Arisu and Usagi find themselves amongst an organized community on the brink of an uprising as they begin to figure out a long-term objective.
This recap of Alice in Borderland season 1, episode 5 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
As it turns out, finding a beach in Tokyo isn’t as easy as first imagined. Arisu and Usagi are certainly struggling, which is a problem since their visas are due to expire. But Arisu is still determined to make good on the sacrifice of his friends, even if he isn’t entirely determined to share a tent with Usagi. Eventually, she insists, but only on the basis of sleep deprivation being a big danger to them during games. Honestly, I could totally live without any romance blossoming between these two, and at this stage, I’m not sure I’ll buy it if it does.
Nevertheless, Usagi teaches Arisu how to hunt, which he picks up quickly since he can equate the basic principles to an online game he likes. They also continue to surveil real-world games looking for clues about the beach, and Arisu hits on the idea of looking out for people wearing locker keys, like the ones Aguni and his compatriot were wearing during the game of tag in the second episode. They both pick up a couple of marks and give chase, somehow keeping pace with their cars on-foot and following them to a destination that looks very much like the beach, at which point they’re taken hostage.
Alice in Borderland episode 5 introduces the Beach utopia and its leader, the appropriately-named Hatter. It also introduces the goal of the Beach, which is to collect all 52 playing cards — this is kept track of using a giant wall depicting every card, many of which are crossed off — and use them as a way to send one person back to the “normal” world. Hatter and his executive board would like Arisu and Usagi to play the games with them and help collect the missing cards. The Beach is a self-sufficient community with its own resources and rules, including a mandate on swimwear and a zero-tolerance traitor policy. If Arisu and Usagi don’t help, they’ll be considered traitors. Luckily, if they do, the seven of hearts card that Arisu won was a missing one, which makes him and Usagi eligible for a promotion.
The Beach is a party hotspot where everything is allowed and even encouraged, including drugs and sex, though Arisu and Usagi get some funny looks. When a game is active, everyone sets out, including some familiar faces. One of the players from the tag game is knocking around, Aguni is the leader of the militant faction who controls the Beach’s weapons, sits on Hatter’s executive board, and is clearly planning a revolution, and Silver Hair — I still don’t have a name for this guy — also occupies a seat on that executive board, along with having a kind of shifty partnership with Kuina, a woman who only ever seems to wear a bikini and keeps an unlit cigarette in her mouth as a quit-smoking aid.
Part of painting the picture of how the Beach operates is showing a little montage of various different games taking place, and while this is fun, it doesn’t have the sustained tension of a single, focused game. Arisu’s test for executive suitability presided over by the leggy An is much better. It’s called Lightbulb, and finds all the participants stood in gradually-rising water. The objective is to determine which switch, A, B, or C, turns on a lightbulb in an adjoining room, but you only get one opportunity to test a switch with the door open. It takes a while, but eventually, Arisu is able to figure out the right solution.
We get a real sense of the Beach’s leadership woes when Aguni orders his men to take Usagi away and Hatter himself is forced to intervene. This is clearly going to be a continuing thread, as when Hatter hosts a meeting and explains he’ll be participating in the next game, both to extend his visa and in the hope of locating the elusive ten of hearts, we get an ominous zoom-in on Aguni when Hatter says he’ll be leaving his executives in charge in his absence.
But that’s for the next episode. This one ends in a low-key way, with Hatter explaining his backstory to Arisu in as grandiose terms as possible — he was the host at a gentlemen’s club, basically — and delusionally insisting that all the Beach’s citizens revere him and will be happy to see him return to the old world a hero. Every hero, he says, needs a tragedy, as the camera pulls out to reveal the lights of the Beach as the only illumination as far as the eye can see.
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