Whether it’s a coincidence or not, there’s something disturbingly similar between the way Rosemary is being treated for her soot sickness and the way suffragists were force-fed in prison. I do have my doubts that Shadows House is trying to draw that direct connection, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there, and practices both were intended to ensure that the person they were practiced upon didn’t die in custody. In the case of the suffragists, it was so that women didn’t die of their hunger strikes in prison, ie on the government’s watch. For Rosemary, it’s so that a living doll doesn’t “break,” depriving a Shadow of her face. Both are self-serving acts, and it’s up to our interpretation whether or not they’re truly analogous, image similarities aside.
The question of soot and soot sickness is a theme of this episode, with Kate losing her cool several times and emitting vast quantities – and if we think about it, one of those times may have been more deliberate than the others. When she’s called before the Star Bearers and accused of having something to do with the phantom and scorches, she realizes very quickly that she’s not been summoned out of any real belief in her guilt, but because the rest of the people in the room are afraid of Edward. As soon as she figures this out, she begins releasing huge amounts of soot to the point where stalactites form on the ceiling – something that may very well make her untouchable. We’ve already seen how Barbara (and Barbie) get special treatment because of Barbara’s soot volume, so Kate may be banking on scaring the Star Bearers into leaving her to her own devices by showing what she’s capable of producing. Knowing what we do about Edward, it’s unlikely to stop him, but it may buy her some time to figure out what’s really going on; fortunately, the Star Bearers seem inclined (or at least grudgingly willing) to let her try.
One of the first items on Kate’s agenda is visiting the dolls infected with the soot sickness. While we still don’t know who forced Belle(s) into breaking the coffee bottles, we do know that the dolls all missed their weekly dose, so seeing how Mia and the others are doing is a good chance to see what that means. The horrible truth turns out to be not much; Kate posits that there’s just too much soot built up in, for example, Mia’s system to let one week make a difference. While that means that Ricky is still savable (Lou less so since Louise has been feeding her her own soot), it has some frightening implications about Rosemary when she’s so vulnerable to soot sickness. She’s not that much older than Mia, but she’s clearly ingested a lot more soot, and that raises some questions about her relationship with Maryrose and about how many times she’s been punished like Belle(s) currently is: cleaning the soot room. Is there a point of no return for the living dolls? Because if there is, someone has been pushing Rosemary closer and closer to it, and I don’t think we can write off the possibility that it’s been purposeful.
That’s why it’s so good that Detective Kate is on the job. She and Emilico function much more as a team than the other living dolls and Shadows because they’re still very much two separate people, and interactions with them are making John and Shaun more like that, too. Each of the four brings something different to the table, and between Kate’s brains, Shaun’s caution, Emilico’s observational skills, and John’s willingness to just charge into virtually any situation, they’re a group to be reckoned with. The fact that Emilico impressed Oliver and Olly earlier with her mad vacuum-riding skills is likely to work in their favor, too, because it gives Kate something to bargain with, to say nothing of an in with the science squad whose lair they just crashed .
Something rotten has been going on in Shadows House for a very long time. Maybe Barbara and Christopher once tried to change it. I don’t think Kate will let anything stop her from picking up where they left off.
Shadows House is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.