and personal development, it’s quite easy to see that this was a massive shift in the tone and pacing of the show. While we have been given brief flashes of Violet’s time in the war, we had never had fully-choreographed, graphic scenes depicting the horrors of the war that she experienced. From a personal perspective, I felt as though this change was one that was bound to happen eventually. In a show that prefaces its events with the presence of a massive, debilitating trauma for its main character, especially in a world that is at its present time coming to fully embrace its postwar period, we would obviously come back to the events of Violet’s past in a visceral way at some point. It was certainly not unexpected from the way I had viewed the show up to this point, and for myself, this was a welcome shift in order to allow the show to do something different; to give us a deeper look into Violet, because up until this point, we learn more about the histories of the side characters that Violet meets than Violet herself. Episodes seven and eight have shows just how far Violet has come from when we first met her weeks ago, but it is also clear that there is going to be a great deal of struggle in Violet’s future going forward. Though I couldn’t say with any certainty that I know where the show is going, I am still happy to stay on board for what it holds in the future. The second act is just starting, and things are getting even more interesting.