REVIEW: ‘Arcane’ Act 2 Has a lot to Love

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arcane act 2 - But Why Tho

Arcane Act 2 is an action/fantasy series from Netflix that takes place in the world of the popular League of Legends video game from Riot Games. Vander is dead. Powder has been taken in by Silco, while Vi is dragged off by Marcus. Meanwhile, Jayce and Viktor made a breakthrough in their Hextech research. A breakthrough that could change their world. But how much will anything really change?

After a time skip of a few years, Arcane returns to the cities of Piltover and Zaun in time for the annual Progress Day celebration. It is the 200th anniversary of Piltover’s founding, and in the years leading up to this momentous event, Jayce and Viktor’s discovery of Hextech has brought a time of renewed prosperity and growth to Piltover. However, not all is as it should be. While Piltover thrives, Zaun suffers under the radar of those who are supposed to watch over them. Now, with Silco ruling the Lanes, the situation grows ever worse as he floods the streets with his drug Shimmer. But there are always people unwilling to accept the status quo. In both Piltover and Zaun, the system is about to be challenged.

The hallmarks of the first act of Arcane‘s story were gorgeous visuals, rich characters, and a world that was captivating and engrossing. While all these things continue to be present in Arcane Act 2, the story falters a bit in this act due to an age-old problem of the three-act structure in storytelling. The middle arc feels like an unfinished story that exists mostly to get you to act three.

Rather than delivering a complete story that fits into a larger narrative, this act spends far too much time setting things up for next week’s finale. This is particularly true for the side of Arcane‘s narrative that focuses on Zaun, Caitlyn, and our show’s starring sisters.

In the years between acts one and two, Caitlyn has become an Enforcer. She is a brilliant, dedicated officer who truly wants to make things better for both Piltover and Zaun. Seeing crime and corruption going unaddressed by Piltover’s Sherriff Marcus, Caitlyn initiates her own investigation after a firefight at one of Piltover’s Hexgates doesn’t get the attention it seems to deserve. This soon brings her into contact with Vi, who has been Marcus’s guest in Piltover’s prison system since he took her captive at the end of act one.

As Vi and Caitlyn plunge into Zaun’s underbelly, we are given some of the best visual storytelling I’ve seen in a long time. As the duo passes through areas new and old, everything about Zaun feels different, even though little has changed in the city’s structure itself. But the attitude, energy, and people have been altered since Vander passed away.

This visual storytelling is combined with numerous moments that feel like darkly mirrored reflections of scenes from the previous installment in the series. These two elements make Arcane Act 2 have a basic emotional potency that feels primed to deliver another spectacular finish. Sadly, the final episode sputters out as it tries to give another emotional moment but ultimately fails as it speeds through things too quickly to set up what is to come.

The Piltover side of the narrative suffers from the same shortcomings, though not as noticeably. The tale told here, which focuses on Jayce as he navigates his new place of prominence in Piltover society lands with a bit more definitive of an ending. However, Jayce’s story is a bit lighter on the emotional side of things as it revolves much more around the politics and intrigue of the rich. The Piltover side of the story also contains my biggest concern coming out of Arcane Act 2. What are they going to do with Viktor?

Throughout this second act, we see Viktor’s health declining. Due to this, the brilliant scientist struggles with the city’s rules and restraints that keep him from plowing ahead in his research. He feels like he is running out of time and the world is actively hampering his attempts to save himself. This setup concerns me because it has the makings of a supervillain origin story that uses a person’s chronic illness as a reason for villainy. That he is going to ultimately risk the lives and safety of others so he might live. This potential selfishness, if it comes to pass, is a bad look to me. Having an individual’s struggle with a chronic illness be their path to villainy feels like one of those concepts we should’ve left behind.

The gorgeous visual style that wowed viewers last week is only strengthened in Arcane Act 2. This is particularly true where Powder is concerned. As the young woman has spent the intervening years wracked with guilt and feelings of abandonment, Silco has made every effort to twist and manipulate the protagonist’s fractured psyche for his own gains. The moments where Powder is struggling with her grasp on her world are extremely impactful. While much of this is due to the fantastic voice work of actress Mia Sinclair Jenness, it is equally thanks to how vividly the visual design delivers the character’s emotional expression, as well as how it captures the fractured way Powder perceives her world in these moments.

The last thing I feel that needs to be mentioned about this week’s episode was a major stumble for me. That is the inclusion of the band Imagine Dragons in the show. If you have seen the music video for Arcane’s title song “Enemy” you will be familiar with the look the band takes during this sequence. While nothing is faltering from a technical standpoint in this sequence, it just feels jarring. The world-building in the series has been so good that seeing the real-world band playing their song as Vi stalks by is out of place to the point of being off-putting. The only explanation for it that makes sense to me is that someone got so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Because they definitely shouldn’t have.

So while Arcane Act 2 doesn’t land with quite the same earth-shaking force that the first act did, there is still a lot to love about this middle act. The characters are still wonderfully realized and watching them struggle through their stories is a mostly enjoyable experience. Despite this week’s missteps I’m still hyped to see what next week’s finale will bring to the world of Arcane.

Arcane Act 2 is streaming now on Netflix.


Arcane Act 2 — Episodes 4-6
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    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

So while Arcane Act 2 doesn’t land with quite the same earth-shaking force that the first act did, there is still a lot to love about this middle act. The characters are still wonderfully realized and watching them struggle through their stories is a mostly enjoyable experience. Despite this week’s missteps I’m still hyped to see what next week’s finale will bring to the world of Arcane.