Shōgun – Season 1 Episode 4 “The Eightfold Fence” Recap & Review

The Eightfold Fence

Episode 4 of Shogun begins with a message delivered to Omi, Yabushige’s nephew, in Ajiro. Omi is asked to prepare the village for Toranaga’s arrival.

While the preparations are in full flow, Mariko navigates a difficult situation on the galley. Since John has been promoted to the rank of Hatamato, he now needs a consort. That responsibility falls on Fuji’s shoulders. She is vehemently opposed to assuming the charge but Mariko reminds her of the duty she owes to Toranaga. Because that’s the only way forward…to continue the fight of her husbands and families.

When Yabushige learns about Toranaga’s resignation from the Council, he is taken aback. Yabushige shows no hesitation in expressing his views. According to him, Toranaga has “signed off on his death” by making this decision.

The galley reaches Ajiro’s shores as Yabushige’s vast samurai army chants his name. However, his joy is short-lived as Toranaga begins speaking. His ferocious speech galvanizes the samurai, who begin chanting his name. Toranaga firmly believes that a war is in the offing and those who conspire against Japan must be dealt with appropriately. 

In another shocking turn of events, Toranaga leaves Ajiro in a small boat, explaining that he has “urgent matters” to attend to. This leaves everyone in shock, most of all John. He goes around the place looking for his crewmen. Since the villagers don’t understand Portuguese, it is Mariko who clears the air after John is stopped from boarding his ship in the water. Mariko explains that both the crew and the ship now belong to Toranaga.

The crewmen have been placed in the city of Edo for their own safety. John is miffed but understands that he is powerless in this situation. His freedom is only farcical and at Toranaga’s mercy. As Hatamato, John is afforded the luxury of a big house, a generous salary, and Fuji as his consort. He is yet again frustrated as this essentially keeps him in Ajiro as a prisoner while Toranaga is away. He refuses to accept Fuji as his pseudo spouse but Mariko makes it clear that for the next six months, she will perform the marital duties regardless of how he feels.

During a meeting with Omi and his general, Yabushige discusses the matters ahead. The general believes that Toranaga has taken Yabushige for granted. Time and again, the Lord of the Kanto has insulted him, including this show in Ajiro. However, Yabushige remains composed. When he reprimands Omi for being unable to discern Toranaga’s spy in the village, Omi comes up with a well-thought-out plan to support him.

Until Toranaga comes back, the ship and its cannon are Yabushige’s. If he offers it to Ishido as a gift, Yabushige might be able to get his favour since Toranaga will be impeached once the fifth Council member is found. In a tender moment, Mariko explains to John why Fuji has been made his consort. The conversation also touches upon Japanese culture and customs. Mariko cites “the eightfold fence,” a concept that she was taught as a child. It is like an internal retreat behind which one can find complete solace from everything around them.

The next morning brings another confrontation between John and Omi. The latter demands that John give up his guns for the day. However, John refuses to comply. The impasse is broken by Fuji’s wit as she takes the guns from John and points them at Omi, asking him to leave the house. Omi has no option but to accept Fuji’s demands due to her connection to Hiromatsu.

John and Mariko are summoned by Yabushige to a vast field. John is tasked with training a gun regiment for Toranaga’s army…that was the deal that allowed him his life. But he comes up short when asked by Mariko to talk about a war that he was a part of. To turn the tide in his favour, John suggests an alternative. Since he has been a sea pilot all his life and the English cannons are unlike anything the world has seen, John offers to teach the regiment naval combat. He promises that the cannons can travel a great distance with utmost accuracy. 

Upon demonstration, all the scepticism is drawn out and replaced by optimism. John begins training the regiment in this combat craft over the next few weeks. Mariko, who was given John’s personal diaries by Toranaga before departing, reads them at night to increase her familiarity with him. During one of these sessions, a scout spots Jozun carrying Ishido’s flag coming toward them. Nagakado, Toranaga’s son, is on alert as Yabushige greets him. Jozun delivers a demand letter asking Yobushige to come back to Osaka and explain his “Treason.” He maintains that he had no idea Toranaga was inside one of the carriages. 

Yabushige insists Jozun stay back and witness the cannon’s ability himself the next day. Since their rapport is quite good, Jozun agrees to the request. If he would have agreed to return, Yabushige would have had to commit suicide. But now that he has refused to go, he will be declared a fugitive. During dinner, John and Fuji exchange gifts. As a gesture of his gratitude, John gifts her one of the guns, and in return, Fuji gives her father’s sword to John. 

Kiku and Omi are having an affair. But there is enough hint in the episode that she might have ulterior motives. She is possibly a spy for the Christian Regents or the Portuguese. This will become clearer as we move forward. However, for now, Kiku hasn’t acted out. To help out his uncle, Omi comes up with a plan to manipulate Nagakado by using Toranaga’s influence against him. Nagakado has always felt that his father still thinks of him as a child and doesn’t value his opinion. Omi is successful in luring Nagakado to potentially act rashly instead of asking Toranaga how to proceed.

In the best scene of the episode, John and Mariko share their feelings about themselves and the world near a hot spring geyser. They are very similar individuals in terms of their outlook and journeys in life. It is perhaps the spark that triggers what Mariko does next. While John is sleeping in his quarters, she quietly slips in, wakes him up, and they have sex. However, the next morning, she refuses to acknowledge it and Mariko instead claims it was a courtesan. 

Episode 4 ends on an explosive note. Instead of demonstrating how the cannons work, Nagakado surprises everyone by using them against Jozun and his men. They are absolutely obliterated by the attack and have no defence. Everyone is shocked, none more so than Mariko, who begrudgingly exclaims, “It is war.” 

The Episode Review

Episode 4’s progression of the story is as actionable as can be. Despite revealing so much, it still manages to maintain a sense of mystery with Toranaga’s sudden departure and Kiku’s adversarial role. Not to forget, beautifully developing Mariko and John’s arcs too.

There is a lot to unpack here in terms of the storytelling and the characters themselves. Nagakado’s rash move is arrived at with careful planning and sound strategy, hinting at how finely tuned the writers are with their ambitions for the plot.

The best bits are the scenes involving Mariko and John. Credit to both the performers for doing justice to the depth of the writing and putting into perspective their outlooks. Shogun has proved to be the best show on TV right now in its first four episodes. With so much more action to come with the forlorn war and Toranaga’s birth as a Shogun, expect this notion to hold true. 

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