Shōgun episode 3 review | Pillowing and boat races aplenty

shogun episode 3 review
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The third episode of Shōgun ramps up the action and we find uneasy alliances forming. Our review of Shōgun episode 3. 

After last week’s two highly intriguing episodes, which kickstarted Shōgun nicely, episode three offers a little more action. Sure, no one is boiled alive this week, but we do get a boat race, so that’s neat.

The end of episode two saw an assassin target John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), the English chap who has valuable knowledge of trade routes which makes him a threat to the Portuguese Jesuits who seek control of Japan. This week, we learn that the assassin belonged to the Society of Amida and it would be wise to get Blackthorne out of Osaka, ASAP. Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) also needs to get out of the city, seeing as his life is also in danger. 

This episode includes two incredibly tense sequences. The first one is the smuggling of Toranaga to a remote fishing village and out of harm’s way. Naturally, the rest of the Regents are getting antsy and Ichido shows up just as the convoy is about to head off. Thankfully, Blackthorne saves the day, only for them to be ambushed in the woods, blowing Toranag’s cover.

The whole sequence is brilliantly, tactically edited for maximum tension. As we commented last week, Shōgun looks terrific and is rarely better than in the scenes set in the night. Flaming arrows lighting up the night prove to be a bold visual choice, but Shōgun does occasionally fall to the modern trap of mistaking dynamic cinematography with very dark cinematography. 

Shogun episode 2
Courtesy of FX Networks

Later on, Blackthorne races a Portuguese ship, imaginatively titled The Black Ship, after the latter forced Blackthorne to stay behind while The Black Ship sailed to freedom. Blackthorne has nothing to lose, so why not enter a pissing contest with a much larger ship? It’s the manly thing to do, after all. 

Throughout the episode, Blackthorne has proved his worthiness to the always observant Toranaga and the two form an alliance. The episode ends on a sweet note as Toranaga first asks Blackthorne to teach him how to dive and later asks him to race to the shore. Mariko (Anna Sawai) instructs Blackthorne not to let Toranaga win, because he hates that and Blackthorne promises he won’t. 

Episode 3, titled ‘Tomorrow Is Tomorrow’ is where the overall narrative of Shōgun begins to take form. If episodes 1 and 2 set up the central conflicts and the series’ internal politics, episode 3 settles into a nice pace of storytelling. 

That being said, Shōgun remains dense in its details and politics. It’s not a criticism per se, but an observation; Shōgun demands your undivided attention and it actually requires you to think and process the information given to you. With a large roster of characters and shady alliances, it can get exhausting to try and keep up. I also thoroughly wish I had paid more attention in my history lessons 20 years ago. 

Sanada, who has appeared in films such as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, David Leitsch’s Bullet Train and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick Chapter 4, is a magnetic screen presence. He’s an actor who often elevates any film he is in and while Shōgun doesn’t require any more elevating, Sanada’s charismatic performance is very welcome here. 

Cosmo Jarvis on the other hand can be a little shouty. He’s infinitely better in the quieter moments and episode 3 is also much funnier than the previous two episodes. Episode 3 also sets up Mariko as a potential love interest for Blackthorne as the two speak about “pillowing” and its health benefits. We assume these two might be pillowing soon enough. 

Join us again next Tuesday as we dive into the next episode of Shōgun, in which a war is approaching. 

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