WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Cells at Work! Season 2, Episode 5, "Cytokines," now streaming on Funimation.
In Cells At Work!'s previous episode, we bid farewell to two very cute bacteria -- the good kind, to be exact -- who return to stay with their friends. But in the process, one of the lactic acid bacteria got swept away in the body's vast labyrinthine system, turning the episode into a wild goose chase as Ordinary Cell and U-1146 searched for the small bacteria before someone else found it.
Not everyone is going to be as open-minded as U-1146 -- most Immune Cells kill on sight. And as if things weren't difficult enough, in Episode 5, NK Cell accompanies the two as they try to surreptitiously search for Ordinary Cell's tiny friend. Meanwhile, it takes some shady tactics to get the Immune Cells properly motivated, and when the problem is finally assuaged, the dust settles to reveal something even more startling: the return of a major Season 1 villain.
The Immune Cells Crumble
Fortunately, Dendritic Cell is the one who finds the lost lactic acid bacterium and feeds the little one some cookies. Meanwhile, Ordinary Cell loses his mind trying to find the last one. Unfortunately, the area he's in is teeming with dangerous Immune Cells, like NK Cell.
This is when the cells are notified of an influenza virus near the small intestine. Normally, the infected cells are small fry for the likes of NK Cell and White Blood Cell but these infected cells seem to be much stronger than usual. In fact, they bulk up, bursting out of their T-shirts and growing humongous muscles. Even with reinforcements like Memory Cell and B Cell, nothing fazes the infected cells. That's because the virus has mutated to the point at which the Immune Cells are powerless against their attacks. Drastic measures must be taken.
Blackmail Is Used to Motivate the Immune Cells
NK Cell, who has always prided herself on being one of the top lymphocytes to protect the body, is visibly shaken. No matter what she does, the cells don't seem to be dying. And things go from bad to worse when the infected cells team up to create a whirlwind, causing a stomach ache. Ordinary Cell also loses his hold on the last lactic acid bacterium but U-1146 seizes him before he gets caught up in the whirlwind.
NK Cell is unable to wipe out the infected cells in one go and gets stressed because of it, her confidence crushed. No amount of encouragement from U-1146 is enough to rouse her... that is until she catches sight of a photo of herself in a maid outfit. Noticing how to fired up by rage and embarrassment she becomes, this is the motivation that NK Cell uses to fight back, her machete immediately switching to lightsaber mode.
Cancer Cell's Return
More and more photos start flying down, and not just of NK Cell's dark past -- White Blood Cell, B Cell... no one is safe, not even Helper T Cell. The usually-kind Dendritic Cell actually has a bit of a sadistic side to him: Due to the lactic acid bacterium's horns containing polysaccharides, Dendritic Cell is activated, turning him chipper and glittery. Despite the cells begging him to not show the photos -- promising to work hard without the blackmail/motivation tool -- he insists that this is a necessary evil. And it works, eliminating the infected cells in seconds. Ordinary Cell is reunited with the lost lactic acid bacterium but it's short-lived. Not long after, U-1146 helps him reunite with his friends.
But Episode 5 of Cells At Work! leaves things on an unsettling note. We thought we saw the last of Cancer Cell in the first season but NK Cell's ominous warning about the villain's imminent return means that we'll see another face-off between Cancer Cell and U-1146.
Cancer Cell was a bit of a tragic character. From the moment he was born, he was marked for death. He's complicated, to say the least, especially knowing that he became the way he is because of something that was out of his control (cell division going badly wrong). But those like him are still dangerous, and sadly, there's nothing to save them or change their fate.