Shōgun episode 4 review | The war is coming

shogun episode 4
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War inches closer in the new chapter of Shōgun, as Blackthorne begins to train an army. Here’s our review of Shōgun episode 4.

Episode four of Shōgun, FX’s ambitious new miniseries based on James Clavell’s novel of the same name, is a curious mix of intimacy and violence. New themes emerge as Cosmo Jarvis’ John Blackthorne is instructed to train a samurai army in modern war tactics. 

After Hiroyuki Sanada’s Lord Toranaga made Blackthorne into a hatamoto, a high-ranking army official, at the end of episode three last week, Blackthorne is truly put to work in this episode. The crew arrives in a small fishing village looked after by Yabushige’s nephew Lord Omi, but Toranaga abruptly departs, leaving Blackthorne to reside in the village for the next six months. 

Blackthorne isn’t happy about this. He’s still without his ship or his men and essentially a prisoner, “just with better living quarters,” as he puts it. He’s given a house, staff and even a consort, who also isn’t pleased to have to serve such a barbaric man. 

It soon becomes clear that Blackthorne is wildly out of his depth. With no real experience in battle, he’s hardly qualified to train the large army of samurai that awaits him. Blackthorne successfully persuades Yabushige to allow him to teach them naval warfare with cannon, however – and without spoiling too much, this proves to be highly effective. 

shogun episode 4 yabushige
Credit: FX Networks

This is where Shōgun is really starting to shine. The narrative reveals itself to be a conflict not so much between east and west, but between new and old. This being the beginning of the 17th century, naval warfare is considered a modern idea, especially when juxtaposed against the centuries-old ways of the samurai. 

Episode four also plants plenty more seeds, especially when it comes to the women of the show. Not only is Lady Mariko the only person who can effectively translate Blackthorne’s words, but his new consort Fuji is also shown to be pretty bold as she confronts Lord Omi early on in the episode. Lord Omi is later pillowing his mistress, who later purrs in his ear about her hopes that he will be one of the regents after Toranaga has resigned. Something tells us she has a lot of power over Omi. 

Shōgun still remains a dense, heavy show. I took my eyes off my screen for 45 seconds to tell off a barking dog and had to swiftly rewind so I wouldn’t be lost. There are no filler scenes, and I suspect we won’t see any filler episodes either. Episode four gives us a brief glimpse into Mariko’s past, and characters are constantly plotting against each other, adding ever more layers to the narrative. 

Thankfully, there’s levity here, too, and Jarvis provides most of it as the delightfully blunt, sweary Blackthorne. This episode also shows him acclimating to Japan more; he’s learning more of the language and customs and even tries natto, a traditional Japanese dish that Mariko warns him he is under no obligation to try. In the sweet scene, Blackthorne compares it to stinky cheese, but somehow makes that into a compliment. Mariko and Blackthorne also grow closer with a lovely chat while Blackthorne bathes.

For the most part, episode four focuses on alliances and Blackthorne’s efforts to train the village men in firing cannon. Just as you think that Shōgun is losing its edge and taking a break from the extreme violence, the shocking ending provides all the gore you might want from a show like this. The first episode established this as a violent story and episode four delivers on that front. 

Join us again next Tuesday as we look at episode five, in which Mariko and Blackthorne are busy guarding a potentially fatal secret.

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