'Shōgun' Episode 3 Legitimately Feels Like a Feature Film

'Shōgun' Episode 3 Feels Like a Feature FilmFX

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I saw some confused faces following the two-episode premiere of Shōgun last week. Mostly around the Esquire office. What, none of you have a deep knowledge of the spread of Christianity throughout feudal Japan? You're disoriented when characters speak English, even though the characters say its Portuguese?! Shameful! (Kidding.) But I'm guessing all of you at home have some questions about the series. Don't worry, you don't need to watch Ken Burns-style documentaries that sound like Game of Thrones family tree explainers just to know what the hell is going on. We can all make it through this excellent political drama together.

For starters, yours truly is by your side—and I'm completely locked in. I researched 17th-century Japan, learned the true story of the Tokugawa shogunate, and lived to tell the tale. If you're still a bit puzzled as to what's going on, here's the simplest explanation I can give. Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) wants to become the ruler of Japan, called the Shōgun. To accomplish his goal, he has to defeat his four political rivals on The Council of Regents. Meanwhile, in Europe, England is at war with the Christian nations. This bit of knowledge proves valuable to Toranaga. He believes that he can sow dissent between some of his Christian foes on the Council by continuing to house an English sailor named John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). If you can track all of that, you can follow Shōgun. So, let's dive into episode 3. Feel free to follow along with this recap as you watch.

John Blackthorne Escapes Death (Again!)

We begin this week on the heels of an assassination attempt on Blackthorne. Toranaga's Christian rivals want Blackthorne the Anjin (AKA "pirate") executed by any means necessary. Even though this is a dangerous situation for Toranaga, chaos means wiggle room. His four enemies are currently aligned against him, so he needs to create some discord. High risk, high reward.

Toranaga leads off episode 3 by asking his trusted commander, Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano), to hide Blackthorne in his own territory while he investigates who hired the assassin. He correctly assumes that it was Lord Kiyama (Hiromoto Ida), his main Christian rival and the regent who is currently profiting the most from Spain and Portugal's presence in Japan. (Kiyama is the Council member who is always wearing red.) But on the day that Blackthorne is to leave in secrecy with Yabushige, Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira) arrives. The most cunning of Toranaga's four main opponents, Ishido is tipped off to the Englishman's upcoming journey. After a quick distraction, Toranaga switches places with a high-ranking Lady in her carrier and Ishido is none the wiser. It's Toranaga's only way to sneak out of Osaka alive. As translator Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai) tells Blackthorne, "My lord is famous for his trickery."

Usami Fuji’s (Moeka Hoshi) husband and child were forced to die in the first episode after an embarrassment in front of the council. Now, she’s out for revenge.FX

Is Shōgun the Best-Looking Show on TV Right Now? Yes.

The cunning Ishido has a guard confirm the passengers at a checkpoint, forcing Blackthorne to jump and scream like a raving maniac so that a guard doesn't discover Toranaga. Blackthorne is smacked to the ground—but he continues the outburst. The Englishman's ravings lead me to believe that he's aware of his plot armor. I'll explain: Kill me if you dare, I'm too important to this story to die! It works... for now.

Later at night, Lord Kiyama ambushes the group, shooting flaming arrows their way. Lord Kiyama's assault kickstarts a three-way standoff between Toranaga's men, Ishido's duped soldiers, and Kiyama's Christian forces. Mariko and Blackthorne aid in the fight, and the crew makes it through to the edge of town without losing any significant members. Todo Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe)—Mariko's husband and a fierce samurai—stays behind and slays at least a dozen of Kiyama's men to see Toranaga depart safely off from the harbor.

OK. That's a lot for the first 30 minutes of episode 3. A big three-sided battle sequence, a bunch of sword-fighting, and some potentially confusing switcheroos. In totality, this episode downright feels like a feature film. Hell, it looks better than most Marvel movies. But you're not even at the end yet. So, take a break and do some stretches. Reset your brain. Think about something else. You see that person riding a sandworm through an AMC? Oh, and Doritos has something now called Dinamita Smoky Chile Queso. That sounds pretty good. Get some of those and come back.

All snacked up? Perfect. Let's get on with it.

Mr. Plot Armor. FX

Even! More! Action!

In the harbor, Toranaga faces a second assault from Kiyama. Blackthorne comes up with the idea to negotiate with the Spaniard's ship, Black Star, so Torunaga strikes a deal. The priests get a church in Edo—and Toranaga gets an unprotected first-round pick in the 2028 NBA draft. (Kidding, again. Sorry.) Of course, Blackthorne is the main point of contention here. He's a heretic in Japan—if you're Christian—and everybody wants this guy dead. He holds no power, or men, and he can hardly speak a lick of Japanese. Luckily for Toranaga, Rodrigues (Néstor Carbonell) lets Blackthorne live because he saved his life in Shōgun's first episode.

Blackthorne also confides in Mariko that he left his wife and children in England because the sea... called out to him. C'mon, man. Clearly wanting more from life herself, she finds that his selfish pursuit is quite noble. Mariko seemingly holds no love for her husband. Hirokatsu's a brave samurai, but he was kind of a dick. Still, the most confusing decisions we've seen from characters so far stem from what to do with Blackthorne. It's increasingly obvious that Blackthorne was novelist James Clavell's (mostly) fictional addition to this story of war between powerful Japanese lords. Either way, the boat race was pretty damn sick.

But wives and flirtations can wait, because we're about to get some boyfriend vibes. Thanks to Blackthorne's efforts at sea, Toranaga escapes his rival's clutches in Osaka. (Along with some bullshit loophole where five people must be present for an execution vote.) He gives Blackthorne the honorary title of "Hatamoto" and asks him to strip down to his undies to teach him how to dive into the water. Toranaga and Blackthorne then race to the shore, which is the ultimate way to prove that you're brothers—before the age of technology, at least. We're in the clear, for now.

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Shōgun, Part One (The Asian Saga)



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