Well, that escalated quickly.
It’s hard to explain how jarring of an acceleration this episode is. Just last week, the first real inkling of conflict within the larger world was given, and no sooner have we grasped that than said conflict is quite literally breaking down the gates of the school and storming into the middle of our silly gay love story. This episode has class warfare and political corruption, as well as an explanation of at least three separate powers trying to manipulate a cultural uprising. Throw in some forbidden incest and betrayal for seasoning. I’m in Love with the Villainess has quite suddenly hit a boost pad that’s fired it forward at a hundred miles per hour. Hard to tell if it will stay on course or go careening off a cliff.
If nothing else, it gives us a lot to chew on, so let’s start with the easy stuff like political unrest along class lines. Upon first reveal, one could reasonably worry that the secret bad guy stirring up anger behind the scenes might be a cop-out – reducing a compelling conflict about corruption and privilege into chess pieces on a much less interesting villain’s board. Yet there’s enough in this episode to make me think the show has more to say than just “The bad guys made the poor people angry Because of Reasons” or whatever. The student who was attacked last episode has every right to be angry, and his protestation about the nobility as parasites goes largely unchallenged by anyone who wasn’t raised in the lap of luxury. Even Claire is upset when the attacker is given a slap on the wrist, getting her first personal example of the political system being far from just. The show seems to sympathize with the rage of the common folk. While there’s still room for this plotline to fall flat on its face, there’s enough texture here that I can be reasonably hopeful that it won’t.
Granted, the exact intentions of the uprising are a bit difficult to parse because this episode throws a ton of exposition at the audience very quickly in not a particularly graceful way. Before this episode, I don’t think we had a single mention of the kingdom’s official church, or religion in general, and now suddenly The Church is a major player in a three-way game of political intrigue and has direct ties to Prince Yu. All of that is interesting enough, but it’s told to us immediately before it becomes relevant as if the show got too distracted flirting with pretty girls and forgot it was supposed to be doing very necessary world-building until just before the deadline. So now we’re left playing catch up, having to piece together all these new players as the stakes skyrocket out of seemingly nowhere. For lack of a better term, it’s a very Fanfiction-y approach to storytelling that seems to have been inherited from the series’ web novel origins, and it’s clunky.
Speaking of clunky, I’m still not sure how to feel about Lambert and Lene’s reveal. Sure, Lene herself has been present and developed enough that her betrayal lands, but it’s wrapped up in a lot of stuff that just leaves me scratching my head. Lambert was established a few episodes ago, but his actual personality was indiscernible from a background character, and if they didn’t constantly remind you that he was Lene’s brother, you’d probably forget he had a name at all. Making him a secret villain and having his motivation be incest is a lot for the audience to swallow. I barely know this guy from Adam and in just 2 minutes I find out he’s a secret agent for some masked villain, being controlled by a threat against his sister’s life whom he also wants to marry. It certainly raises the stakes very quickly, but none of it really lands and left me confused.
Maybe this will all work better in conjunction with the next episode, where we’ll hopefully receive some context for what’s going on, or at least get to see how Claire feels about all of it. Right now, however, this feels like a lot of interesting ideas being loaded into a cannon and fired like grapeshot into the audience. I appreciate the show’s ambitions, and its attempts to ramp up into something beyond romcom shenanigans, but if it wants to punch above its weight class, it’s going to need a much stronger right hook.
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