This season, Beneath the Tangles will be offering dual posts each week for The Promised Neverland, one for viewers who are new to the series and one for those who have read the manga. This post is for beginners and will only include spoilers up to the episode being discussed. We ask that you avoid any spoilers from the manga if you comment below. If you would like to discuss spoilers and other content from the manga, please read thathilomgirl’s posts for the series.
What makes The Promised Land so suprising isn’t necessarily the shocks or the reveals; it’s the inability to get a beat on exactly where the show is going. Is it completely cruel, as it purports to be after first showing Conny’s body, warning us that anything and everything is game? Or does it have a strong, anime-troped heart that is focused on our three heroes and them guiding almost everyone to a happy ending? Or is somewhere in between? Neither? Both?
Episode five is unsettling in this aspect from the beginning, where Norman and Ray discuss the latter’s betrayal. Even in this short scene, there are a number of twists and lots of questions left unanswered. It’s not a simple solution of having Ray spy for Norman and Emma, as I assumed it would be. While Ray agrees to this, as well as to giving them all the information he has and guaranteeing their safety, he has requests of his own, namely that Norman secretly abandon the plan to save everyone. To Norman, that’s a betrayal of Emma and her ideals, but he feels forced to acquiesce, while Ray seemingly lets his true, maniacal nature show.
But there are still too many questions here, too much we don’t know, especially emphasized by a wonderful scene where Ray walks down the hallway to Mama’s room after the discussion, while Norman agonizes about the deal he just made. Norman has seemingly lost the upper hand and sacrificed so much, but a quick change in their demeanors as Norman realizes something and Ray worries about the apparent same thing exposes another layer. Games are played and we, as the audience, are left in the dark.
So, too, are Gilda and Don. It’s most fascinating (and confusing) to see how the trio talk to these two, who remain incomplete in their knowledge of the goings-on. This ignorance leads Don to express hope that Conny can be saved yet, and he takes the risk of entering Mother’s room to try to communicate with the outside world through a secret hovel that Emma has determined exists. The episode ends with the cliffhanger of Mother’s door opening, risking the discovery of Gilda and Don.
While all this goes on, Emma continues to think, continues to strive. I’ve heard it said that manga readers were dissatisfied with how Emma was presented in episode one, as almost a dumb jock. She’s shown her worth since then, however, and for the first time I detect that she, too, is making connections that others aren’t privy to. She is the one to determine that Ray must have sacrificed other kids already, for instance. Does she trust Ray? What does she really feel about what he’s doing? Ray, as usual, is smug enough to believe that she will fall for whatever lies he creates, but Emma, like Norman, is smarter than he thinks.
Meanwhile, I think that Norman has concluded that Ray has only intended to save one of them—or is it none? While Ray tells Norman that he’s asked for various small rewards over the years, in his conversation with Mama he seems to indicate that he wants one big reward. Could that be absolute freedom? If so, it will come at the price of every child in the family—Emma and Norman included.