Netflix's Arcane is finally here, and we're recapping each of its episodes. Each Saturday until November 20, a new act containing three episodes will premiere on Netflix. You can read our review of Act 1, or check out our recap of episode 1 and episode 3.
What becomes almost immediately clear in Arcane's second episode is that this is a tale of two cities. Vi and Powder are just two of several main characters, and to introduce the rest, this episode doubles back to the orphan's lab heist-gone-wrong. The owner of that lab—who happened to arrive just in time to get caught in the explosion—is Jayce, another iconic League champion who, at this point in time, is an ambitious, young academic. Jayce is just returning from his trip to the Undercity where he stocked up on illicit doodads. Helping him is Caitlyn, another soon-to-be League champ, who belongs to the powerful noble family who sponsors Jayce's research. Just as he realizes someone has broken into his lab and barred the door, the magical crystal Powder dropped explodes, knocking him unconscious.
In a flashback, we learn that Jayce and his mother were once lost in a terrible blizzard in the frozen lands of Freljord. Just as Jayce's mom begins to succumb to the cold, a wizard appears and saves their lives by using a magical crystal to teleport them far away. As a gesture, the wizard then hands Jayce the now-spent mana crystal. That moment, we come to learn, profoundly affected Jayce's approach to scientific research: Something that will land him in hot water with Piltover's governing body, The Council.
In pursuit of progress
After the title sequence, we cut to Jayce in his now ruined lab being interrogated by none other than Grayson, the Enforcer that works with Vander to try and keep peace between Piltover and Zaun. Turns out, Jayce's experiments aren't only dangerous (obviously) but also highly illegal. Making matters more complicated, the assistant to the dean of The Academy—where Jayce studies—is also present. LoL players will immediately recognize him as Viktor, but he's a far cry from the mad scientist he's portrayed as in the game. In Arcane, he's young, thin, and walks with a cane.
Viktor informs Jayce that his illicit experiments have drawn the ire of The Council—the head of which is also The Academy's dean. And Jayce is to be arrested and must plead his case before them.
In prison, Jayce is visited by the dean himself, who turns out to be none other than Heimerdinger, yet another iconic League champ. If you're a bit confused by Heimerdinger's fluffy ewok-esque appearance, just know that he belongs to a race of extremely long-lived magical creatures called Yordles.
Jayce reveals to Heimerdinger that his experiments are all in pursuit of finding a way to harness magic through science. But Heimerdinger shoots the idea down, saying that the arcane is too dangerous and unpredictable to be controlled and that some avenues of inquiry are best left untouched. His advice to Jayce: Admit he was being ambitious, make no mention of magic, and The Council will probably let him off with a warning.
Meanwhile, back in the Undercity, Vi, Powder, Milo, and Claggor are laying low in an abandoned arcade hoping their escapades topside will soon blow over. Vi practices boxing against a large punching-bag-robot, giving us some clear indication that she's unnaturally good in a fight. Meanwhile, we get more of a sense of Powder's own strengths after she manages to fix a target practice range and proves herself to be a crack shot with a gun.
As Milo once again bemoans what deadweight Powder is for the group, just outside a group of Enforcers shakes down Undercity residents in hopes of identifying the orphans. When one of the Undercity locals spits on an Enforcer, he's thrown through the window of the arcade and the orphans are discovered. Since Powder is still holding onto her satchel of stolen mana crystals, the orphans have no choice but to run. A chase ensues, and the group only barely manages to escape thanks to Echo (AKA Little Man). “We need to hide those crystals,” Vi says.
Back in Piltover, we meet Councillor Mel Medarda, an obscenely wealthy aristocrat and member of the council that rules over Piltover. Medarda is hopelessly ambitious and, despite her great wealth, feels inadequate next to the rest of her family. To raise her status, she seeks some new initiative or discovery that'll “help put Piltover on the map.”
We then cut to Caitlyn sitting with her parents, Jayce's patrons, discussing his upcoming trial. Despite his recklessness, Caitlyn's mother is resolute in defending him at the trial.
Before we can hear more, we're whisked back to the Undercity where dozens have gathered in The Last Tap to discuss what to do about Piltover's Enforcers forcing their way into Zaun and causing trouble. The residents want to fight back, but Vander reminds them of what happened years ago when they tried to cross the bridge into Piltover and countless people were slaughtered—Vi and Powder's parents among them. “This will blow over, we just have to stand together.”
People are too upset to care. A woman named Svarka challenges Vander's authority as the unspoken leader of the Undercity and walks out, followed by dozens of civilians. Meanwhile, the orphans watch from a corner, wondering why Vander is preaching pacifism. Echo then spills the beans: Vander has a deal with the Enforcers.
Back to Piltover, where Jayce arrives for his trial with The Council. Following Heimerdinger's advice, Jayce humbly begs for forgiveness and admits to his crimes. Caitlyn's mother backs him up, testifying to his idealistic nature and gift for scientific research, but The Council isn't entirely convinced. As they debate the merit of Jayce's research, his pride gets the better of him and he exposes the true nature of his research: to harness magic through science. As Jayce begins a speech about all the breakthroughs his research could lead to, his conviction seems to make a noticeable impact on Councillor Mel Medarda and Viktor, who watches from the audience. But before anyone else can be swayed by Jayce's idealism, Heimerdinger cuts him off. Turns out, being a 300-year-old furball means he's had ample opportunity to see magic firsthand, as Heimerdinger once witnessed it destroy an entire, unnamed city. “That cannot happen here,” he warns.
The Council agrees, and just as Jayce is about to be sentenced to exile, his mother begs to make her case for why Jayce should be allowed to come home. Her words move The Council, and Heimerdinger proposes to have Jayce merely expelled from The Academy instead of outright exiled from the city. The Council votes and sides with Heimerdinger.
In the Undercity, Marcus, the Enforcer who accompanied Grayson on her clandestine visit to Vander in episode 1, arrives at what looks to be an abandoned seafood market. Something sinister is going on here, though, as he discovers neon-pink tendrils of something growing out of a dark passageway. Just then, the villainous man with the black eye from the end of episode 1 emerges. His name is Silco, and he implies to Marcus that he wants to make a deal and in exchange will offer up Vi, Powder, Milo, and Claggor to the Enforcers.
Before we can learn more about this deal, however, we cut to Jayce in his childhood bedroom where he argues with his mother who pleads for him to give up on his dream of harnessing magic. “If my own family won't help me, I'll find someone who will,” he says.
That someone is Viktor. As he and Heimerdinger lock up Jayce's research notes for disposal, Viktor innocently inquires about some of the hurdles preventing a breakthrough. He's clearly been swayed by Jayce's dream, and as Heimerdinger leaves, he swipes Jayce's journal containing all of his research on the mana gems.
In Silco's underwater lab, he talks with Deckard—he's the street thug from episode 1 who tried to rob Vi and the orphans after they made their escape from Piltover. Silco proves himself to be every bit as nefarious as he looks, and entices Deckard to ingest that strange pink liquid that Silco and the yet unnamed scientist gave to the rat in the last episode. “It's time to let the monster out,” Silco says as Deckard drinks the potion and is immediately transformed into a hulking mutant. That's not good.
Jayce, after walking out on his mother, arrives at Caitlyn's family home to find the gate barred. Caitlyn is waiting outside in the rain to tell Jayce that her family wants nothing to do with him and is revoking their sponsorship. And, perhaps worst of all, Jayce and Caitlyn cannot be friends anymore—though Caitlyn doesn't seem too keen on following that order.
We then cut to Enforcers Grayson and Marcus now giving a briefing to the Council on their efforts to locate Vi and the orphans. Now that they have some idea of the nature of Jayce's experiments, the Council is terrified that the mana crystals Powder stole could cause irreparable damage in the wrong hands. Despite Grayson's protests that they shouldn't exert their force too harshly in Zaun, the Councillors urge her to “turn the city upside down if they have to.”
Marcus takes that order extra seriously and, in the next scene, arrives at The Last Drop to search the place—suspecting that Vander is hiding the wanted orphans. Vander triggers a silent alarm that warns the kids to hide as Enforcers enter The Last Drop's backroom. Meanwhile, Marcus threatens Vander who refuses to be goaded into violence and then antagonizes the rest of the bar's patrons, making Vander seem weak.
All of this is overheard by Vi, Powder, Milo, Claggor, and Echo, who are hiding in the ceiling. After the Enforcers leave, Vi gives Vander an ultimatum: Either he needs to fight to defend the Undercity or she will. Seeing that the situation is clearly spinning out of control, Vander takes Vi to the bridge that separates Piltover and Zaun—where her parents died—to try and reason with her. As they talk, we're shown small memorials people have made to those that died that day.
It's here that we get some crucial answers into what exactly happened that day. After a lifetime of subjugation and oppression by Piltover, Vander led a small army of Zaunites across the bridge, where they were swiftly cut down by the Enforcers. While Vander sympathizes with Vi's dream of making a better life for her and Powder, he warns her that fighting for it could cost her the people she holds most dear. “Nobody wins in war, Vi,” he says.
Vander isn't the only one with a heavy heart, though. Back in his lab, Jayce steps out onto the ruined ledge where his balcony used to be. Behind him, we're shown a letter and his bracelet containing the spent mana gem given to him by the mysterious wizard that saved his life. Jayce's intentions become clear: He's going to kill himself.
Just before he falls to his death, Viktor interrupts him. They talk about his research and Viktor says he was intrigued by Jayce's speech at the trial. When Jayce mourns his ruined reputation, Viktor sympathizes with him. As an orphan from the undercity and “a cripple,” he's spent his entire life being underestimated and looked down upon. Viktor was only able to climb to the role of assistant to the dean thanks to his belief in himself, and it's a gift he wants to give to Jayce—to help him complete his research and realize his dream. “When you're going to change the world, don't ask for permission,” Viktor says.
Vi returns from her talk with Vander to find Milo, Claggor, and Powder preparing for war with Piltover. Powder shows Vi all the new homemade explosives she's been working on. “They're going to work this time, I know it,” she says. Clearly feeling the weight of what's about to happen, Vi encourages Powder to find strength in what makes her different from everyone else. As she leaves, she hands Powder the stuffed bunny she showed her in the last episode. It's clear that Vi is planning something.
We then cut to Marcus and Grayson arguing in her office. By antagonizing Vander and the patrons of The Last Drop, Grayson believes Marcus has set the stage for all-out violence between the two cities. But, suddenly, they're interrupted by a message via pneumatic tube. It's from Vander and he wants to talk. “Maybe it's not too late,” Grayson says.
Things don't quite add up, though. Vander is back at the bar—now empty as it's the calm before the storm—and fixing Powder a drink. Seeing how forlorn Powder looks, Vander notices she has Vi's stuffed bunny and realizes, with a look of terror, that Vi is up to something. Just then, we cut to a squad of Enforcers led by Grayson and Marcus marching down the street toward Benzo's shop. Vi is inside, and she's going to turn herself in to save Powder.
And that's where episode 2 ends. It's a whirlwind of an episode, one that sets an exhilarating pace as we jump from so many different points of view. And I love how successfully it ratchets up the tension between Piltover and Zaun, setting the stage for the finale of Act 1. For more on Arcane, check out our recaps of episode 1 and episode 3, or read our review of Act 1.