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This is the episode that was desperately needed.
After so many episodes where things felt like the wheels were spinning outside on a very frigidly cold day, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood starts being proactive instead of reactive with its cast. This has been some time in coming and it needed that time to build towards it, but it is interesting to note that the pivot moment again has Ed absolutely nowhere to be seen. This reinforces the strength of the ensemble cast, especially as it starts putting more responsibility and leadership on Alphonse, which in turn makes him a better character. His growth in the series is hard to get a handle on sometimes because almost all true emotion must be done through his voice rather than facial expressions, but the growing seriousness of this young man is impressive.
While we saw the invading force from Drachma previously making its latest incursion against Briggs, it's an event that ends quickly and filled with bloodshed as Kimblee is playing a very different game here, one that sometimes seems to involve enjoying wanton destruction for the sake of it. Sadly, this part of the show gets only a moment or two of real screen time so we learn more of it from dialogue in Central towards the end than anything else. The main focus of the episode is on Al's group up in the North, where they're coping with the call that Zampano made that has Envy finding his way to the village that they're staying in.
So much of the first half of this episode is made up of action that it's almost surprising since we've had so many quiet episodes. Envy is one of the better homunculi to watch in a fight, remembering his time with Ed inside of Gluttony, because he goes all out when he fights and his emotions are raw and almost always worn on his arm. When he is brought to the group, and the trap is sprung, it's a beautiful series of moments as this very disparate group of people mostly enemies until just recently all pull together with sacrifice in mind in order to defeat him. The homunculi haven't managed to really push the idea that they're unstoppable as there have been some nasty fights, but any fight with them will be intense because of what's at stake. This scene is spot on, even if the comedy is a little too strong afterward at times. Still, seeing Envy's true form and watching him being bluffed and mocked repeatedly afterward is priceless and made the humor work overall, considering it as stress relief after the intensity of battle.