To support an all-out assault in the Thunderbolt Sector, the Beehive is assigned four Guncannons, 20 GM Cannons and 12 Balls. Graham notes Claudia’s absence on the bridge and comments that the little princess can’t handle it. In her darkened cabin, Claudia injects herself with drugs. Io is shocked to see that all the pilots are practically children, and the young pilots salute when they see the Gundam. Cornelius tells Io to take good care of the pilots because they’ll be under his care. Io barges into Claudia’s cabin and angrily slaps her when he sees her drugs. She cries and says she understands what Io’s father felt for being responsible for the deaths of Moore’s citizens. She screams that she’s going to send children to their deaths as cannon fodder and tells Io to be in her shows for once. On the Dried Fish, several soldiers drink to celebrate Daryl’s promotion. The mood becomes sullen over Daryl’s amputated hands, but he tells everyone he was honored to be chosen. Cornelius visits Claudia and looks at her pictures, which reminds him of the old Colony Air Race they won with Io flying a P-51 Mustang. Cornelius tells her that drugs won’t bring back those old days, and he comments that Io doesn’t actually enjoy fighting, but he only feels alive when his life is on the line. Io addresses the young pilots at a mission briefing and explains that he won’t be fighting with them because his mission is to take down the enemy fleet and their ace sniper. He comments that they live in a twisted world where people are honored based on how many others they can kill. He then declares that he loves mobile suits because they make him stronger. The bridge crew are surprised to see Claudia report for duty. Io wraps up by telling the pilots that he’ll drink with them if they survive. He then launches in the Gundam after the pilots deploy. As Karla plugs Daryl into the Psycho Zaku‘s cockpit, she explains that her father is a historian and is currently being imprisoned for desertion, unless she helps the war effort with her research. Daryl thinks they should hope for a better future and says the enemy isn’t the other side, but rather the irrational world they live in. Karla gives him her scrunchie, and Burroughs reminds him that their fate depends on his results in battle. Karla salutes as the Psycho Zaku launches.
A Zaku II destroys a GM Cannon, causing the young pilots to panic and blindly open fire, with some being hit by friendly fire. Several more units are taken down before the pilots regroup and destroy the Zaku. However, their victory is brief due to an attack from Fisher’s Rick Dom. Daryl hooks up Layton’s Gattle to the Big Gun and leaves him in charge of sniping a Federation ship. Sexton tries to convince Karla to escape with him and their research, but she insists on staying and takes position in a gun emplacement. Karla opens fire when the Gundam shows up, and Io destroys the neighboring gun emplacement. Layton fires a shot that cuts through the Beehive, but the returning fire kills him. Daryl begins his attack and damages the Beehive‘s bridge before destroying several Salamises. Io destroys two Musais and then turns his attention to the Dried Fish, destroying its bridge. Sexton pretends to help an injured man and instead gets into an escape pod by himself. Io destroys some of the launching escape pods. Claudia pulls Graham out from some wreckage and tells him that she’s issued an evacuation order. Enraged at the failure of elites like Claudia, Graham grabs a gun and shoots her through her normal suit. The bridge is then exposed to space, with both of them sucked into it. Cornelius and some of the crew escape in Space Launches just before the ship explodes. Elsewhere, the pilots attacking the Dried Fish spot the explosion of the Beehive in the distance. Io declares that the battle isn’t over yet because he hasn’t seen Daryl around. He then cuts up colony wreckage with his beam saber and attacks the incoming Daryl.
Thunderbolt‘s penultimate episode increases the stakes greatly by having the Zeon and Moore Brotherhood fleets decimate each other, but it’s a pointless fight for a worthless area of space. Although the Brotherhood receives a fresh supply of mobile suits, they’re all piloted by poorly trained children who look younger than Amuro Ray. I can imagine they’d panic under fire and not respond properly, but these kids go so overboard firing in every direction and hitting themselves that it’s pretty pathetic. It’s strange that Daryl remains so optimistic about the future, even after becoming a quadruple amputee. If you didn’t think Sexton was a weasel before, you will after seeing him push himself into an escape pod ahead of the injured. It’s unclear if his was one of the pods that Io destroyed during his attack. It’s a bit of a surprise near the end when Graham kills Claudia, but she was a pretty incompetent leader. However, since we didn’t get to know either of them very well, their deaths have little impact. The episode ends with Daryl and Io clashing, so I expect the final installment will be largely devoted to that battle.