Sword Art Online: Alicization - 2.03 The Final Load Test
The Final Load Test feels very much like the calm before the storm. After the first two episodes establish the situation with Alice and Kirito, this new episode spends most of the time in the real world, explaining exactly how the story got to this point, as well as setting the pieces for where the story will move from here.
In a lengthy, but ultimately necessary information dump, it is explained that Gabriel and his crew have been hired by the U.S. government to steal Alice from the Ocean Turtle. Having been locked out of the computer system, Gabriel and his brother are diving into the Dark Territory section of the Underworld to hunt for Alice that way. The twist to all of this is...we've met Gabriel and his brother before. All the way back at the beginning of the first season, when Kirito and his friends battle in Gun Gale Online, it was Gabriel who was observing them on the hillside. Furthermore, a nightmare reveals that Sinon has encountered him as well at some time in the past.
The big question from this revelation - does Gabriel know who Kirito is, or is it just a coincidence that he was engaging with Kirito and his friends right before all of this happens? The odds seem astronomical that this was a random encounter, especially since Gabriel's brother appears to be dressed in-game like a member of Laughing Coffin, the guild that opposed Kirito in the very first story arc of Sword Art Online. This plot point definitely bears watching as the series continues.
As predicted, Asuna is indeed diving into the Underworld to join Kirito and Alice and fulfill the mission that Kirito was originally given at the end of the last story arc. And this is where I have a bit of a problem with this episode. While I have been a huge fan of the ongoing saga of Kirito and Asuna's relationship, I find it extremely hard to believe that hearing words of forgiveness from Asuna will be all it takes to correct what has happened to Kirito. Of course it's entirely possible that it will take something more to resolve the issue, as there's no way this problem isn't fixed eventually. However, the way the episode sets up the idea that Asuna's presence alone will fix the problem is very problematic, and I really hope this is not how the issue is resolved.
The attackers don't realize what the titular "Final Load Test" is, and that could prove important down the road. Last season we learned that this is a final run of the current Underworld simulation. At the end of this test, if memory serves, the entire system will be deleted. And more importantly, once started, the Final Load Test can't be stopped. By launching into the Underworld, Gabriel and his brother have no idea what they're about to set in motion, something that could have enormous consequences in the future.
So far, the second story arc of Sword Art Online: Alicization continues to tell a great story, with only minor issues along the way. Now that the new players have entered the Underworld, hopefully the story will begin to pick up speed. With Gabriel and his brother setting themselves up as rulers of the Dark Territory, next week's episode will prove interesting indeed.