Ultimatum is the thirty-first episode of Exo-Squad, and wraps up the long-running Liberation of Venus arc in a not-particularly neat package. While visiting a recovering but badly wounded James Burns, Marsala is kidnapped by the Venutian resistance. They use him as a bargaining chip to try to get any and all Neo Sapiens in the Exo-Fleet rounded up and taken off Venus. When Nara confronts her brother, he admits to having suspicions as to who is involved and attempts to free Marsala on his own. His efforts are interrupted by Neo Sapien holdouts attempting to take the resistance caves for their own use, resulting in a three-way firefight between Able Squad, Neo elements, and the resistance. A dying James removes the unconscious Marsala, bringing him to safety before finally expiring himself.
This is easily the most exploration of racism the show manages to deliver, and it's a show where this theme gets much attention paid (albeit through allegory.) Kruger's dialog strikes just the right balance of familiar and science-fiction and lunatic. "Venus must be cleansed of all Neo Sapiens once and for all. You can't trust any of the Sapes. Who knows what they're plotting in their programmed brains?" Delightfully, Marsala out-argues his captor when the ranting begins. "Go ahead, resort to violence, but it still won't make you right."
Marsala really shines this episode. He's articulate, caring, and heroic. Witness him picking up a live shell and tossing it back at the Neos; that's hardcore.
Speaking of those pipes, there is a terrific bit of foreshadowing where you see a fountain sputter and die while Marsala surveys the ruined Venutian landscape. After Nara gets flooded out, we see the fountain come back to life, and you suddenly realize exactly how the Resistance got in and out of Vesta undetected.
The episode kicks off with J.T. having a nightmare about Noretti. Given just how creepy the last episode was, it's nice to see that he's having some trouble dealing.
Per my review of Sabotage, the Snake Tree is back. James promised Nara he'd meet her with Marsala at the tree and he delivers, even though it literally kills him to do so.
It's a tiny touch, but I love the design element of Nara hooking up her suit to activate a light. A subtle thing, to be sure, but the kind of element Exo-Squad excelled at that makes the tech feel real.
What Doesn't: Little things here and there. I thought the nascent Neo resistance had been adequately dealt with last episode, and moreover thought the Neo attack at the end split the focus. I'd have been happier had this element not been included. And, strategically, I didn't buy that there was anything special about the caves to make them worth fighting over. I'd think the Neo resistance would want to dig into an uncontested spot and save their firepower for targets with a high pay-off.
Nara climbing into Takagi's Exo-Frame and his tone-deaf quip feel out of place in such a serious episode. I suppose if she'd had her own ground-support frame it'd have been too easy for her to catch James, but it took me out of the episode for a moment.
Watch For: James is gone but, unsurprisingly, his presence will continue to be felt, especially for Nara.
The shot of J.T. waking up from his nightmare will get recycled late in the series.