"Tears" is the twenty-third episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Following the last Angel's assault on her mind, Asuka sinks into a deep depression. The next Angel, Armisael attacks, and attempts to merge itself with Unit-00, causing it to make contact with Rei's mind, as past Angels did with Shinji and Asuka. In order to save Shinji, Rei self-destructs Unit-00 in order to destroy Armisael. Rei is revealed to be "recovered" after a supposed near-death experience. Misato forces Ritsuko to reveal to her, as well as Shinji, the dark secrets of NERV and the true nature of Rei.
Asuka has run away from home and is not coming to school, staying instead with Hikari Horaki and playing video games all day. At night, she tells Hikari how useless she feels, and Hikari tries to cheer her up by telling her she did her best
SEELE is furious with Gendo over the use of the Spear of Longinus, which is now heading for the moon, and plans to send Gendo another warning to keep him in line, stating that they need someone who knows the truth. Ritsuko receives a telephone call from her grandmother and learns that her cat, which has been in her grandmother's care, has died. She tells her grandmother that she will visit her mother's grave, since it has been over three years since she last visited. After the conversation ends, she says, "So that child is dead"
In a meeting with SEELE, Gendo explains that it was his priority to destroy the Angel, not preserve the Spear, a statement at which the Russian committee member openly scoffs. Fuyutsuki calls, telling him an Angel is approaching, and Gendo leaves the meeting. Chairman Lorenz begins to seriously consider the possibility that Gendo intends to betray SEELE.
Armisael appears, having crossed over Goura. Rei is sent out in Unit-00, with Asuka as her backup. The Angel's unusual A.T. Field variations puzzle the Magi, and until the Angel's abilities are clear, a tense standoff is maintained. Rei is told to pull back and observe it, but the Angel changes shape and attacks the Eva. Shooting it with the sniper rifle is useless, and the Angel erodes the A.T. Field and begins biofusion with the Eva. A network of vein-like patterns grows over Rei's body, corresponding to the growth on her Eva. Misato launches Unit-02 and orders Asuka to lift off, but her synch level is so low she can't move her Eva. She is immediately withdrawn by Misato.
Soon, Rei feels the presence of someone else inside the Eva. She sees Armisael take her own form, and talk to her. Armisael shares her emotions with Rei who identifies them as loneliness. (Armisael didn't understand what she was feeling.) Armisael indicates to Rei that she (Rei) is lonely too. Rei actually cries, and is surprised to see her own tears. Armisael creates a monstrous growth from the Eva's back in which the shapes of all the previous Angels, her dead siblings, are visible, possibly trying to ressurect them to cure her own loneliness. Misato is horrified at the sight, and Gendo orders Unit-01 out of its freeze. Asuka remembers that Gendo refused to do the same for her in Episode 22, and falls further into despair.
Armisael attacks Unit-01 through its other end, destroying the Pallet Rifle. Shinji grabs Armisael, who begins fusing with his hands. When he stabs the Angel, it howls like Rei. To his utter horror, miniature Rei faces appear out of his biofused hands, telling him "It hurts". Armisael's end takes Rei's form, and caresses the Eva's face, causing veins to appear across it. Rei realizes that her desire is to be with Shinji, and proceeds to contain the Angel to save Shinji. Ignoring Gendo and Misato ordering her to leave the Eva, she sacrifices her life by self-destructing the Eva. The resulting huge explosion destroys most of the city, and the waters of Lake Ashinoko flood the impact site, which visibly resembles a Mandelbrot Set. At the moment of the explosion, Rei sees an image of Gendo's smiling face.
Ritsuko and a contamination squad scour the area; they find the Entry Plug containing Rei's charred remains and Ritsuko orders it to be salvaged.
Shinji is devastated by Rei's death, and Misato attempts to comfort him. Shinji attaches his pent up sexual frustration from earlier episodes to his current distraught and rejects her attempt at general comforting as though she made a pass at him. Soon afterwards, Misato receives the news that Rei is alive and in hospital. Shinji meets Rei, who has no memory of self-destructing to save Shinji, and says, "I think I am the third."
SEELE puts Ritsuko through torture and shame as she stands naked before the monoliths. The French member reveals that Gendo sent her in place of Rei. Enraged, she calls Shinji after her release and tells him to see her at once. Misato follows, with a gun. Ritsuko shows Shinji and Misato the room where Rei was born, and the Eva Graveyard. Finally, she shows them the dark secret of the Dummy System, the tank full of Rei bodies that serves as its core. She destroys the Rei clones in full view of both of them, and then begs Misato to kill her. Misato refuses.
The third Rei, meanwhile, is inside her apartment, looking through her things. Upon finding her treasured Gendo's glasses she begins to cry, and as she has no memory of her fatal battle, wonders why her tears seem so familiar to her, as she has never seen them before.
SEELE awaits the final Angel.
- Noticeably, the Gendo Rei sees right before the explosion is without his glasses. The only moment in which Gendo wasn't wearing his glasses in the series was after saving Rei from the entry plug in Episode 5 . This could suggest that Rei was remembering that specific moment at the time of the explosion.
- The sequence leading up to Rei's death uses imagery reflective of conception and pregnancy. When the Angel first breaches Eva-00, the monitors make sure to repeatedly display the word "Penetrating"; Rei blushes and convulses in a sexual manner. Once the Angel has mostly invaded the Eva, its belly begins to swell in a manner very reminiscent of pregnancy. This imagery is juxtaposed with Rei's realization that she wants Shinji.
- Ritsuko is strongly implied to have been sexually abused. The original Japanese uses language that is very particular, almost pornographic in nature, and can easily have a strictly sexual double meaning, for instance "陵辱" (usually present as "degradation/degraded" in the localization), can effectively mean "rape", and it is also delivered in a rather mocking manner. Furthermore, Ritsuko's line that she doesn't care what happens to her body later this episode further implies this.
- The scene of Asuka and Hikari sleeping together contrasts directly with the scene between Shinji and Kaworu in the next episode. Asuka sobs into her pillow and is facing away from Hikari, while Hikari looks straight up and doesn't look at her when she talks. While Hikari seems somewhat sad about Asuka but not overly concerned for her, Asuka is too ashamed of herself to face Hikari. A previous scene between Shinji and Kaji had both of them facing opposite ways, showing a reluctance to talk to each other.
- There has been speculation that Ritsuko and her grandmother are speaking in code about Kaji's death during their phone conversation about the cat (see Episode 15 for more details). However, the evidence of this seems to be nowhere near sufficient
- Armisael, along with Arael in the preceding episode and Tabris/Kaworu in the next, forms a bizarre triad. In addition to communicating with human beings, Armisael represents an Angel's halo, and along with Arael and Tabris forms a complete angel- halo, wings and human form.
- When Misato sits down on Shinji's bed, a chair in the background is strategically placed so that, from our camera angle, it looks like a large phallus protruding from Shinji's groin. As Misato sits right in front of the chair, it is quite likely that a sexual message was intended.
- When Misato enters Shinji's room after Rei's death she says "This is just about all I can do for you." ADV's English dub mis-translates this as "I want you to know that I'm here for you." It's unclear whether they were deliberately trying to hide her sexual intent, or if this was just a flub.
- Misato stretched out her hand to Shinji. At this time she may have intended to offer her body to comfort Shinji. However, this was merely substitutive behaviour in order to assuage her own loneliness. -Filmbook Vol. 9
- When the Director's or New Production cut of Ep. 23' was originally released, mysterious images flashed off and on in the Reiquarium during Ritsuko's tirade. (See Analysis of the Episode 23' Reiquarium Images for details.) These images were absent in the on-air version. For some unknown reason, these images were removed for the Renewal version, making it resemble the on-air version, although the other changes to the sequence still stood, such as the extra Eva remains and the larger Rei tank.
- In the same scene, Ritsuko says, "The Chamber of Gaf was empty, you see." The Chamber of Gaf, according to Hebrew legends, is a room in the house of God in Heaven where the souls dwell. Babies receive a soul from this room before they are born. It is said that if there are no more souls in the Chamber of Gaf, it is an omen that the world will fall to ruin. - Platinum Episode Commentaries