The mysterious disappearance of Lieutenant General Raven was never going to go unnoticed without suspicion for too long in reality, and come the start of this fortieth episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Major General Armstrong is called to Central to face the music in front of no less than King Bradley. Is the game up for her and Fort Briggs?
Whatever happens, Armstrong certainly can't be accused of lacking guts, as she openly admits to Bradley that yes, she did dispose of Raven, but spins the tale in her favour by remarking about his loose tongue when it came to talking about the country's future, and putting herself forward to take his place - A deal Bradley accepts without hesitation. Has Armstrong gained the upper hand, or is this simply another move in the game of chess between the two factions which now divide the military? Either way, it appears that the rest of Fort Brigg's personnel aren't willing to lay down without a fight either.
After a chance meeting between Hawkeye and Mustang allowing the former to inform the latter about Selim Bradley's true state, the rest of this episode takes us into a hugely important flashback to the past, where we meet a young slave known only as "Slave Number 23" - The boy whose blood is used to create what appears to be the first Homunculus. A meeting between this slave and the creation formed from his blood sees the Homunculus (confined to a mere jar) name the boy van Hohenheim, granting him the knowledge he needs to become an expert in alchemy. From here, the story takes in exactly what happened at Xerxes, before we see both how van Hohenheim and the Homunculus gained their immortal bodies. Needless to say, it's not particularly pretty in human terms.
I'm not usually a big fan of the flashback as plot device, but on this occasion it was not only inevitable but absolutely vital to the development of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's story, so I not only forgive this episode for taking that route but positively welcome it. Although it perhaps felt as if a few more minutes could have been taken to smooth the passage of that section of the episode (it jumped about a little too much for my liking early on), it proved to be an explosive bit of exposition that unwraps another layer of the mystery surrounding the series in a shockingly delicious way. It seems like every time you assume this series can surprise you any more, it manages to one-up itself and do just that, and as per usual I'm loving every minute of it.