I can’t help but think of Robert Downey Jr.’s shock jock role in NATURAL BORN KILLERS while watching the super-aggressive journalist hound the carnies in this episode. As a character, he’s a fun distillation of this show’s sense of moral ambiguity. I mean, he turns out to be absolutely right about his “hunch” the whole time, and it is rather noble of him to be so aggressively seeking to expose this abominable child slavery (and prostitution?) ring.
However, the show plays an interesting trick on your sympathies here. On paper, everything this guy is doing makes him sound like a do-right crusader, but you just can’t root for him when he’s butting heads with the quirky circus owners. Your gut reaction is to sympathize with the latter party - - even when you know they’re doing terrible things - - and I guess it just comes down to them paying more sympathy-baiting lip service at the right moments.
Typing that out makes me realize that this episode’s actually got a bit of thematic doubling going on. The other instance is rather blatant, of course: Hana realizing that the Michiko who truly cares for her, but is maybe a bit gruff about it, is better to stick with than the Michiko who’s insincerely sweet. Certainly, I doubt the crew intended this specific unfolding revelation; but it’s still fun to see one plot point in the show prompt a real reexamination of another.
On a simpler note, the chase with the hot air balloon is yet another gem of a set piece to be placed in this show’s crown. I’m really start to think that MICHIKO & HATCHIN might be the result of a lot of talent finally getting to realize scenarios and themes that they haven’t been allowed to do for most of their careers. It really feels like they’re clearing out a cabinet of creativity that’s been stocked up for a frustrating length of time.