Shogun – Season 1 Episode 7 “Stick of Time” Recap & Review

Stick of Time

Episode 7 of FX’s Shogun begins with a flashback to almost 46 years ago. An adolescent Toranaga emerges victorious over his much older opponent. Even though there is respect between the two, the sheer embarrassment of losing to a child cannot be swallowed down. Toda Hiromatsu was by Toranaga’s side even then as sage counsel.

In the present day, Toranaga meets Saeki’s large army. The half-brothers meet as if they have no prior grudges and Saeki is seemingly willing to become Toranaga’s ally.

John and Mariko’s steamy session from the previous episode catches Gin’s mind. She tries to tell Omi but he does not understand what is going on.

A lot of subtext is found in various scenes that lead up to the big dinner. Saeki and Toranaga’s clans share a celebratory dinner to remember their union. It is seemingly going pretty well for the Lord of the Kanto until Saeki drops a truth bomb. At first, he shocks everyone by demanding Izu in return for his army. However, he reveals that a deal has already been made.

Saeki has already joined hands with Ishido as the final member of the Council of Regents. He delivers the Council’s order for Toranaga to return to Osaka and surrender. This takes everyone in the room by surprise, giving them little time to react. Tornaga suspends taking a decision until the next evening.

The stakes are as high as they can be: if Toranaga agrees to surrender, he will be killed and more than half of his clan will commit suicide out of loyalty to their lord. However, if he doesn’t decide to surrender, the great impending war will decimate and rock Japan.

Buntaro almost kills John with his blade but stands short due to Toranaga’s special title for him. Buntaro does ask for permission, implying an affair between John and Mariko. But Toranaga wisely retorts that this would mean Mariko is also party to the affair and she must die with John. Buntaro drops the idea but Mariko is not free of guilt.

Toranaga confronts her in private, asking where her loyalties lie. It is clear that she has feelings for John but they aren’t so overpowering as to make Mariko forget the master she serves. There is yet a big role to be played by her in this entire saga as Toranaga refuses to kill her.

Toranaga makes a shocking decision by announcing his intention to surrender to Ishido. Everyone, including Nagakado and Hiromatsu, is stunned into silence. Quiet protests brew among Toranaga’s ranks as no one is ready to go down without a fight. John is also not willing to go down with Toranaga and is freed from his service. He is even propositioned to take back his crew and ship to sail for home.

When it looks like there will be no more protests from Toranaga’s camp, Nagakado springs a surprise. While Saeki is having private time with Kiku, Nagakado and a few loyal men storm their room. Saeki is barely clothed or armed to fight Nagakado but wins on the strength of his experience and the dreary conditions. Nagakado’s experience goes against him as he slips in the rain and hits his head fatally on a rock.  

The Episode Review

While the element of surprise is not truly overpowering in Episode 7, it fits in perfectly in the scheme of things. Shogun’s careful planning and plotting encourage us to think everything happens for a reason. What that may be is determined long after such events have occurred. But not knowing is part of the fun…and it is intoxicating to experience it firsthand.

The blood to be spilt on account of Crimson Sky is living one of its several lives like a cat. Toranaga may fool us all with his impeccable moves but the lack of awareness from everyone else makes Shogun a masterclass in acting.

The dynamic roster of the cast each takes a life of its own. The fragile mesh of interpersonal relationships is tilted across the face of the storytelling. However, a few puzzling decisions like John and Mariko’s fates and the changing alliances within Edo make this episode short of being a great one.

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