I wasn’t expecting the episode to open with Rinko holding a press conference and announcing the existence of Fluctlights to the world. And I especially hadn’t expected to see Alice “brought to life” in the real world as an AI, especially not at the beginning of an episode. The press conference was quite interesting, but it wasn’t surprising to see the reporters asking certain kinds of questions about common fears about AIs. And I couldn’t help but almost laugh at the one reporter who was trying to cite all the movies and books that have been created over the years depicting the dangers of AI. Even though I found it amusing, I know that this would realistically happen at a press conference announcing the existence of an AI.
We then see Higa watching the broadcast of the press conference on the Ocean Turtle. We find out about the various political intrigue that went on between the end of the episode and this point through dialogue between Higa and Kikuoka (and part of this scene reveals the fact that it’s believed that Kikuoka is dead). We also learn the justification for why it was decided to reveal the existence of the Fluctlights, which unsurprisingly, is politically motivated. But while this is going on, Kikuoka notices on a display that Kirito is awakening. The two of them rush to where Kirito and Asuna are, and Alice ends up joining them. When Kirito awakens, he requests that his and Asuna’s memories of the last 200 years in Underworld be deleted. But, as we later see, Higa doesn’t entirely honor this request… and this act seems to be setting the stage for what will happen in the next episode.
When Kirito awakens, he utters the words, “the queen and I” (the queen being a reference to Asuna), so it appears that the two of them were rulers of Underworld at one point. Unfortunately, in this episode, the best we get is a montage of some still images from early on in their 200 years in Underworld, so the audience still doesn’t truly know what happened to these two characters during that time frame.
Earlier, I referenced that Higa didn’t entirely honor Kirito’s request. Behind the others’ backs, he managed to make a copy of Kirito’s Fluctlight, and we see him conversing with the copy near the end of the episode. The copy of Kirito’s Fluctlight seems to have a plan to protect Underworld, and he says that he will fight for it. The copy even starts laying out plans, even though Higa tells him about the political realities of the current situation. But it looks like this conversation is setting in motion for the fluctlights of Kirito and Heathcliff to meet (since we learned in the previous episode that Heathcliff was in the robot that disappeared at the end of the previous episode).
However, we still do have one loose end from last week’s episode… what happened to Vassago? He disappeared last episode, and we saw neither hide nor hair of him in this one. So I’m sure he’ll pop up again in next week’s episode, especially since, from my understanding, it’s supposed to be the last one. I read a review elsewhere that this episode and next week’s episode need to cover a little over 100 pages of the light novel, so I’m concerned that next week’s episode is going to be rushed, and end up being just as rushed and awkward of an ending as the boss battle with Administrator at the end of Sword Art Online: Alicization was. Because from what I’m piecing together here, the meeting of Kirito and Heathcliff’s Fluctlights needs to happen, as well as whatever plan Vassago has when he returns. I can’t see this being developed well in one episode, hence the concern for next week’s episode to feel rushed.