Shōgun – Season 1 Episode 8 “The Abyss of Life” Recap & Review

The Abyss of Life

Episode 8 of Shogun brings more deliberation and weight to its exploration of characters and story. After the previous episode’s tragic death, Toranaga will be allowed a customary mourning period. Saeki’s army will sit on Edo’s boundary for 49 days, giving Toranaga some valuable time to think.

John is set free by Toranaga. The Englishman finally has his wish – he can gather his crew from Edo, take the ship, and go back home.

Back at the Osaka Castle, Ishido excitedly tells Lady Ochiba that her plan is a success. He is soon to become the most powerful leader in Japan as Toranaga fails at the prospect of making a comeback. However, Ochiba will only breathe a sigh of relief when Toranaga’s head is firmly pressed to the ground in submission. She feels this mourning period allows him more time to rethink his strategy. Looking to consolidate his position at the top, Ishido offers marriage to Ochiba, who is drearily enthused by listening to the proposal.

At a dinner celebrating Nagakado’s life, there are different views on Toranaga’s decision. While Buntaro and Hiromatsu do not say much and swear to follow Toranaga in death, Omi thinks differently. He speaks out against the lord and his cowardly decision to condemn the clan to death. Many of Toranaga’s close advisors and military generals decide to protest against the decision.

Surprisingly, Toranaga is not present at Nagakado’s funeral while the rest of the city marches. Hiromatsu informs Yabushige that he will take the guns and cannons that belong to Toranaga to Osaka and offer Ishido.

John is caught in a precarious situation as he is taken to his drunk sailors. One of them Salomon, rightly points out that it was John’s ego and vile ambition that took them to Japan. They could have just as easily turned back toward England as they came to these foreign lands.

Despite spending so much time in the country, John only poses as an impersonator, claiming to be one among them. However, neither can he speak their language, nor is he fully tuned to their customs. He is trapped in no-man’s land.

During an uninspired meeting with Father Martin, Mariko, and Hiromatsu, Toranaga once again reiterates his decision to fully surrender. His defeatist attitude is again shocking and puzzles those in the audience. Martin suggests that by aligning himself with Ochiba, Toranaga can successfully defeat Ishido and his vested interests. But Toranaga is in no mood to create that perception.

Hiromatsu is still convinced that Toranaga intends to fight and everything is a ruse. His persistent cough and illness are probably feigned to make him look even more weak. Toranaga is beseeched by Martin to hold his promise of giving the Christians land in Edo to build a church. But Toranaga still has the last laugh as he only gives the land next to Gin’s ambitious Tea Houses.

Yabushige is still aligned with Toranaga when John approaches him to sail under Yabushige’s banner. The Lord of Izu still believes that his alliance with and loyalty to Toranaga is unquestioned in his eyes. Going against him would be treachery and he isn’t ready to allow John to join him.

Mariko and Buntaro have a breakdown in their marriage after the latter suggests that they commit suicide together as a romantic gesture in the face of Toranaga’s surrender.

In the climactic ordeal, Toranaga’s vessals gather on a rainy day in Edo. He wants everyone who is loyal to him to sign their death warrants and agree to commit suicide. Although the signatures start with Yabushige and Omi, Toranaga’s loyal vassals raise their voices.

They are not prepared to silently watch as Toranaga gives away everything they have fought for over the years. The lord insists that they listen to him and he has no trickery under his sleeve. But it is Hiromatsu’s declaration of seppuku that brings things to a grinding halt.

Everyone is stunned and there is palpable tension in the air as the two best friends face off. Toranaga, although daunted, does not back down…and neither does Hiromatsu. He enlists Buntaro’s help to “Second” his seppuku in a bid to stop Toranaga. However, he does not back down and Hiromatsu commits suicide as Buntaro cuts off his head to end his suffering.

During a conversation with Mariko later that night, Toranaga reveals that Hiromatsu was in on his plan. To give the appearance that he is completely defeated, Toranaga required the life of his valued friend. His sacrifice is part of his duty that will help Toranaga and his clan emerge victorious against the evil plan unfolding in Osaka.

In order for Osaka and the Council to believe that Toranaga’s defeat is legitimate, they also have to believe that his closest allies are divided — and there’s no more convincing way to do that than for one of them to take his own life.

Mariko joins Yabushige and John’s voyage to Osaka with a special revenge mission on her mind. Ochiba accepts Ishido’s proposal for marriage, making it a promising showdown between the parties. 

The Episode Review

Layers and even more layers come off in this masterful rendition of Episode 8. This level of showmanship and cinematic brilliance is what separates the show from the rest of the pack. Without requiring anyone to lift a sword, the makers of Shogun have ensured we have the most tense episode of the season yet. While the action isn’t in its tangible form, the many ups and downs of Episode 8 truly stare down the barrel for an epic conclusion.

The complexity of the writing makes the screen acting even more valuable for viewers. Toranaga’s various trickeries and ploys invariably project on the show’s appeal. There is a fine difference between what’s genuine and what’s not, making it even more essential to not jump to conclusions.

Shogun has immensely surprised with its diplomatic turn in the previous few episodes…but at the end of the line, there is a bloody war waiting to happen.

Previous Episode

Next Episode

Expect A Full Season Write-Up When This Season Concludes!
  • Episode Rating

1 thought on “Shōgun – Season 1 Episode 8 “The Abyss of Life” Recap & Review”

  1. One of the best episodes yet (episode 8).
    The acting from all parties is absolutely amazing. Sanada Hiroyuki should be singled out for a masterful performance. With subtle facial gestures that communicate volumes in this “high context” society, he needs very little dialogue.
    Come awards season, if there’s any justice, this show and its actors deserve many prizes.

Leave a comment