When it was announced that series director Masaharu Watanabe was storyboarding this episode, I had the feeling that this would be an important turning point for the story. On that level, I did not come away disappointed. This was the episode where Echidna finally reveals her true colors, and after being on the fence for so long, Subaru makes a firm choice about how he regards her. A very significant development indeed.
On the other hand, I think that Echidna's big scene this episode was honestly pretty weakly directed, at least by Re:Zero standards. Her speech where she raises her arms felt out-of-place rather than chilling. She holds that pose for far too long for it to feel like a natural part of the scene, and after a certain point, her mouth doesn't even move, making the whole sequence feel stiff and jarring. The attempts to spice things up visually by showing her from different angles come off as rather tacky, especially that rotating shot around a 3D model of her body.
Although I haven't read the book that this scene adapts, I have a feeling that my problems with Echidna's speech may stem from how it's an adaptation of a prose work. The two contrasting images of Echidna's radiant smile versus her maniacal grin are really all you need to understand what's going on symbolically. As for the speech, it's clearly written to be repetitive, because the point is not the content of what she says, but the fact that it's word salad. That's hard to convey in a visual adaptation because the individual words have to be voiced, but at the very least I think it was a mistake for the anime to focus solely on Echidna's pose for such an extended amount of time. The most important thing in the end was the contrasting facial expressions, and it felt like that was delivered weakly here.
At least the first half of the episode, when Subaru takes the second trial and sees visions of what happens in the timelines where he dies, was genuinely chilling. I like the omniscient perspective of these scenes, with Subaru apparently watching from above but unable to get close to the people who are hurting. It was nice to get glimpses of characters who haven't factored into this season at all so far, like Julius and Reinhard, and it reinforces that this story takes place in a far larger world than what Subaru is privy to. Every character in Re:Zero lives their own lives, but they are nevertheless affected by Subaru's choices, and they will remember him when he's gone. The reason Subaru hasn't fallen to the point where he sees the lives of others as tools in the pursuit of the perfect timeline is because he has learned to consider their thoughts and feelings. Empathy continues to be an important theme for Re:Zero, and I really like how the worldbuilding goes hand-in-hand with this.
Speaking of worldbuilding, we finally get introduced to all the witches this episode. I think it's hilarious that the sloth witch has the sexy design while the lust witch has the modest design. The witches are all still pretty one-note at the moment, but it was definitely amusing seeing them all gathered at the tea party spouting their quirky one-liners. It made for some much-needed levity in a season that has been mostly depressing thus far. With Satella's abrupt entrance, though, the time for fun and games is over. I'm just hoping that this season's cour doesn't end on too cruel a cliffhanger.