How would you rate episode 12 of
Altair: A Record of Battles ?
They say that after Lieutenant Maynard cut off the pirate Blackbeard’s head, his headless corpse swam around the ship three times before finally dying. That legend may well have been about the bullet-riddled body of Balaban in this week’s episode of Altair: A Record of Battles – like Blackbeard, he cannot truly die until he’s made his final statement. Unlike the (in)famous pirate, however, Balaban’s prolonged death throes aren’t about defiance; he needs to know why his younger brother Beyazit committed the ultimate betrayal – and maybe he wants to make sure that Beyazit’s actions stay with him for years to come. Not that Beyazit is likely to forget that he helped orchestrate his brother (and his sultan’s) downfall – the flashback that opens the episode establishes that he saw Balaban as someone who ultimately allowed his own ambitions to overrule his duties as a leader. Balaban’s anger over his father’s death allowed him to be swayed by Louis’ “future map” of a world where Muzrak was its own sovereign nation, overlooking the fact that Louis was unlikely to allow it to remain that way. Essentially, Balaban proved to be a less clever Louis, and that allowed him to be taken advantage of to the point where he turned traitor to his own people and had to be taken out for Muzrak’s continued survival.
At least, that’s how Beyazit saw it, and doubtlessly a similar motive had convinced Aishe to turn on her mother and follow him. We know that Orhan felt at least partially the same way, although he’s also ruled by his romantic love for Aishe, even though he knows that she doesn’t share his feelings. For most of the characters in this civil war story arc, emotion is the ruler of the house, with only Mahmut and his associates thinking strategically, or at least being driven more by the head than the heart. Balaban is blinded by ambition and rage, Orhan is guided as much by his feelings as his thoughts, and even Mahmut plays on emotion with his theatrical production, hoping to use the people’s feelings to help his military cause. That Beyazit is able to tuck his love for his brother away in order to carry out his plan is impressive, although we’ve yet to see how it will ultimately play out. I feel like the final outcome of the civil war will determine whether the head or the heart should rule in the context of the story – or whether the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle.
For Mahmut, this feels like a pivotal moment. He’s figured out that the Divan is perfectly happy to sacrifice him in order to gain control of the three defecting pashalus, and he’s not entirely sure he’s okay with that. To that end, we see him get tactically creative – the use of tree branches is quite something – and also agree to use methods that he’s clearly uncomfortable with. That would be Beyazit and Ismail’s ambush-and-rifles strategy. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, I would guess that most of this discomfort comes not from the fact that they’re using strange new weapons, but rather from trapping Balaban in a situation that doesn’t allow him any recourse to an honorable battle. He basically becomes the proverbial fish in a barrel; there’s absolutely no way he can win while stuck in a valley with musket balls being fired down at him. For a proud warrior, that’s a pathetic death because no matter what, he can’t fight back. Does Balaban deserve dignity after openly rebelling against Torqye? Maybe not. But being picked off like a target at a shooting arcade by his beloved brother is a psychological blow as well as a physical one, and while it may be tactically sound, it doesn’t allow him anything but a traumatic death.
However, now that he’s gone, it seems likely that the other two rebellious sultans will either surrender or be quickly dispatched. Once again Mahmut has saved both the day and his own skin despite the odds, so the more interesting question will be what he takes from this day’s work. He’s also solidified a relationship with two new sultans, Orshan and Beyazit, so not only has he won the day for Torqye, he’s also made himself much less expendable. How will the Divan react to that? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out, but I suspect that Zaganos Pasha has planned for this eventuality along with every other possible outcome of the civil war.
Altair: A Record of Battles is currently streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike.