May 30, 2024

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Shogun Season 1 Episode 8 Review: The Abyss of Life



As embarrassing deaths go, it doesn’t get much worse than slipping and fatally cracking your head on a rock while attempting to murder your uncle outside of a brothel.


So at the opening of Shogun Season 1 Episode 8, it doesn’t come as much of a shock when we see Nagakado getting roasted by the members of his own funeral procession. (Pyre pun not intended!)


But the good news is, the bumbling son finally helps his father’s cause by ensuring a 49-day period of mourning before Toranaga’s death march to Osaka.


Also managing a complicated mixed-bag situation is Toranaga’s former right-hand man, Blackthorne:


It seems that since the Anjin has turned his back on his ex-benefactor, he will not be forced to submit to the Council of Regents, and his service to Toranaga has officially come to an end.


It’s what he’s been campaigning for since his ship first ran aground. Hell, he even has his precious rutters back!


But it’s a bittersweet moment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there’s no telling what will become of Blackthorne now that he no longer enjoys the support of Toranaga.


Oh, and he’s abandoning Mariko and the other allies to whom he owes his life as they march to their certain demise in Osaka.


On the upside, Blackthorne will finally be reunited with his crew!


Although that news probably has him feeling a little bit like someone who went on a long vacation and hoped that their goldfish would be able to survive on thoughts and prayers.


In Osaka, Ishido is desperately simping for Ochiba, who has emerged as the real power behind the Council.


He proposes marriage, but the Heir’s mother seems less than enthused by the idea.


Meanwhile, following more ruthless jabs from Yabushige, Nagakado’s funereal festivities take a troubling turn as Omi begins to blame Toranaga for his friend’s passing.


Yes, things are happening very quickly here in Shogun‘s antipenultimate episode (that means third from last! We looked it up!)


Toranaga is bedridden with illness (or pretending to be); his men are wearing armor in protest of his surrender; Yabushige wants to ride on Osaka with a full cannon regiment, but is deflated by the news that Ishido anticipated such a move.


In short, these are bleak times for Team Toranaga.


There’s not a lot to smile at in this episode, but Blackthorne’s mastery of the language, and his use of his new fluency to dunk on that smug Costanza-hairlined jerk Alvito provide some much-needed comic relief.


Yes, the Portuguese/Spanish threat — to say nothing of the fate of the British/Dutch pit crew — has been back-burnered amid the regency struggle, but all that drama comes back to the forefront with Blackthorne’s threat toward the Black Ship.


Alvito proceeds to share some old news with Toranaga, who appears to be legitimately ill.


But if this show has taught us anything, it’s that the Lord of the Kwanto pretty much always has something up his sleeve, and that’s almost certainly the case now that his back is against the wall like never before.


Alvito suggests that Toranaga form an alliance with Ochiba, and even though the enmity between the two is public knowledge, everyone in Toranaga’s inner circle seems to favor the idea.


Toranaga is a bit more pessimistic — or simply realistic — and he shrugs off the advice and demands that his vassals march with him in his surrender.


At this point, it seems like Toranaga has a plan, he’s playing it very close to the chest. Is he merely putting on a show so that Alvito will inform Osaka of his illness and his defeatist attitude? If so, he’s taking no chances and keeping his inner circle completely in the dark.


Hiromatsu seems convinced that Toranaga intends to fight — or is he giving Yabushige cause for optimism in order to keep up morale?


Whatever the case, while some limited series begin to run out of steam around the time of episode eight, Shogun clearly has steam to spare and many layers yet to reveal.


Considerably less complex is the relationship between Mariko and Buntaro.


Like many abusive jerks, he’s convinced that he can regain his wife’s affections with the occasional thoughtful gesture, in this case, an elaborate tea ceremony.


He thinks she’s hung up on Blackthorne, and while that may be partially true, it seems the only thing she’s really in love with is the idea that she might one day be free from her awful marriage.

What you denied me wasn’t death. It was a life beyond your reach. And I would sooner live a thousand years than die with you like this.

Mariko


Buntaro attempts to make things right by granting Mariko permission to take her own life — what a guy! — but she sets him straight in what might be the show’s most quietly badass exchange yet.


And then, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for:


After a very long period of separation, Blackthorne is finally reunited with the crew of the Erasmus.


It might be one of the few faults in the show’s pacing that this particular plot thread was set aside and scarcely mentioned for so many weeks.


But at the same time, the reunion wouldn’t have felt so tensely awkward; we wouldn’t have felt the fullness of Blackthorne’s evolution — and his crew’s dissolution — if it had happened sooner.


The men who were once his only allies in that part of the world have now turned against him, and as the pilot pummels his belligerent shipmate into the ground, we’re aware that the unexpected conflict has reinforced some of Shogun’s central themes:


We’re reminded once again that among men who lack character, loyalties often shift, and even in 1600, bonds formed along racial lines are only skin deep.


The English pilot who was once averse to bathing and disgusted by his foreign hosts now defends his traditional Japanese garb and reviles his “filthy” former friends.


The situation forces Blackthorne to try and forge an alliance with Yabushige, but he’s rebuffed and taught yet another lesson about the importance of loyalty.

Once loyalty begins, it does not have an end. Otherwise, it would not be loyalty.

Mariko


The negotiations lead to an exchange about loyalty and seppuku that contains all of the heart-rending poignancy that the conversation between Buntaro and Mariko lacked.


But the future isn’t so bleak for everyone.


Gin and Kiku, for example, are on the verge of seeing their dreams come true.


The latter’s devotion to her mistress prompts Omi to revisit the episode’s main theme and wonder aloud if there’s such a thing as too much loyalty.


Kiku chides him for his lack of vision, and we’re then treated to one of the great comedic moments of the series as Alvito realizes that his fancy new church will be right next door to a brothel.

If you look and see nothing, you must simply look harder.

Kiku


Further evidence that Toranaga is always playing 3D chess.


One of Shogun’s main strengths is the depth and richness of its characters. Often, series that are this plot-oriented skimp on humanity, but that’s not the case here.


It’s an achievement that heightens the drama, both by leading us to care about these characters and by making them frustratingly unpredictable in the manner of those pesky real-life humans with whom we’re forced to share a planet.


For example, because Ochiba is no mere one-note villain, and the scene in which a dying Lady Daiyoin begs her to ditch Ishido is both moving on an emotional level and intriguing in terms of plot mechanics.


Toranaga’s men refuse to believe that he’s giving in, but he’s a “country before party” politician, and he feels that his continued resistance would be bad for Japan. Or so he says.


Once again the political turns very personal as Hiromatsu commits seppuku in protest of his friend’s refusal to fight back against Ishido.


Interestingly, he denies Buntaro the right to do the same, partially due to his mistreatment of Mariko.


Yes, we’ve reached such a dark place in this story that denial of the freedom to commit suicide is the ultimate punishment.


But once again, Mariko’s poetic observations about the changing seasons evoke a sense of optimism.


And sure enough, it’s after one such hopeful poem that we learn Toranaga has been orchestrating a clever — albeit costly — ruse this whole time.


After a breakneck start, Shogun slowed the pace for the past couple of episodes, but with Hiromatsu dead, Toranaga and Mariko secretly in cahoots, and Blackthorne back aboard the Erasmus, things are once again speeding up as we enter the final stretch,


As Toranaga predicted, Yabushige and Blackthorne form an alliance in the aftermath of Hiromatsu’s death,


Mariko joins the journey to surrender the cannon regiment in Osaka, where she’ll presumably work to ensure a more favorable outcome for Toranaga.


Since he’s currently facing certain death, the bar is pretty low.


In a final scene that’s both moving on a personal level and riveting at a political one (another one!), Toranaga offers words of gratitude to Nagakado and Hiromatsu, both of whom may have saved his life by sacrificing their own.


Thus far, Shogun has been so flawlessly executed, so brilliantly realized that we’re getting nervous about its ability to stick the landing.


Episodes like The Abyss of Time inspire confidence, but it’s hard not to feel a little apprehensive when you’re aware that you’re watching a new classic unfold.


What did you think, TV fanatics? Is it just us, or does Shogun keep outdoing itself? Hit the comments section below to share your thoughts.

Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.





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