“Arcane” Act 1 (Episode 1, 2 & 3) Review

Arcane Act 1 Review Netflix

Okay, my League of Legends friends, don’t panic! Arcane is available to be viewed on Netflix. Well, Act 1 anyways, which gives us Episode 1 “Welcome To The Playground”,  Episode 2 “Some Mysteries Are Better Left Unsolved”, and Episode 3 “The Base Violence Necessary For Change”.

As a fan of League of Legends, I’ve been looking forward to watch Arcane ever since it was announced. While the world of League of Legends is vast and full of riveting and consuming stories from the frozen lands of Freljord to the dark and misty Shadow Isles to the long-forgotten sands of Shurima, or the militaristic, lawful, and duty-bound kingdom of Demacia, just to name a few, in Arcane, Riot Games decided to focus on the elegant, progressive, and thriving city of Piltover and below them the dark undercity of Zaun, home to the rejects, the poor, and ruffians of all backgrounds and careers. And while they differ greatly, it’s clear that there is a somewhat symbiotic relationship bringing fortune and misery to the inhabitants of both cities.

The turmoil of Zaun and Piltover came to a head when Zaun chose to rally together to raid the topsiders, they didn’t make it far as they only got to the bridge leading to the inner city before being brutally massacred by Piltover Enforcers. After the dust settled, few survived, and emerging from fire and ash appeared a scared and frightened pair of sisters, Violet, or Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) as we come to know her and her younger sister Powder (Ella Purnell).

With their parents dead, the sisters are brought under the wing of Vander (JB Blanc) a unifying leader of the people of Zaun as well as a living legend due to his strength and power equipped with giant metal fists like some kind of steampunk cage boxer. The scene is gruesome and heartbreaking and not to mention the hauntingly beautiful lullaby Powder sings as she closes her eyes to all the bloodshed. The shadows of red and blinding tear gas across the bridge are just arresting and as the song teeters out and is replaced by a melody of violins and ambiance I just felt myself so drawn to this world and its characters from the very opening. 

arcane act 1 review league of legends netflix

Speaking of the opening, the intro is badass. It’s got this kind of Suicide Squad-esque feel with Imagine Dragons’ exclusive song “ENEMY” and the stone statues of the iconic League of Legends heroes and villains in cinematic action poses with gunfire and rubble flying everywhere not to mention the neon flashing drawn scribbles showing that there’s an unbridled rebellion and insanity just behind the seams.

It’s after the intro that we get a brief look at the topside, Piltover, the home to the wealthy and the progressive, the inventors and thinkers. You get to see bright beautiful blue skies with flying blimp ships over the backdrop of high-rise gold-trimmed buildings and clockwork and steam powering the beautiful vibrant city.

City of Piltover Arcane Act 1 Review

 

And here to loot, are our slightly older sisters, rough and tough leader of the gang Vi, and the very clumsy, and inexperienced Powder accompanied by their two loyal friends, Mylo (Yuri Lowenthal) and Claggor (Roger Craig Smith). They have stumbled upon a tip for a job from a well-connected shop owner and connoisseur of stolen inventions and tools by the name of Benzo (Fred Tatasciore) in the streets, or “lanes” as their called, of Zaun. Well, I guess you could say the job came from Benzo’s young apprentice and longtime friend of the gang, Ekko (Miles Brown, young Ekko), who happens to listen in on everything his master learns about the topside as well as the lanes. 

The job? Steal valuable inventions and supplies from an Inventor’s workshop in the city of Piltover. But the job doesn’t go as planned due to Power finding several volatile blue crystals. With the Inventor coming back, Powder’s clumsiness causes her to drop a crystal, leading to a massive explosion that blows out the entire side of the workshop.

They manage to evade Piltover guards but find themselves ambushed by a gang of boys, one of which is Deckard (Josh Keaton). A fight ensues and it’s pure chaos, the hand-to-hand combat fight scene is gorgeously done with a slow-motion montage of mayhem. Busted lips, broken noses, gut kicks, sucker punches, dirty tackles, blood and spit rain across the alleyways as Powder sits in fear and watches her friends wreck the bullies and also get messed up themselves in the process. 

It isn’t until Powder makes a run for it with the bag that a bully decides to chase her to the docks overlooking the bay that we find that she’s a tinkerer herself, frantically throwing nails and metal scraps into a grenade she calls “mouser”, with her luck however it turns into a dud. As a last-ditch effort, she throws, yes, THROWS the bag of valuables INTO THE WATER immediately sinking everything to the bottom of the bay. Powder, what were you thinking?! Now I’m just as mad as Mylo but Vi frustratingly tries to just say it’s “okay” and that at least Powder is safe. That’s great and all but all of the work and danger they were put in really makes you look down on Powder for being the sole reason for them losing everything. 

As the gang licks their wounds they go deep down into Zaun and it’s full of all sorts of misfits, mercenaries, sex workers, arms dealers, thieves, and strange creatures. The polluted air leaving a green overcast fog only enhances the feel of ever-present danger and mystery to the post-apocalyptic-looking cyberpunk feel the show’s going for. And while Benzo’s shop stands as a notable place, the real action and safe haven for the gang is The Last Drop a bar that criminals of all kinds can go to drop their guard, but most importantly it is owned by the legendary and well respected Vander, “The Hound of the Underground” and father figure to Vi and Powder along with Mylo and Claggor. 

Zaun Arcane Act 1 Review

Zaun, The Last Drop

When Vander learns about their recent “job” he is understandably pissed at Vi and forbids anyone to go topside, strictly because Vander is the one who will have to answer for crimes committed in Piltover by his people. It’s evident how not so subtle the symbiotic relationship is when Vander finishes scolding Vi and the boys and heads over to see his longtime friend Benzo at his shop, but quickly the consequences of the gang’s job begin to make themselves apparent for both Piltover and Zaun, as two Piltover Enforcers, one, young and brash by the name of Marcus (Remy Hii) and the seasoned and older partner Grayson (Shohreh Aghdashloo) enter the story.

While Marcus’ approach is quite aggressive, Grayson dismisses him to go outside while she speaks to the two men in private. It’s here we learn that there’s a deal between Vander and Grayson, “You keep your people off my streets, and I stay out of your business.” The pressure is placed on both sides. The people and esteemed Council of Piltover who need a culprit brought to justice immediately, and Vander who does not want to put his girls in harm’s way.

Coming to the sisters, I liked how their interactions were handled. Powder’s upset about how it’s true that its always her fault and she’s not a fighter. While this scene is relatively small, I just couldn’t help but be in awe of their facial expressions. The subtle nuances, like Powder’s eyebrows dropping and raising as she expresses how inadequate she feels, the slunk shoulders, the way she makes herself as small as possible by hugging her grenade “Whisker” in a fetal position, and the quiet and soft voice of Vi as she does her best to comfort and reassure her. These little moments really add to the storytelling.

The final scene introduces the last of Zaun’s big players. We drop down below the bay of Zaun into a secret underground lab of science beakers filled with a number of glowing liquids in them. Deckard, the bully from earlier, is strapped to a chair and visibly scared and stuttering, as he is questioned, menacingly I may add, by Silco (Jason Spisak) who is utterly excellent. He’s this thin, sharply dressed, akin to a mobster’s second-in-command, but with a quiet, ruthless, cutthroat air to him. He speaks almost snakelike, clear and methodical. Half his face is charred and a glowing red eye completes his villainous look. As he sits in the shadows and learns of Vander and the gang’s escapade, he does this rather beautifully animated sinister rubbing of his fingertips as if he’s intrigued, but also vain and matter of factly. It’s ever so subtle but another reason why the animation and thought to these characters spoke volumes to me. His silhouette is striking and malicious. It made my skin crawl, in the best way possible.

Silco Arcane Act 1 Review

The episode closes by offering some information about what the experiments are for. A dangerous drug (that allowed a mouse to kill a cat) is being developed.

While Zaun and the lanes were the focal points in the last episode, we do actually get to spend some time topside and meet some more interesting characters that call Piltover home. A young Caitlin Kiramman (Katie Leung) daughter to a prestigious and noble family house with ties to The Council is carrying supplies to Jayce’s (Kevin Alejandro) workshop. Well, it’s more like the Kiramman’s workshop with Jayce having the gracious opportunity to research under it as we soon learn that they are his patrons. Jayce confides in Caitlyn that the supplies she’s carrying come from the Undercity to which she can’t believe but Jayce reassures that the danger is worth the risk for the research he’s doing but I don’t think Caitlyn’s parents would be too keen on learning that he’s using their money to buy Zaun equipment. Luckily, it’s very obvious that Caitlyn looks up to Jayce as a kind of brother. 

The ties to our characters begin to make themselves known as we learn that the Kiramman workshop was the same workshop that Vi and the gang looted, and that he was the Inventor trying to enter it! He, unfortunately, is the recipient of an instant concussion when the blue crystal explodes the building sending him into an old memory from his childhood and flashback for the audience to add some more context on the details of the crystals. Which happens to be one of my favorite scenes (I have a lot of favorite scenes, okay!)

The flashback, involving a mysterious mage, gives us insight into the sheer passion and borderline obsession of Jayce’s research. Out of the entire first act of Arcane, this is one of the most beautifully done scenes – the spell effects, the mystery, the power, and the detail of the runes!

Mysterious Mage Arcane Act 1 Review

Jayce wakes up on the floor of his workshop staring at the giant-sized hole exposing the workshop to Piltover, as well as Enforcer Grayson, who knows the explosion is not his fault but that he is in possession of a lot of illegal equipment with no permits to practice his research for this. To make matters worse the curious and clever Viktor (Harry Lloyd) peruses around the workshop taking careful and focused glances at Jayce’s research and while that in and of itself is not worrying, it’s the fact that Viktor is assistant to The Dean of the prestigious Piltover Academy of Science who is also Head of the Council. Viktor’s orders? To have anything he deems dangerous be confiscated safely and brought forth to the Council, including Jayce. Safe to say he’s in a world of trouble!

While waiting in a jail cell, I liked Jayce’s secret meeting with a rather eccentric yordle, a species of small mysterious furry people, by the name Heimerdinger (Mick Wingert) who you should also know is 307 years old to Jayce’s meager 24 years old. Jayce wants to harness magic through science, and Heimerdinger wants Jayce about his goal.

We also get introduced to the gorgeous and opulent Mel Medarda who we learn is the richest woman in Piltover and another member of the council. She constantly seeks innovation and ways to push Piltover forward. She is briefed on Jayce’s trial that she is to attend later in the day. It’s revealed that Jayce is of House Talis, a noble house of toolmakers, coming into renown for their design of the collapsible pocket wrench. It’s in this scene as well as the trial that showcases Piltover’s architecture being aesthetically pleasing, clean with glass and gold, lots of natural sunlight, and being a wonderful, gilded, and shining geometrical balance of shapes, reminiscent of the promo aesthetic of Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby. The setting is full of sophistication and ingenuity that makes Piltover look like a paradise compared to Zaun’s dismal aesthetic. 

The Council Arcane Act 1 Review

Arcane Act 1 Review

Jayce is increasingly interrogated after he apologizes only to explain that he did it for “Magic”. From there we learn that everyone had some past with magic, nearly all of them fear it or have had terrible experiences dealing with mages. I loved this scene! While I view magic as a powerful and beautiful thing, the World of Piltover has dealt with real consequences such as genocide by magic and collapsing of civilizations in Heimerdinger’s experience. As he explains, the scene cuts to a gorgeous canvas painting rendition of a mage harnessing magic, flying high above a city, as onlookers writhe in horror and agony. It’s highly stylized in a 3D effect as it pans out and it’s utterly gorgeous to the dramatic and ominous chant. Even the texture of the paint is vivid enough to touch. This show STAYS blowing my expectations out of the water.

In League of Legends, magic has been used as a means of imprisonment, exile, and even torture, but there have also been mages who’ve protected, saved, and blessed others. So, to see magic depicted in a negative light in front of the council disappointed me. But Jayce’s passion is palpable, in his need to create a better world he is willing to discover the secrets of the Arcane. This intrigues Medarda as well as Viktor who believes that Jayce may be the key to taking Piltover into the brightest of futures.  

While this is great, Jayce’s mother, Ximena, decides to show up basically saying that her son is “unwell” and doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. This lessens the severity of his sentence which was to be exile, but instead leaves him expelled from the Academy, losing the financial support of his patrons, and basically turning him into a social pariah. To say it broke my heart is putting it lightly. 

With Jayce losing everything and ready to end his life, he’s saved by Viktor. Turns out, Viktor spent his time reading through Jayce’s notes on the Arcane crystal, coining the name “Hextech” theory. Both young men are kindred spirits, both feeling that no one believed in them.

I have to pause for a second because these two had so much chemistry (no pun intended). Again, this show benefits immensely from the subtleties in the animation and voice acting. That particular moment between them allows both young men to be vulnerable with each other.

Meanwhile, in Zaun, Enforcers have started patrolling the lanes, searching for the criminal. Silco has forced Deckard to take the purple toxin and he has informed Marcus that he knows exactly who is responsible for the explosion and now the die has been cast and we head into the final episode of the first act. And oh… let me tell you, you are not ready!

Arcane Act 1 Review

With Viktor and Jayce deciding to break into Heimerdinger’s lab to get the crystals in the dead of night under the cover of darkness, they are caught by Medarda, leading Viktor to say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t my bedroom.”

And I just have to say to Viktor… Sir, of all the responses you could’ve given, your first as a means of cover is to elude to sneaking Jayce into your bedroom in the middle of the night?! Ship material right there! Ship material! Let it set sail and have a long glorious voyage. Even as Medarda questions them Jayce defends Viktor by calling him his partner.. for science.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing Viktor and Jayce figuring out how to use the crystals to create a magical field where gravity ceases to exist. Medarda welcomes the era of magic as Heimerdinger looks with a bit of concern.

Vander’s heroism is one for the ages in the third episode. As the hostility grows and the Enforcers draw nearer to finding Vi and the gang, he realizes he will have to sacrifice himself to protect his loved ones. Even though Vander’s arrested, we have to witness Deckard being up Vander and dragging him away to Silco’s lair. At this point, I have to install a crying counter cause’ the tears were flowing. When Deckard comes to kill a couple of characters, you can n empathize with Vi as her world rapidly crumbles before her. 

Ekko comes into the cellar to see Vi and he’s visibly traumatized and devastated seeing Benzo get ruthlessly murdered. Vi cradles him and, yeah I cried again. I just wanted to hug them both, Ekko’s big eyes and all his tears broke me. 

We get more context to Silco’s disturbing flashback. He felt betrayed, to which Vander reveals that he lived with the guilt of what he’d done, that he was always his brother. However, Vander’s words understandably didn’t faze Silco. You just know Silco’s going to give the dangerous drug, called “Shimmer”, to Vander.

I liked seeing the episode show Powder’s reaction, too. She goes through a complete meltdown complete with the ugly sobbing, the nose dribbles, the works. The scene is so powerful, it becomes a bit overwhelming to see such a small child react so chaotically. When Powder realizes she can use the Hextech crystals in one of her explosive toys, she decides to help.

With Vi and the boys trying to rescue Vander, the tension just keeps rising. It’s a race for everyone, Mylo lock picking Vander’s restraints, Claggors battering the wall to escape and the survival of Vi. 

It’s Jin—I mean, Powder’s time to shine as she gets her mechanical monkey toy and straps a Hextech crystal to it. “The Base Violence Necessary for Change” makes a point to show that Mylo broke Vander free, Claggor demolished through the wall to escape, and Vi successfully held off Deckard. For all intents and purposes the team pulled it off, but what changes everything is Powder’s intervention. Powder’s tinker toy worked causing a massive explosion sending Deckard and Silco and Powder flying, another beautiful slow motion shot of Powder midair, falling in a flurry of blue sparks and glass with a big smile on her face because her invention finally worked, and she actually helped… or so she thinks.

Brace yourselves! 

The arcane crystal busts through the door, electrifying the debris and hitting Claggor so fast that it instantly kills him, leaving a slow-mo of his signature goggles covered in blood flying mid-air. Mylo meets his fate as well, as he is impaled by a steel beam and subsequently crushed to death by falling rubble and Vi needing help. It’s very unfortunate.

Such desperate times gave a valid explanation for Vader to take the Shimmer. He’s able to control himself to save Vi and tell her to take care of Powder.

If anything was to break me it is the final scene. Powder finds Vi in the alley and excitedly explains that her “monkey bomb finally worked.” Vi is stunned and in disbelief. It’s here that I’m crying, biting my fingernails. Panicking for everyone. Not sure if I’m filled with rage, devastated, or depressed? I’m conflicted. It sinks into Powder that Vander is dead, Claggor’s bloody goggles are on the floor, and she begins to cry. This performance is so heartbreaking and raw. Ella Purnell as Powder did such a phenomenal job of showing Powder as a crying screaming child as she begged for Violet to stay. As a reaction, Hailee Steinfeld really showed Vi’s uncontrollable anger.

It’s at this moment that Silco decides to take advantage of Powder’s emotions. The poor girl’s hurt and alone. And he can use that. Vi’s love did not falter for Powder, but Marcus knocks her out, saving her from Silco. We pan out to Powder’s vengeful eye from under Silco’s embrace, going from blue to purple.

I just can’t get over how exceptional the 3-episode first act of Arcane ended up being. It really pulled me in. The story and pacing fleshed out characters effortlessly and organically. The episodes made me invested in Jayce and Viktor’s plight and partnership. It wowed me with magic. It made me absolutely sob due to Vander’s death. And it broke me when I saw Vi and Powder’s fates. 

I can’t recommend Arcane enough and I can’t wait to watch and talk about Act 2!

Author: Micah Carrillo

Micah is studying English and Digital Design. His love of geek culture spans across diverse mediums and genres. Comics, anime, films, you name it! He enjoys video games on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox.


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