Shōgun episode 5 review | The halfway mark

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This week’s Shōgun begins with a not-so-shocking revelation – and we find out more about Mariko’s backstory. Our review of Shōgun episode 5. 

NB: This episode containsspoilersfor Shōgun episode 5.

Episode 5 of Shōgun, arguably the best thing on television right now, begins with a revelation that most of us could see coming a mile away. Back in episode 3, Mariko’s husband Buntaro was left behind and presumed dead. 

We didn’t actually see him die, and many have argued that he might still be alive – and surprise, surprise, he is. Buntaro finds his way back to Toranaga and a very surprised Mariko. This is particularly awkward because last week’s episode ended with Mariko and Blackthorne engaging in some sweet, sweet lovemaking. Something tells me that Buntaro, a rather serious chap, isn’t up for a threesome. 

The sexual tension between Mariko and Blackthorne is palpable, and Buntaro suspects something is up. They have an awkward dinner with Blackthorne’s consort Fuji, which results in a lot of sake being consumed as a result of a very macho pissing competition. This episode really is at its best when it focuses on the dynamic between Blackthorne and Buntaro. It’s a source for both humour and tension as the violent Buntaro gets more and more intoxicated with the equally unpredictable Blackthorne.

SHOGUN episode 5
Credit: FX Networks

Elsewhere, the four remaining Regents are well pissed off that Toranaga has resigned, completely messing up their plans. They still need a fifth member in order to actually have any real power, but finding a suitable candidate is harder than it seems. 

If last week’s episode showed Blackthorne making a strong effort to learn more of the language and customs of Japan (or ‘the Japans’ as he calls them), episode 5 reminds us that he’s still the outsider and a fish out of water. Blackthorne is given a pheasant which he hangs outside of his house, promising to prepare it. 

The bird quickly begins to stink, but Blackthorne, in broken Japanese, tells the staff not to touch it or “die”. His words have disastrous consequences, but it’s Jarvis’ performance that’s impressive here. He realises just how out of touch he is with Japanese customs; perhaps he’d lulled himself into thinking that he’s finally somewhat accepted, just to crash back to Earth and remember that he does not belong. It’s a thrilling subplot, one that a lesser TV show probably would have abandoned in exchange for something that pushes the plot forward more. 

Episode 4 was a little light on Hiroyuki Sanada’s Toranaga, so it’s a pleasure to have him back at the centre of the episode. Toranaga is arguably the most fascinating character and the moral centre of the story, a man guided by his principles. Sanada is a charismatic lead, but it’s Tadanobu Asano’s Yabushige who often steals the spotlight. 

Yabushige, who has a tendency of having a new will written every time he thinks he’s about to bite the bullet (or a samurai sword), is like a slippery eel, playing both sides in order to increase his chances of ending up on the winning side. Watching him flip flop between different alliances is one of the most entertaining aspects of Shōgun

With episode 5, the series has hit its halfway mark. The episode ends on a high with another shocker, which we won’t spoil here. As we head to the second half of Shōgun, the stakes feel high, but at times, the show feels a little disjointed. It’s the same issue that plagues any TV show with such a large cast; there’s not enough time to develop their backstories, and it’s difficult to find a character to relate to, to attach yourself to as a viewer. 

That being said, I’d be surprised if we saw another TV show with the level of spectacle and intrigue as Shōgun in 2024. 
Join us again next Tuesday as we explore episode 6 of Shōgun, which offers us much more of Mariko’s backstory.

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