Mark Watches ‘Steins;Gate’: Episode 21 – Paradox Meltdown

In the twenty-first episode of Steins;Gate, Okabe is faced with an impossible decision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steins;Gate.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief

How do you make a decision like this? How can you trade one life for another?

The moral dilemma at the heart of “Paradox Meltdown” produces what I feel is probably going to be the finest episode of this series. I know I said this on video, but it is worth repeating that I’m so happy the show slowed down to deal with the ramifications of the final D-mail to be reversed. Oh, it’s still tense as hell, but I found that the story was much more internal and emotional than I anticipated, and it made for an enriching experience. 

Because who are these two characters to Okabe? What do they mean to him? I admit that more time is spent on Mayuri than Kurisu, but I’m going to read that one line—where Okabe realizes that Feyris and Ruka gave up the thing they loved to save the world—as Okabe’s admission that he loves Kurisu, whatever form that love may take. Their growing friendship—and it’s entirely possible they can love one another without that love being romantic—has been a defining feature of Steins;Gate, though they’ve of course been too uncomfortable to ever come right out and say it. I HAVE READ A MILLION FICS WITH THIS TROPE AND I LOVE IT. Oh gods, why do I love this kind of angst so much??? (Actually, I’m pretty sure that being in the closet for a huge portion of my life made this trope Very Relatable, but that’s a subject for an entirely separate essay.) But the angst on display here is complicated by the two realities that Okabe has to fight for. He can erase the ramifications of the first D-mail, which will finally shift the world into the line in which Mayuri does not die. But is it worth it to do that and guarantee that they’ll enter a world in which Kurisu dies instead? I imagine the same logic would play out; no matter how Okabe tried to save Kurisu, she would die in every single iteration of the world line.

Initially, he refuses to continue with deleting the record of the first D-mail from the SERN servers. He can’t kill Kurisu, but he doesn’t really choose to do anything to stop the death of Mayuri. In fact, he becomes virtually static in the story as the day of Mayuri’s predicted death approaches. He disappears for long stretches of time, he is distant, and he is difficult to talk to. It’s a brilliant writing choice, though, because it gives so much weight to the impending doom that builds over the course of the first half of the episode. When he accompanies Mayuri to Comima to spend time with her, to observe her as the inevitable hangs over them, you can see how readily he detaches from the world and from his best friend. No matter how many times she tries to get through to him, his is largely unresponsive, lost in his thoughts, consumed by the panic he experiences from knowing Mayuri is still going to die. 

And Mayuri—bless her heart—tries SO HARD. It’s GUT-WRENCHING. Soul-crushing! But there’s a moment of joy amidst this, and my theory is that Okabe finally accepted that she was going to die in this world line, so he dropped all of his sadness and terror, and he opened back up to Mayuri. Right before the car arrived, LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY WERE. It’s important to note how much the mad scientist/hostage routine plays into that moment, her death, and the scene at the end of the episode over Mayuri’s grandmother’s grave. What does Mayuri say after she dies? That she was finally useful to Okabe. I read that both as a statement in reference to recent events—she hadn’t been able to help Okabe with whatever he was struggling with—and a reference to the hostage role-playing. For years, Okabe helped his best friend deal with the death of her grandmother, and then, at the very end, she gets to return the favor and make herself useful.


Only not all the way. Not yet! THAT’S FOR LATER! Because once Okabe loops time back again, this gets even more upsetting. Look, it’s not lost on me that no matter how many times Okabe travels back in time, he still eventually seeks out Kurisu and tells her the truth. This time, that truth is devastating and horrific for Kurisu specifically. She now knows that the new dilemma Okabe is dealing with is her death. I admire that the show doesn’t actually give us all that much in the way of her reaction to this news because it allows for some truly haunting images, like that one of her in the stairwell after Okabe goes to find Mayuri. Or the reveal at the end of the episode that Kurisu went to the scene of her murder, most likely as a means to deal with the absurd notion that she has to die in order to save Mayuri and the world. 

I hope that the next episode gives her more space, but I understood why “Paradox Meltdown” focused mostly on Mayuri and Okabe. Y’all, how am I supposed to deal with that scene at the graveyard? SHE REMEMBERS ALL HER DEATHS, BUT THEY ONLY APPEAR IN HER DREAMS, AND OKABE CAN’T EVER HEAR MAYURI THANKING HIM EVERY TIME HE TRIES TO SAVE HER. WHY MUST YOU HURT ME IN THIS WAY. I just???? Am very overwhelmed by all of this???? Oh my god, Mayuri is perhaps the purest, most good character I’ve ever come across in Mark Watches history? She is the personification of the Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World trope, and it just breaks me to see her grapple with the complications of what Okabe and the others have done. Ultimately, I enjoy this because I love when grand conflicts are this intimate and this personal. There are absolutely worldwide ramifications of time travel within Steins;Gate, but I’ve found the show most compelling when the stakes are just about the relationship between two people, both of whom have been lonely and sad, creating a world in which they get to be happy.

I am eternally a mess because of this show.

The video for “Paradox Meltdown” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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