Violet Evergarden’s final episode is an episode largely of catharsis, and it is one that I, and many others, have wrestled with. In many ways, it brings us to the logical conclusion of the show, or rather to the stopping point for this portion of Violet’s story that we receive. In truth, I have watched this episode numerous times over, mulling its events over in my head, and it has been a process of numerous revisions to how I have come to finally view this last piece of Violet’s story (for now, anyway). Through this, I have found that my thoughts have changed significantly in more recent viewings. This final episode, depending on your reading of events, can be quite clear-cut on the surface, or somewhat more muddied as you dive deeper into it. It does give Violet a great sense of closure, a lifting of burdens, a renewed sense of self and purpose, and a renewed vigor to live her life. But that vigor for a life that she has fought tooth and nail for over the course of this season, again, depending on your reading, can manifest as either a genuine sense of moving on, or it can be somewhat tainted, if it is read as a vigor to live her life for Gilbert; no longer in pursuit of him, but to live life waiting for him, should he be alive. I want to talk about the two as we go forward here, because through my viewings of this final act, I have come to see both.
The first part of the episode is, honestly, somewhat telling of the trajectory of this episode. Coming hot off the events of the traintop kerfuffle from last episode, Violet continues her battle with the resistance leader, only to find that the bridge that the train is bound for has been strapped with explosives, one of which she tasks Benedict with dispensing of. (He does, in incredible style, by effortlessly obliterating it with his heels. What a champ.) Having essentially lost her right arm through the aforementioned combat in the previous episode, Violet proceeds to lose her left as well by tearing it and the remaining bomb off of the bridge. In essence, Violet has now sacrificed both of her arms for another Bougainvillea brother. Through this, Dietfried comes to understand how far Violet has come, and how willing she is to protect as a person, rather than to kill as a tool. This is something that we as the audience have been quite privy to by this point, but it is certainly a humanizing moment from Dietfried’s perspective, as he continues to re-evaluate his perspective of Violet, which we see a deeper piece of later in the episode. All told, the segment is relatively short, allowing us to cut into some of this episode’s deeper substance.
With the peace agreement finally signed, for real this time (probably), the people of Leiden can safely focus on the upcoming air show – a celebration wherein which citizens write letters to whomever they so desire, be they living, dead, or not yet either. At this point, Violet, recently re-equipped with a new set of prosthetics, wishes to write a letter to Gilbert, but despite the strides that she has made, she still can’t seem to find the words that she wants so badly to express. In trying to find them, however, Violet is taken back to the night of the Battle of Intense, when she spoke to Gilbert in his tent about her dismissal from his command. We find, then, that we have not been given the whole story of that meeting in previous episodes – in fact, we missed out on some deeply important dialogue that says quite a bit about both Violet and Gilbert. In quite explicit terms, Gilbert bares his soul to Violet, saying how he sees her as a girl, not as a tool; how he hopes for her to have a future beyond the battlefield, in which she can be happy, free, and live beyond taking orders.
Beyond that, however, Gilbert also points out how he knows that Violet is not a tool, specifically through how he sees that she clearly does have emotions, contrary to what others might say. In her own way, through her fractured frame of mind, we do see that Violet knows this, somehow. She doesn’t understand fully due to her trauma, and clearly, she won’t for some time, but in her own way, when she says “If I have your orders, I can go anywhere,” even though that degree of dependency is problematic, it is still a manifestation of emotions, and it is the strongest, most specific form of this that Violet was able to do at the time. In considering this, Violet does come to a realization that she has always, in some capacity, been able to feel and process emotions, but even now in the present time, when she does have a better grasp on them, it is difficult for her to fully process them and give them form through words.
Shortly after this revelation Violet has as she is speaking with Hodgins and Cattleya, Violet is called away for one final meeting with Dietfried, who seems far more amicable than in his previous dealings with Violet. Though his gruff exterior has not changed, it is clear that there is a difference in his current bearing. The bitterness and resentment that he held towards Violet before, though not gone, feels severely lessened, and this is made abundantly clear when his summons for her are shown to be because he wished for her to speak with his and Gilbert’s mother. Though his mother’s memory is certainly failing, she is quite eager to speak to Violet, and Dietfried leaves the two to converse.
The conversation between Mrs. Bougainvillea and Violet is one of the major points of catharsis in this episode, and one of which has been building for several episodes now. Mrs. Bougainvillea herself has become resigned to the idea that Gilbert is dead, though, as she states, it does not stop her from still loving him dearly, and she feels as though he continues to live on in her heart, a sentiment that Violet seems to be in strong agreement with. Beyond this, however, she also tells Violet something that she has needed to hear for quite some time: that Gilbert’s death was no fault of her own. Violet is not at fault, as Dietfried had once stated, and as she had blamed herself for previously. Most importantly, she tells Violet that, because of this, she does not have to carry that burden of guilt with her. She can live her life without having to question whether her life has any worth, or whether she has any right to live. We have seen Violet, in small steps, come to realize this on her own, but having this all laid out before her in such direct terms is something that she needed dearly.
Violet’s subsequent departure and conversation with Dietfried also highlights quite strongly how Violet has internalized much of this, and how she has come quite far from her life of only living for orders from others. Dietfried’s final “order”, as he terms it, is for Violet to live to honor the memory of Gilbert – for her to “Live a long life. And then die.” It is, in many ways, a perversion of Gilbert’s final request (not order) to Violet at the Battle of Intense – for her to live and be free. Though his thoughts regarding Violet may have changed, and he may not directly blame her for Gilbert’s death, Dietfried clearly still sees that Violet has an obligation to Gilbert, even in death. However, it is quite clear that Violet has taken the words of Mrs. Bougainvillea and Gilbert to heart, as she states that she no longer needs orders. In short, we have found that Violet has found purpose in her life; she is no longer the confused girl always asking for her next objective or set of orders. As Dietfried notes, smiling as she leaves, Violet truly has taken to heart the wonderful things that Gilbert gave her through treating her not as a tool, but as a human being.
It is only after these events that Violet is able to sit down and fully compose her letter to Gilbert. We find her and the rest of the CH company at the air show the following day, discussing the letters that they have all wrote. Some letters written to coworkers, some to their future selves, some to those who have died, and some to those not yet born. It is a genuinely touching scene, and perhaps the best send-off for the show’s supporting cast that we could have received. Their letters are all discussed, but it is not until Violet is leaving on her own that we hear her reading what she has actually written to Gilbert.
Her beginning with pleasantries, of where-and-how-are-yous and well-wishes, is quickly overtaken by her revelation that she waited, and continues to wait, for his apparent return. As she states herself in the letter, she “still believe[s] that [he is] still alive out there somewhere,” and that because of this feeling, she “will continue to live [her] life.” In her final statement, she writes that, “if we should ever meet again, this is what I would tell you. I now understand what the words ‘I love you’ mean.” Considered solely from a written perspective and taken at face value, what Violet has penned here is, in a word, disappointing, given that the entire show thus far has built up to this point of catharsis, where Violet can live her own life without orders, without a need for anyone. It feels like a refusal to accept what she knows to be quite apparent at this point, and a major step back from how far she has come from being thought of as Gilbert’s dog. Honestly, this is a reading that I have seen quite a bit of among those who stuck with the show through until the end, and I can’t say that it isn’t a valid perspective on it, considering that this was also my knee-jerk reaction to it.
However, the moment after Violet finishes reading her letter, and the context given from the surrounding events in this episode, are all greatly important to an additional reading of Violet’s letter to Gilbert. After she concludes her reading, we are taken back to the first scene of the entire show – of Violet following Gilbert in that crowded marketplace, not a few steps behind him. With tears in her eyes, however, Violet does not follow Gilbert, but instead stays where she is, until Gilbert is no longer in sight. He does not disappear into the crowd, or fade out of sight, mind you – he is simply, instantly, gone, as though he has ceased to exist. It is through this imagery, through Violet’s acceptance that she no longer needs orders, through her acknowledgement that Gilbert lives on in her heart, and through her view that she does no longer have that burden to carry, it seems, to me, at least, that though her writing says that she thinks him to be alive, she may actually believe otherwise.
Regardless of whether or not she truly believes that Gilbert is alive, we cannot dispute the fact that she at least looks to live life on her own terms, and not seeking Gilbert himself out. In the letter, she doesn’t say “when we meet again”; she states “if we should ever meet again,” which indicates, in my reading, that she is unsure as to whether or not she and Gilbert will ever cross paths again. It leaves a great deal of ambiguity to it, as it could indicate any number of things – a meeting in another country, with him still alive? A meeting in the afterlife, since these letters can be addressed to anyone, living, dead, or otherwise? Regardless, she fully accepts that she might live her entire life out never seeing Gilbert again, and the fact that she is willing and able to do so places her miles ahead of where she was at the beginning of this season. It shows us that she plans to live her life out not in search of Gilbert, but in whatever way she sees fit, and as of the end of the show, that is through continuing to work as an Auto Memory Doll. Ultimately, Violet has come to terms with her trauma, in many ways. Her body no longer appears to be on fire. She does not see herself as worthless. She does not look to live her life under the order of anyone. She seems to have finally come to a point where she will live her life on her own terms, and it is the ending that, from the very beginning, I had hoped for for Violet.
The imagery of Gilbert disappearing, and Violet’s ambiguity in her language as to whether or not she believes in a reunion between herself and Gilbert, are major factors in why I believe that Violet may have used this letter not as a call to a man that she believes is still alive, but as a final act of catharsis. As a way for her to finally put her feelings into words, and to set them and the memory of Gilbert free, so she is no longer tethered by either. I cannot claim to know Violet’s true feelings, of course; can any of us, truly? Humans are complicated creatures, as this show has demonstrated time and again, and though the letters that the Auto Memory Dolls compose are meant to display the innermost feelings of the writer, who are we to say that those are final, binding, and entirely the truth? It feels, to me, that were we to come to the end of this road, to have seen how Violet has suffered, encountered joy, grown, and fundamentally changed as a person, and to conclude that she has chosen to turn that down in favor of what is essentially the antithesis of the person that she has become, that we would do a disservice to the person of Violet.
That said, this is simply my reading of this final episode, and it is merely one of many. It is one letter of thoughts among thousands scattered overhead at the Leiden air show, hoping to reach out to someone. Violet Evergarden has seen a significant amount of discussion over these past few months, and has drawn its fair share of ire and praise alike. Though it has certainly not been to the taste of all in the community, I feel that, despite the bumps and hiccups it met with along the road, it shines as one of this season’s (and in time, perhaps this year’s), most stunning shows. Through initial worries and soaring expectations, Violet Evergarden certainly won my heart this past season, and if you have not had the opportunity to do so, I would encourage you to stick with the show through until the end. Make of it what you will, and perhaps you might also yourself enamored by Violet’s story.