When last I left off, Cloud and Aerith had just saved Tifa from a fate worse than sex with a balding pimp: sex with a pimp with a mohawk. Of course, Tifa didn’t actually need rescuing, nor did Aerith when everyone got split up. I worried a little bit over Cloud’s virtue when he was stuck in a room with a bunch of grabby lackeys, but he showed those scrubs who’s boss pretty handily.
The entire subplot with Don Corneo turns out to be kind of pointless, as the only thing we learn from it is that Shinra was looking for AVALANCHE’s hideout, and they now plan to destroy the support pillar holding up the plate over Sector 7. That would be a good bit of information, except that the plan’s already in progress when our heroes meet back up with Barret and the rest of the
terrorists freedom fighters.
I should point out that up until this segment, Shinra has not seemed to be that bad, as far as evil megacorporations go. They pay their employees, keep the peace, and all the destruction that’s happened so far has been AVALANCHE’s fault. I suppose the pillar episode is intended to show that Shinra really is a pack of filthy murdering liars, because without it, I think I’d start to wonder if I’m fighting on the right side in this conflict. To counter balance all this though, they did build their crown jewel of a city on a platform 150 feet in the air. Maybe there’s a good explanation for this architectural decision, but it does scream, “evil corporation with no concern for the environment” since the slums are in perpetual twilight and hardly any vegetation grows on the ground there.
So Shinra has the Turks (they’re like Shinra’s wetworks division, but in fancy black suits) infiltrate Sector 7 and detonate a bomb that causes the support pillar to collapse, dropping the plate on all the innocent people living there. Then, just to accentuate the eviiiil, they blame AVALANCHE. I’d be indignant about this turn, but to be honest, the
terrorists freedom fighters probably got their fair share of innocent people killed with the bombs they set off.
In the midst of the operation, Aerith gets kidnapped, so we get distracted from the fact that neither side in this fight is actually that good in order to go rescue someone who we’ve developed a personal connection with. If it were up to me, I’d let Shinra keep her, because Aerith annoys me, but Barret feels indebted because she rescued his daughter from Sector 7’s collapse. That’s a better reason than any other I can think of for going into the next sequence.
At this point in the story, we’re beginning to get some idea of why Aerith is wanted by Shinra. She’s apparently the last remaining Ancient, a race of people from, well, ancient times who are able to communicate with Gaia. The fact that Aerith is in tune with the planet means that she can detect the flow of the Lifestream, which is basically like spiritual soup that Shinra extracts and refines into Mako.
If you think too hard about it (which I’m wont to do), then you might start to see a connection between Mako energy and fossil fuels, but with mysticism thrown in (the coal speaks to the flower girl!). It’s essentially just a fanciful metaphor for our own reliance on nonrenewable energy, but with Aerith’s help we can have a defined narrative device that makes the plundering of the planet’s natural resources have emotional resonance. We’ll get more into that in a future installment when Cloud and friends escape from Midgar, but for now Aerith’s backstory suffices to give us a legitimate reason to think that Shinra is bad other than the assertions of a man whose primary claim to authority is his size and the fact that he carries around a lethal weapon as a prosthetic limb. Still, I’m going to add to the list of reasons Aerith is annoying the fact that she serves as a plot device to make us care about fighting Shinra when there should have been a more compelling reason given by our ecologically conscious fearless leader.
On a final note for this section, when Cloud and company are rushing to try to stop the pillar from being destroyed, he passes the other three members of AVALANCHE who all happen to be doomed to die in the attack. One of them, Jessie, is the first person to evoke a theme common to apocalyptic fiction: do we deserve what’s happening to us? She’s asking this question in context of the bombings that AVALANCHE has carried out, wondering if dying in an attack on their home is punishment for all the injury they caused to innocents around them. It’s a rather touching moment in the midst of a lot of chaos, and it shows a depth of insight that Barret lacks for a very long time. We’ll keep watching for this idea to pop up as the story progresses, because it’s kind of important, especially when we reach the end.