I had initially thought last week’s episode would have been an amazing cliffhanger to end the series on. At which point I found myself wondering what this 13th episode could possibly provide to follow those events and still end the series on a point where you’d be thirsty for more.
As it turns out, the final episode of the series is a condensed retelling of events from Rachel’s perspective. Which recontextualizes pretty much everything we’ve seen following Bam up until this point. We’ve spent much of this series wondering what exactly Rachel’s deal is, and following this episode, everything is blown wide open and we begin to see what was actually happening all along.
Right in the beginning, Rachel appeared before Headon, just as Bam does. But much to his surprise, she was not the person he was expecting. Y’see Rachel forced her way into the tower, not in the same way Bam did, but by answering a call meant for someone else. So, does this make her an “Irregular” too? Or just an irregular “Regular”?
Thus, Headon pits Rachel up against the same challenge Bam goes up against. Unlike Bam though, she immediately cries and complains of unfairness. Shortly thereafter, Bam appears in the room. Headon makes Rachel invisible and we learn that she was present the entire time during the events of the first episode.
For the longest time, I was half on Rachel’s side. We didn’t know that much about her, nor what she’s been through. Now though, with all cards on the table, it’s obvious that we’re not supposed to like her. Right after seeing Bam succeed she begins pulling a “woe is me” monologue. While utterly failing to see Bam’s virtues; his devotion to her, his fearlessness and his kindness being what makes him special.
Headon does call her own on her bullshit though, proposing a special challenge for her: If she kills Bam, then she can climb the tower. He even gives her some weapons; a giant, silent bodyguard and an apparent ability to be resurrected one time. That doesn’t stave off her jealousy of Bam and her continued complaints of him getting everything handed to him and her getting nothing. Nothing like a hypocrite to rile up an audience.
This whole episode recontextualizes the events of the first season in regard to the events between Bam and Rachel. In the end, Rachel is a selfish and petty person. While killing Bam, on the surface, might seem like a cruel move from Headon, in actuality I see it as him giving Rachel a final chance to see what kind of person she is, and make herself better.
While she is certainly conflicted about killing Bam, she ultimately doesn’t wrestle with the decision for very long before deciding to go along with it. Once again, utterly failing to understand the point of the test set before her. She’s a coward who seems just about incapable of doing anything for herself.
But while she laments all of the gifts and friends Bam has discovered, she seems totally blind to all of the gifts and help she gets herself along her road. If anything, she had it easier than Bam did, the literal only moment of agency she has needed to show during the entire run-up to being allowed into the tower was the decisive moment of pushing Bam off the platform. Which wasn’t even that hard considering how utterly devoted to her he was.
Despite this, as much as the show obviously wants us to dislike her now, it still makes her a fascinating character. Even when she’s given an opportunity that would seemingly allow her to still climb the tower and not have to “kill” Bam, she still takes the low road to get what she wants. In the end, she wants to be special, wants to be a star, but fails to do any of the things to make it a reality for herself, instead taking shortcuts and easy options.
In the aftermath, everyone is understandably upset at Bam’s “death”, all according to the administrator and the red headed woman’s plans apparently. While Hisoka-Blanco is super suspicious and super pissed (so much so that he resigns). And with her moment of betrayal executed, things suddenly start to turn Rachel’s way much easier. Hatz and Rak float the idea of taking Rachel up the tower in Bam’s memory. Everybody seems to go for it.
Well, everybody except the smartest guy in the room. Khun is having none of it and looks upon Rachel in disgust/disappointment. In the end, he laments that she had met Bam before he had the chance. He knows what she’s about and probably the only person to totally see through her ruse without actually knowing what she did.
Bam isn’t dead. Surpise. He wakes up in the dark, in the presence of the red-headed woman who urges him to continue climbing the tower. Bam is understandably confused and feeling betrayed. Even more so considering this grand conspiracy by the administrators to seemingly put him in this position. Made all the more confusing by this woman’s offer to train him so he could continue the climb, despite the fact she was bringing this unfortunate series events into reality.
The series ends with Bam agreeing to her offer, though not to reach the top. But to get answers. He doesn’t say from who, but Bam has had enough of not knowing what’s going on and aims to dig for truth. Let’s just hope it makes him a more interesting character next season.
The First Season:
In the end, I feel like the first season of Tower of God was a bit of a roller coaster in terms of quality of storytelling. The animation and visual style were good enough for me, but it was the characters, their story and the mystery surrounding the nature of this setting that really drew me in and kept me watching.
The first few episodes made to establish the tone, it was in the middle where I felt things became a little shaky. The deluge of exposition that was being thrown at the audience in the middle episodes became very difficult to parse out in my head. A consequence of the writing team needing to squeeze everything they needed to get on screen in just 13 episodes most likely.
Which meant, at times I felt I was totally lost and missing the entire point of entire action sequences and what exactly was at stake during them. The game of Tag for example was one that had much higher stakes than I first realised and only become apparent after the fact. Which ultimately hurts the dramatic tension of a couple whole episodes.
A bunch of commenters helpfully caught me up and helped me understand what was going on, but that’s only because they had a better understanding the manga than I did.
All that being said, the final few episodes really do a good job, not only tying this story-line up, but actually taking what felt like a very vanilla story (one heavily inspired by HunterxHunter), and twisting it into some kind of character study, putting a hostile character into the middle of a group of (mostly) unwitting characters we’ve grown to like and root for. A putting a wolf among the sheep. although in Rachel’s case, I suppose she’s be more of a snake.
The twist with Rachel actually did turn this series from something I was feeling relatively neutral/good on and make it go out on a really strong note. I’ve seen some commenters really upset about how the series treated Rachel, but I personally find her super interesting now, where as she seemed like a plot device before, now I would love to watch her grow in strength by lying and manipulating her up the tower.
Ultimately, she’s a bad person. Sure Bam might have been gifted a magic sword (which he quickly lost) and possess ungodly shinsu powers, but he also showed compassion, bravery and drive to achieve what he did. All Rachel did was mope around in the dark and wait for success to be gifted to her, she wants to be special but doesn’t seem willing to put any effort into it. And yet, her story is the one I’m far more interested in seeing continue.