Tales from the Borderlands' penultimate episode, Escape Plan Bravo, presents a change of pace from the frantic action of previous episodes. Things have been very action-oriented up until this point: a group of characters on the run, blowing up heads and desecrating corpses, stealing money, lying, and playing a seemingly endless game of cat and mouse with angry treasure-seekers and bounty hunters. Tales from the Borderlands has been a rollercoaster, and Episode Four feels more like the slow climb to the summit before another massive drop--but the lull in action isn't always a good thing.
Episode Four opens with our ragtag band of not-quite-heroes in trouble, and everybody one step closer towards the Vault of the Traveler, a teleporting Vault that only stays in one place for a few minutes at a time and allegedly holds a massive treasure. It's this Vault that everyone has been after since day one. Tales from the Borderlands began as a story about the small, ordinary people--the non-Vault Hunters--wading in among those powerful giants, with nothing but their wits to defend them. We've seen the big heroes meddle in Rhys and Fiona's affairs, with Zer0 fighting on the fringes in the first episode and the bounty hunter Athena joining them in combat last episode. The Handsome Jack AI/ghost in Rhys' head has been an entertaining plot point fueled with plenty of giggle-worthy writting. With one episode to go, the presence of these characters in the story up to this point has been a very organic addition. They feel like they belong there, down to Springs and Scooter assisting Fiona and Sasha with their automotive needs.
I'm excited knowing these events are canon, as so far it has been my favorite story in the Borderlands universe to date. Episode four's best parts focus on interactions between two or three characters and their humanity. There's a moment where Springs asks you about Athena's continued dabbling in bounty hunting, and you can either tell the truth or lie to get Springs to help you. Rhys and Vaughn have another bro-to-bro moment in which the strain on their friendship becomes the most apparent; both men are growing into drastically different people, and through their conversations you can tell they're no longer in sync. Depending on how you play Rhys, you can either scramble to let Vaughn know you still care or accept what feels like an inevitable separation of ways, because in all the turmoil of finding the Vault, Rhys didn't realize the most important thing to him was drifting away. Rhys later has a powerful moment in reuniting with an old friend, and his continued dealings with Handsome Jack become darker and more dire. Jack himself has a true moment of quiet sorrow when a picture prompts him to talk about his estranged daughter, Angel.
A note on Handsome Jack: he has become dangerous. Tales from the Borderlands has done an excellent job of building him up over four episodes, from some funny, awful thing only Rhys can deal with to an honest-to-goodness terrifying entity. If you've made choices for Rhys that have lead to his accepting Jack, you'll probably feel more comfortable with the outcome of Episode Four. If you've been resisting Jack, well, something more horrifying will happen. This is the biggest thread of player choice running through the series, and now we're finally seeing it come to fruition.
The best and also worst (emotionally) of these human moments in Escape Plan Bravo revolves around Scooter, the scrappy mechanic. Not only is this moment highlighted by a gut-punchingly good performance from voice actor Michael Neumann, but it also signifies a major emotional turning point for Fiona. Up to this point, Fiona has kept her cool and always had a plan at the ready. She's been smart, confident, and unflinching in her determination. But Episode Four finally breaks her, marring her in a way that changes how she views her own consequences. It's hard to watch, but still a superb piece of her character arc.
But while the fourth episode has some truly heartbreaking moments, many of its sequences feel like padding. The "gamey" stuff, such as exploring an area to find an item you need or masquerading as a tour guide and making up information as you go along to unsuspecting tourists, feels out of place. These moments don't feel especially important and aren't engaging; occasionally I felt like the game was forcing me to kill time between the bigger, more poignant moments. The episode is just under 90 minutes, but the interactive events focused on searching for items were stretched thin and overstayed their welcome.
Other than the dealings with Handsome Jack, choices in episode four don't feel as weighty as they have before, presenting you with a handful of superficial options that don't make any difference. Going back to the moment with Springs, lying or coming clean both have the same result. In another instance, you can choose to buy Hyperion employee clothing to help you fit in when you infiltrate the place, but whether or not you show up in your Pandora clothes has no bearing on how those on Hyperion perceive you. It's a meaningless choice.
Episode Four of Tales from the Borderlands does have its streaks of comedy gold--it's hard not to laugh at one-liners from Handsome Jack or extended sequences involving finger guns. These outshine the aforementioned boring parts, but still don't' quite save the episode from slow pacing that doesn't mesh with the series. There are no big action sequences, which takes away some of the energy, but the emphasis on character relationships is what makes this episode a good one. It's not my favorite episode, but it does include some of my favorite moments, including an ending with a truly paralyzing choice, both of which end in "ohhhh no you did not" moments. It may be mellower than its predecessors, but Escape Plan Bravo sets up the pieces for what already feels like an anxiety-inducing finale.