Even when discarding the variable of Megalobox's futuristic mechanical augmentations, boxing is not a sport that fosters especially healthy or manageable conditions for its practitioners, in the long run. In at least one study that I found, there have been upwards of three-hundred fatalities that can specifically be attributed to brain injuries that professionals suffered in the ring. There is another report that suggests that number could be closer to five hundred, to say nothing of the thousands of surviving fighters who likely suffer some degree of permanent brain damage. The point is, when a sport involves being consistently bludgeoned in the head with another person's fists over a long period of time, the end results aren't likely to be pretty. For slumland fighters like Joe and Chief, the odds are stacked even more against them, both on account of how little regulation and oversight these circuit matches seem to have, and also, you know…robot arms.
So, while Chief's untimely death at the end of “Sì la flor del alma florece, el amor no se perderá” came as a shock to Joe, Mio, Marla, and the rest of the immigrant community, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone watching the episode. Death, in all of its forms, has been at the forefront of Nomad's story so far: Joe has suffered through trauma it inflicts on those left alive and he has struggled against the dark desire to succumb to it himself; Chief was the man who reminded Joe of the courage it takes to push back in the face of it and fight for your right to live.
Episode 4 didn't just feel like a preemptive wake for Chief, it also felt like the ending of this entire story arc for Joe and the rest of the immigrant community. By the end of it, Mio has reconciled with his mother and renounced his antagonistic ways, Chief has defeated “Crazy” Mamiya and secured a future for his people's home at the amusement park, and Joe has resolved to return to the city and face his demons. So, on a purely thematic level, Chief's death isn't exactly necessary, but it does make a certain amount of sense as a tragic capstone to this part of the story. When his son died, Chief found a reason for being in pursuing a permanent home for the immigrants to have in this new country, however run-down it may be. With that mission accomplished, everyone that he helped to save will have to figure out how to move forward in his stead. It also highlights that men like Joe really are putting everything on the line when they fight for their dignity and pride.
The real question, then, is whether this episode provides a satisfying conclusion to Chief's story, and that's a more complicated question to answer. Insofar as the plot to purchase the land away from the Japanese mobsters is concerned, I'd say Nomad is largely successful. The fight between Chief and Mamiya features choreography and direction that is very similar to previous matches in both seasons of Megalobox, which is to say that it favors weight and emotional impact over intricate spectacle. I've always been perfectly fine with this approach, since the series has always been more of a drama than an action showcase, which makes it less like the Rocky franchise and more like Darron Aronofsky's The Wrestler. Chief's victory doesn't come cheap or easy, and the stakes have been driven home over the course of the last three episodes, so it works.
Mio and Joe's character arcs aren't as clean-cut. Mio's turnaround feels a touch rushed, especially, since he starts the episode by callously insulting Chief's dead son after freely admitting to his participation in the vandalism and arson. He's just a kid, sure, but he's a punk-ass little snot, and I don't know if I quite buy that a sketchy hitchhiking episode and one sentimental flashback is all that he needed to get his head right and return to support Chief and his community. Likewise, the brevity of Chief's run as a fighter makes Joe's impact on the immigrant community a little harder to pin down, since his strongest tie to the whole story is literally dead and buried.
What will really determine my feelings about this episode will be how Nomad moves forward from here, and where characters like Mio and Marla will factor into Joe's ongoing fight for redemption. I can imagine the worst-case scenario very easily, where Megalobox mostly forgets about these new characters and their story once Joe makes his return to the city, and to Megalonia. If we're lucky, we'll get a couple of brief cameos by the time we hit the last couple of episodes, so that Nomad can remind us that Marla and the others exist. In this version of Megalobox 2, it would be especially odd for the show to stick with the Latin American aesthetic and Spanish titles, since the story's connection to that culture would be perfunctory at best.
I was never under any illusions that this season would suddenly become Chief's story instead of Joe's, and I figured that there would have to be some manner of dark turn that incited Joe's proper return to the ring. Still, Nomad's efforts to humanize the struggles of an underrepresented and disabused minority population would be cheapened were the show to simply treat their single victory as a done deal. Joe might now wear the gear that Chief and his son made together, but he can't replace Chief as a representative of a culture he doesn't belong to. I hope that Nomad will allow Marla and Mio to serve as more than token reminders of Joe's brief tenure as Chief's coach, since they have become just as much a part of this new fight as Sachio or any of the rest.
• This episode's title roughly translates to “If the flower of the soul blooms, love will not be lost".
• The way Joe literally assumes Chief's mantle, except now it is in pursuit of personal redemption instead of a collective one, feels awfully reminiscent of the many stories where trials and tribulations of people of color end up becoming little more than fuel for a white protagonist's story. Joe isn't white, of course, and the ambiguous nature of Megalobox's setting muddies the waters even further, but it's still a tired trope, which is why I'm hoping Nomad doesn't just forget about the supporting cast come next week.
• There's a brief exchange during Mio's hitchhiking misadventure where the truck driver who picks him up definitely seems like he wants to have sex with Mio in a truckstop bathroom. It's a weird moment, and pretty unnecessary since I don't think Nomad is about to do a deep dive on the dangers of being abused by child predators on the open road.