“Happy Progress Day!” moves the second Act a while into the future, with both the setting and its citizens in very different places than when we left them.
This recap of Arcane season 1, episode 4, “Happy Progress Day!”, contains spoilers.
I’ve said a few times that Netflix’s decision to release Arcane in three batches of three episodes, loosely defined as “Acts”, is a minor stroke of genius. And the value of this structure is immediately apparent in “Happy Progress Day!”, the introduction to the second Act, which finds plenty of time having elapsed since last week’s poignant climax, our various characters in different places, and several subplots at different stages of development. The titular Progress Day marks Piltover’s 200th anniversary and helps to highlight how the city’s embracing of magic in the form of Jayce’s Hexgates have revitalized the place and uplifted its citizens, naturally leaving the Undercity behind, developmentally speaking.
Arcane season 1, episode 4 recap
“Progress Day” might be the name of a celebration, but it also symbolizes a theme, the idea of technological revolution being perhaps dangerously compelling for those who stand to benefit from it and take credit for it – those like Heimerdinger, who wants to expedite development on more potentially lucrative technologies, testing and safety be damned. Jayce would like to deliver the Hexgate Gemstones when they’re ready, but he’s beset on all sides – by Heimerdinger, by Medarda – by people with more power than him, by people to whom he owes a debt for even the progress he has made thus far. He’s trapped between a rock and a hard place; the engineer forced to develop rockets for a dictatorial regime, say, unable to fight back or stand his ground without great cost to himself.
Piltover’s general uplift isn’t the only change in “Happy Progress Day!”. The passage of time between acts has also allowed Powder, now going by the more recognizable moniker of Jinx, to develop into a dangerous but unstable fighter, closely allied with Silco but grappling with her own paranoia and unresolved relationship with Vi. It’s Jinx, in a rash move, who steals Jayce’s gemstones, leaving the Council panicking and Piltover at risk.
So, clear themes are emerging – profits versus health and safety being one, unresolved trauma being another, technological development being a third. Arcane remains a strong show, both visually and narratively, relaying these themes with panache while also delivering the right amounts of quieter character development and slick action. Already a hit last week, this second Act looks set to reward fans who’re in it for the long haul.