Okay, well, obviously that’s an embellishment. But she’s up there, and easily the best I’ve seen in a while.
So basically, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the The Promised Neverland, Isabella, AKA “Mom,” is the caretaker of Grace Field House, an idyllic, happy orphanage where children are enrolled in an extensive and intense academic program. Only that’s only part of the truth. The full truth is that these kids are actually being raised and sold off as food for demons. It’s a loving, happy atmosphere that encourages healthy growth for the children and encourages them to excel academically because it’s a healthy lifestyle that results in higher-quality food–particularly the brain, which is a delicacy for demons.
Mom is tasked with controlling the orphanage and keeping the secret under wraps. And she’s very good at what she does. Throughout the majority of the first arc, she’s able to subtly maneuver in ways that control Emma, Norman, and Ray (our protagonists), sending signals to them that she suspects what they’re doing without ever outright saying it or even behaving in ways that seem abnormal. Whenever it seems like the trio might have her cornered, she tips her hand just enough to reveal that yes, she’s still a few steps ahead of them.
But the fact that Mom’s a genius who’s able to so effortlessly control everything isn’t what makes her so great. I mean, that’s part of it, but Mom’s greatness is rooted in the fact that, despite how much of Mom’s role in the kids’ lives is a lie, it’s also completely true.
Episode 8 of the anime and chapter 25 of the manga (as well as the chapters leading up to it) showcase Mom’s finest moments. After finally dispatching Sister Krone as soon as she had outlived her usefulness, Mom decides to finally make a hard move against Emma, Norman, and Ray, distracting Ray and confronting Norman and Emma as they attempt to run reconnaissance. She tells Emma and Norman that it’s the first time in the ten years she’s known them that they’ll have interacted without acting, at which point she drops the mask and behaves…exactly as she’s always behaved.
She proceeds to tell Norman and Emma that she truly, genuinely loves them like they’re her real children, and asks them to give up for their own sake, explaining that her goal is to give these children the best life they possibly can. She keeps them from ever having to know true pain or suffering, and while their lives may end up being short, the end they’ll meet will be quick and painless. And I believe that this is genuinely the case.
It’s an easy to miss moment since it’s only a few seconds in the anime and a single small panel in the manga, but there’s evidence that Mom attempted to escape before. When Krone is talking to “Grandma,” she alludes to escape attempts in the past being thwarted by proper control of the kids. When she does, we see a girl with “735” visible on her neck…which just so happens to be the first three digits of Mom’s number, as confirmed by the character page in the manga and an outgoing transmission from episode 3. (Note: It’s not easy to tell from the screencap, but rest assured that yes, those numbers are, in fact, visible.)
From this, it’s easy to gather that Mom has gone through the same journey of fighting the system that our heroes have, and that she lost. As a result, when she was given a second life as a Mom, she decided that, rather than continuing to rebel against the system, dooming everyone, she would instead give the children under her care the best life she could possibly give them. Mom genuinely loves the kids of Grace Field House. She wants them to be happy and to enjoy their short lives to the fullest they can.
And the most chilling part is that she will do anything necessary to continue providing these kids with that twisted love.
Episode 8 and Chapter 25 end with Emma attacking Mom so that Norman can continue reconnaissance. Mom immediately responds by breaking Emma’s leg, putting a stop to all their plans of escape. It’s a brutal, horrible act, and it’s only made more terrifying by the fact that Mom immediately transitions into cradling and comforting Emma, whispering words of love. And the kicker? It feels as genuine–and probably is–as if she were a regular mother reacting to an accident. That’s the thing that catapulted Mom from a compelling villain into being one of the best villains I’ve seen: the fact that she truly does care.
Despite Mom’s cold, calculating iciness, she also has genuine warmth and love inside her, driving all her decisions. Beneath the mask of love and tenderness is more love and tenderness. It’s just twisted. And that’s why she’s the best villain ever.
Or, you know. At least up there.