Sword Art Online: Alicization - 1.15 The Relentless Knight
The Relentless Knight finally takes the story back to what makes Sword Art Online so much fun: a blend of plot development and sword fighting that's delivered in a way that doesn't feel rote or boring. This episode isn't perfect, but it's an improvement over the last few installments that have relief far too much on exposition dumps to move the story along.
One of the key takeaways from this episode is to expect the unexpected. At the start of the episode, Kirito and Eugeo meet two young girls who claim to be sisters-in-training who wanted to see the intruders with their own eyes. But just as you think it's safe to relax, the pair stab Kirito and Eugeo with poison daggers while revealing they are Integrity Knights!
The backstory of Linel and Fizel provides the largest portion of exposition in the story and it provides another example of why Quinella needs to be removed from power. It is revealed that a number of years ago, Quinella forced children to kill each other so she could master a resurrection spell, with Linel and Fizel the lone survivors. It's a horrifying story but the pair don't seem to realize they've been abused by their leader.
Most of the action takes place on the 50th floor of the cathedral where a group of Integrity Knights are waiting. This is also the weakest part of the episode, because out of nowhere Kirito reveals he isn't poisoned because he deduced the identity of the girls from the start and was able to protect himself. I understand that for plot reasons one of the pair had to be able to fight, but it still feels way too predictable that it's always Kirito who comes to the rescue. In hindsight there is a clue that Kirito is up to something, as he lets Eugeo talk to Linel and Fizel citing that he's not "good with kids." If you know anything about Kirito's interactions with Yui (his A.I. "daughter") then you know this simply isn't true.
The fight between Kirito and Lady Fanatio (the lead Integrity Knight in the group) is well done and reveals that Kirito's sword skills have only grown during his time in the Underworld. Despite that, he also shows he's not invincible as he takes a lot of damage from Fanatio's sword during the fight. Seeing Kirito vulnerable raises the stakes significantly, as this raises doubt as to whether or not Kirito is going to survive this journey he's on.
In an exciting note, the episode ends on a major cliffhanger: having secretly powered up his sword's ultimate ability, the last thing we see is Kirito activate the skill as he charges forward. It was sudden and unexpected but it also provides an exciting hook for next week's installment because Kirito's ultimate sword ability will finally be revealed. Hopefully the series continues this upward trend.