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Arcane Episode 1 Breakdown: League of Legends Television Series

Arcane episode 1

Riot game’s television series, Arcane, launched their first act. The series takes its time to build up the world of Piltover and Zaun from the world of League of Legends. Though the story excels in its simple, almost black and white structure, Arcane’s first episode distinguishes itself with its incredible care for details. Arcane Episode 1 introduces the audience to the champions that they know and love.

Those watching Arcane episode 1 without an understanding League of Legends lore find themselves perfectly capable of following the story. Long-time players, on the other hand, can easily find intricate details and Easter eggs surrounding the champion’s character development. Arcane creates context for champions that cements their humanity. Rather than exaggerating superhuman abilities, typical in the realm League of Legends, Arcane episode 1 accentuates the character’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

[Related: Arcane Act 1 Overview]

This article contain heavy spoilers for Arcane episode 1 (but no spoilers beyond episode 1).

For readers who have not watched the first episode yet, avoid this breakdown.

[Click here for breakdown of Arcane Episode 2 and here for episode 3]

Beginning Scene: The Bridge

The first episode: Welcome to the Playground starts with a haunting voice singing in the background. Dust fills the air, and dead bodies litter the ground. Jinx, known as “Powder” originally, and Vi are revealed as children. The younger of the two, Jinx, is seen holding Vi’s hand while shielding her eyes from the horrific sights. Meanwhile, Vi stares out in shock. The younger child opens her eyes to glance at Vi, and then stares out in shock alongside her.

This introduces the parallels between the two characters, setting the ground for their motivations and plights. Vi’s stare is characterized by growth, attempting to soak in the setting while leaving her childhood behind. Her shoulders droop, displaying her acceptance of the harsh realities. Jinx, still holding onto Vi’s hand, looks fearfully towards the scene. The blue-haired child raises her shoulders up, visibly afraid of confronting the reality she faces.

The scene then introduces Vander, shown beating the life out of another person. As he walks into the shot, his shoulders droop as well, mirroring Vi’s posture. His eyes reflect the same tone of acceptance as Vi’s. The attention draws towards a dead corpse of a clearly important character, likely the parents of Via nd Jinx. Vi stares directly at the body, as does Vander. Jinx’s gaze wanders about, looking primarily towards Vi while grasping her hand.

Vi falls on her knees crying. Jinx holds her as she weeps. In just the beginning scene, Jinx’s reliance on Vi’s guidance alongside Vi’s abrupt maturity is reflected. Jinx is afraid, holding onto Vi to let her burden the responsibilities of reality. Meanwhile, Vi is forced to grow up. The severity of their predicaments, the despair that characterizes their lives fall heavily on her drooping shoulders.

The Heist

Arcane Episode 1


City of Piltover, Courtesy of Riot

Vi and her crew climb up a building. Clear skies, beautiful buildings, and a playful tone characterize the setting of Piltover. Jinx, also known as Powder, remains frightful of her surroundings. Following right behind Vi, she confidently strides forward in Vi’s footsteps. Despite the clear risks in their particular predicament, Powder feels safe as long as Vi leads the way.

When Powder jumps from one building to another, she stumbles and nearly falls. Below her are shadows, but Vi’s hand reaches out and prevents her fall into the darkness. Evidently foreshadowing future plot, this scene further cements the dynamic between the Vi and Jinx.

After reaching a locked door, Mylo attempts to pick the lock. Rather than waiting, Vi simply kicks the door down. Even though this episode occurs many years prior to their rise to becoming “champions,” these characters still evidently reflect their base natures. Such analysis allows viewers familiar with League of Legends lore to predict and further appreciate the plot’s direction. Those new to the world manage to keep up with the narrative perfectly fine.

The moment Powder steps away from Vi, things go awry. Picking up glowing blue orbs, Powder recklessly wanders around, curiosity driving her forward.  An orb drops, blows up the building, and the crew flees the scene. In a desperate measure, the group slide down sewage drains.

The Brawl

After almost successfully leaving, they are approached by another squad of hooligans. These boys clearly do not belong in Piltover, with Zaun written all over them. But rather than cooperating, the two groups fight over mere scraps of the upper echelon.

Right when the fight starts, Vi tosses the loot to Powder. This handing down of responsibility takes Powder off guard, as Vi typically carries the burden. As the two groups gruesomely fight, Powder flees the scene. Chased by one of the boys, all she can do is run. When facing a dilemma of what to do when cornered, Powder tosses the loot into the water. This scene highlights major differences between the two main characters. Vi confronts the conflict head-on, while Powder chooses to escape responsibility and conflict. Without Vi directly next to Powder, the soon-to-be Jinx could not shoulder the weight.

In addition, when confronted by someone else from Zaun, Vi remains unwavering. If it comes to fighting head-on with someone from her own region and home, Vi’s fists coming flying. Even when facing a knife aimed directly at her face, Vi doesn’t blink an eye. She is ready to face reality, as she states “want to see how that ends?” Vi knows she might die. She knows the dangers of the situation but faces her future fearlessly.

But when chased by members of Piltover, Vi prudently remains in the shadows. People of Zaun, Vi is familiar with. She has no need to fear them, as her clearly battle-hardened fists pave her a clear way. Piltover is another monster. She saw firsthand their destructive power and understands that the tools of destruction at their disposal are on a whole other level.

Zaun’s Introduction

Arcane episode 1
City of Zaun, Courtesy of Riot

Vi and her gang drop down an elevator, sinking down for a couple of seconds. The region of Zaun reveals itself, with deep colors of green and black. Starkly contrasting with the bright, blue skies of Piltover, Zaun screams black market and shady business. From the prostitutes standing on the side, the strangers trading weapons in the alleway, and even the hooded Vi as she cautiously walks in open, Zaun sets itself drastically apart from Piltover.

This mirrors societal divisions, ruling by power and fear, alongside the misdirection of anger. Those in the “lower” levels of society are often seen as hoodlums, bred to fight and destined to remain savages. But in reality, the people of Zaun all struggle to survive. Living off of scraps, conflict becomes inevitable as resources are simply too scarce. If they have to fight among themselves, they will. In fact, everyone remains super eager and quick to do so, even Vi. But the people above them are untouchable to members of Zaun. Fear of the enforcers runs deep.

The Bar

In Vander’s bar, a trader and mercenaries haggle over a transaction. As the mercenaries attempt to rip off the other party, Vander steps in and forces a proper exchange of goods. The entire bar looks towards the mercenaries, and the mercenaries reluctantly agree to pay the full amount. Made evident through this interaction are the rules dictating the underground. Though characterized as savages by those in Piltover, the people of Zaun have their own intricate culture and regulations.

Vander reinforces his position as the leader of the underground in this scene. Standing up and supported by everyone in his bar, Vander clearly earned the respect of people in Zaun. He then walks to confront Vi and her small gang. Before entering, Vi states “Vander learns none of this.” Yet shown clearly to the viewer soon after, Vander learns every little detail in a manner of a few seconds. Vi attempts to talk back, but shuts up as Vander pinpoints the flaws in her endeavor. The gang looks away ashamed, and clear the room immediately upon Vander’s request.

When talking with Vi, Vander clearly sees himself in her. Evidently speaking from experience, he lectures Vi about the qualities of a leader.

The Shop

Just as the bar is Vander’s base, the shop is clearly Benzo’s. These two hold immense power and respect in Zaun, so much that Piltover’s representative go immediately to them to discuss potential conflicts. The palpable tension fills the room as Vander and Benzo talk. This tension builds up even more when the enforcers arrive. Marcus, one of the enforcers, verbally harass Vander. Quickly dismissed by his superior, Marcus leaves the scene as quickly as he entered. Swifly, Marcus wears his mask in the clearly non-toxic outdoor air of Zaun.

Little Man, also known as Ekko, heads upstairs to eavesdrop on the conversation. This important character is driven by his curiosity, similar to Jinx. And just like Jinx, that curiosity often leads to trouble. For those who missed this detail, Ekko looks into the room from a mask resembling Jhin’s.

The enforcer tells Vander that the event Vi and her gang perpetrated crossed a line. When Vander asks, “Was anyone hurt,” the enforcer replies, “a building was blown to bits. What do you think?” This short conversation cements Arcane’s focus on realism. Such detail and the harsh reality is often lost in these animated shows, as the hero characters blissfully go about their business. The characters in Arcane are very human, and therefore very vulnerable.

Piltover needs a scapegoat, someone to stay behind bars. Just as Vi wanted justice, Piltover does as well. Such duality sets Arcane apart. The story is black and white on paper, but the sense of justice easily goes both ways. Episode 1 focuses primarily on Zaun.

Vi and Jinx’s Conversation

Arcane episode 1
Courtesy of Riot

Vi peeps down at Powder as she tinkers away at her inventions. The elder of the two steps down, attempting to comfort the younger. From being lectured, carrying the responsibility, and even comforting the younger, Vi and Powder undoubtedly have an older sibling and younger sibling dynamic.

Powder wallows in self-pity, and states “I am not a fighter.”

Vi replies with “you don’t have to be. Look. I’ve got these and you’ve got those.” She points to Powder’s creations.

The two then head up, and Vi points out some notable “landmarks.” As Powder stares down a pipe to focus her vision, Vi directs the pipe to focus her attention on specific locales. Once again, the sight parallelism returns, with Vi leading the way for Powder. She tells Powder of the errors the rest of the gang has made, Vi herself included. Reassuring Powder of her capabilities, Vi clearly wants more for Powder than she wants for herself.

At the end of the scene, Vi states “one day, this city is going to respect us.” The angle pans over to Piltover, but the colors are dark and green. Not much unlike Zaun, this scene’s portrayal of Piltover draws direct comparison of the two segregated regions.

Villain Introduction

This ending scene is the more obvious of the rest. There is a bad man, in charge of some bad people, creating some bad products. The man is seen creating some sort of medicine that creates immense power, resulting in insanity in the one who consumes it. His mysterious voice and demeanor, alongside his eager search for power, definitely point towards greater significance in the main story.

Behind the villain is a scientist calmly watching the events transpire. Many theorize the scientist to be Singed, while the rat that was experimented on is theorized to be Twitch.

 

In Conclusion

Arcane Episode 1 brilliantly sets up the world of Runeterra. The character dynamics, the city settings, and the plot drive the television series forward. Drawing inspiration from the rise to hero conventions that have become incredibly prevalent in today’s modern age, but spinning the narrative in a different way, Arcane episode 1 marks the beginning of Riot’s reign in the television series market.

Whether those watching have had experience with Riot Game’s products or not, Arcane presents an excellent viewing experience suitable for a wide variety of viewers.


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2 comments

Arcane Act 1 Overview November 7, 2021 at 1:11 pm

[…] Episode 1: Welcome to the Playground […]

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Arcane Episode 2 Breakdown: League of Legends Television Series November 9, 2021 at 1:15 pm

[…] here for a breakdown for episode 1 and here for a breakdown for episode […]

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