I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not, but this scene here is the first, and only time Edward cries in the series. From the day he and Al burned down their home until now, this is the only time.
Ed didn’t cry when he and Al discovered what had become of Nina. He didn’t cry when she was killed. He didn’t cry when Scar destroyed most of Al’s body, or when Scar was moments away from killing him. He didn’t cry when Al accused him of creating a fake soul and binding it to armor, of inventing a brother as some kind of sick joke. He didn’t cry when he learned Hughes had died, or when he confronted Gracia and admitted the murder was likely his fault. He didn’t cry listening to Al admit that he was at his wit’s end, that he couldn’t stand all the nights alone anymore.
He didn’t cry when he learned Scar had killed the Rockbells after saving his life, or when Hohenheim accused him of running away. He didn’t cry when he discovered the thing he’d transmuted wasn’t actually Trisha, or when Envy told him they were doomed to die inside Gluttony’s failed portal, or when Bradley took Winry hostage, or when the fight with Kimblee left him with a ten foot steel beam puncturing his side. He didn’t cry when Pride hijacked Al’s lifeless body, or when he let Al be locked up in total darkness with Pride, or when Father took them captive and used them to kill everyone in Amestris.
And he didn’t cry when Al sacrificed his own soul to save Ed’s life.
No. He’s gotten angry; he’s yelled; he’s exploded, but he’s never cried. This is the only time, and it’s when Hohenheim tells Ed to his face that he loves them, more than anything in the world, and only wants for them to be happy—that everything that happened had been his fault, as their father, as an adult, as the one who should have been protecting them, and not Ed’s.
And Ed bawls.
Here’s why: Ed hates Hohenheim, and will easily admit it, but he doesn’t hate Hohenheim in the way he hates other people. Ed enjoys talking smack about those he genuinely hates—he’ll talk about wanting to beat Scar bloody for everything he’s done, and wanting to kick the homunculi’s asses for trying to use him and Al as pawns. Hell, he even enjoys jabbing at Roy for the personality traits he dislikes. Hohenheim is different though. Hohenheim is the only person Ed hates that he also hates talking about. Every time Hohenheim is mentioned, Ed responds with a quick, scathing comment about the man and desperately changes the subject.
And this is all because Ed doesn’t feel right about his hatred toward Hohenheim. For all the others, Ed hates them from a blameless position. The homunculi hurt innocent people, as does Scar, as does Kimblee. Ed securely knows he’s the good guy who hates these bad guys. He’s the moral one, the blameless one, pushing back against a truly antagonistic force. And this is what Hohenheim is not. All of Ed’s hatred toward Hohenheim stems from a place of projected guilt and self-loathing. Ed decided to try to bring Trisha back to life. Ed performed the transmutation that got Al’s body taken away. Ed burned down their home and enlisted in the military, and Ed agreed to do awful things in order to try to fix what he’d done to Al. But, if Ed dials everything backwards, he can almost justify rooting this in the fact that Hohenheim left them first.
If Hohenheim had stuck around, maybe Trisha wouldn’t have died. And if she had, Hohenheim could have stopped Ed and Al from doing something so reckless as human transmutation. He’s their father after all. He’s supposed to be responsible for them. But he left, so Ed can almost rationalize the idea that it was Hohenheim’s leaving that led to everything bad in the brothers’ lives.
Ed knows this is grasping though, and he clings to it in part because he’s convinced Hohenheim hates him too. The clearest memory Ed has of his father is from the morning he left, standing stiff at the doorway, glaring down at Ed before heading out the door and never returning. (A glare which we later learn was the result of Hohenheim furiously holding back tears). Clearly, Hohenheim hated Ed and Al and Trisha enough to just walk out the door one day without saying goodbye. Ed’s probably spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering what they’d done wrong as a family—what he’d done wrong as a son—to make his own father not want him anymore.
So when Ed talks about how he hates Hohenheim, it’s 100% intertwined with a hatred he feels for himself. And it’s an insecurity Ed would never, ever admit to.
Meeting Hohenheim again in episode 20 only works to confirm Ed’s fears. Hohenheim is unbelievably cold to him—Hohenheim confirms that, yes, all of this was Ed’s fault. Ed committed the taboo; Ed burned down their home as a means of hiding the memory. He’s disappointed in Ed. He hates him as a son. And he leaves, again, without goodbye, because Hohenheim didn’t return home with any sort of change of heart.
Learning the truth about Hohenheim only serves to scramble Ed’s feelings. He’s confused; he’s uncertain. He can rationalize Hohenheim’s departure in the context of preparing the counter-transmutation circle, but what about his memories of the man who glared at him, filled with hatred, and left? What about the man who accused him of being a scared, stupid child who’s to blame for all his failures? What about the man who—if only he’d stuck around—could maybe have stopped Ed from doing all of this? The truth makes sense, but it does nothing to alleviate all the guilt and self-hatred Ed feels in relation to Hohenheim, so he doesn’t soften to his father like Al does.
Until this scene.
Until finally, Hohenheim says everything Ed’s desperately wanted to believe for the past ten years. Hohenheim loves him. Hohenheim cares about him. Hohenheim blames himself for what happened—he should have been around for Ed and Al, he should have been there to stop them from doing the impossible, he should have been their father. He wanted to. More than anything in the world, he wanted to just be there for them. Their family was everything Hohenheim had loved in life, and he’s sorry, from the bottom of his heart he is sorry, for how he left them behind. So sorry, that he wants to sacrifice his life in order to fix what little of it he can.
And that’s what breaks Ed. He was strong enough not to cry at any other time, for any other reason, but in these few panels Hohenheim destroys the mangled, tortured sense of fear and guilt and self-loathing that Ed had been harboring for a decade. Hohenheim loves him. Hohenheim is happy to be Ed’s father, proud, and so so sorry.
For the first time, Ed cries. Because for the first time, he feels like he can call Hohenheim “Dad”.