Shōgun – Season 1 Episode 9 “Crimson Sky” Recap & Review

Crimson Sky

In episode 9 of Shogun, there is a stark difference between how Mariko looks in a flashback, and how she looks in the present day.

14 years before the present day, Mariko made her third attempt to commit suicide. After her father doomed his entire bloodline – albeit Mariko who is the last remaining one – she lost all hope. If not for the meeting with Father Martin all those years ago, Mariko would have already been dead. 

As Yabushige’s ship approaches Osaka, John suspiciously enquires about Mariko’s purpose for making the trip. She is coy and succinct in her reply, warning John that he is to remain close to the party on Yabushige’s instructions. The first thing you notice after the ship hits the shores is the macabre feeling flowing through the castle. There is gloom and anxiousness around as the doomsday approaches.

Yabushige instructs John to be with him when they meet Ishido the next day to discuss their proposal. The Portuguese are also getting restless. Although Father Martin doesn’t believe Toranaga “isn’t up to some good,” his superiors are wary. They know the threat Toranaga poses with his cleverness and wit.

Before the meeting, Yabushige and John have a cold interaction with Lord Kiyama. He is intent on offering John to the Portuguese but Yabushige maintains that John is his prisoner. The duo are ready to pledge the guns they have to Ishido, thus cementing their allegiance.

Despite his best efforts, Yabushige isn’t able to successfully convince Ishido, who dismisses their case. Mariko is next up. The crowd gathered at the meeting is steeped in anticipation to listen to her. Mariko begins by acknowledging Lady Ochiba, who sports a smile as she sees her old friend. They reminisce about the time they spent together, including an invitation to Mariko to compete in a poetry competition organized in the late Daiyoin’s memory. 

However, Mariko stuns everyone by rejecting it. She also explains that she will leave the castle the next day with Lady Kiro and Lady Shizu. They will go back to Edo to be with Toranaga. Mariko is abrupt with her words and tenor. This provokes Ishido, who doesn’t let it slip. He instructs Mariko to remain in the castle until Toranaga is summoned in a few weeks’ time. In astounding fashion, Mariko rejects Ishido’s instruction and declares herself to be the liberated heir of Lord Jensai.

Her defiance isn’t met well by the Council, who will meet to decide her fate. Yabushige is incensed. He beseeches Mariko in private to reveal Toranaga’s plan, even offering his own services to complete it. Mariko remains mum, maintaining that there is no secret plan. The underlying intention here could be to prove that Ishido is keeping everyone a prisoner in the castle, thus inciting a rebellion. Mariko might lose her life in this whole ordeal, something she is fully prepared to do. 

John’s remark – “You’d walk into a sword, just to prove the blade is sharp” – appropriately captures the essence of what Toranaga wants to do. The morning comes and Mariko isn’t prepared to step back. She tries to go through the gate with the ladies and a handful of samurai but is met with resistance. Mariko doesn’t hesitate to instruct them to kill the guards opposing their exit. However, due to the sheer strength of Ishido’s numbers, the samurai fall valiantly. 

Mariko requests Kiyama and Ohno, who are watching from the gallery, to instruct the men to step back. But they insist they are powerless, with Kiyama even saying he will call for a meeting to calm things down. Mariko is stern in her determination. She refuses to do so and takes bold steps towards the gate.

The scene is tense as bowmen release warning arrows that barely miss Mariko. She eventually wields a spear to match up against the guards. Mariko fights the group without the fear of death. The strength of their numbers eventually runs her into a setback. She falls to the ground and confesses the party must turn back as the guards cannot be defeated. However, since she has failed to fulfil her duty to Toranaga, Mariko announces she will take her life at sunset.

At the Council’s meeting, Ochiba calls this act Mariko’s “vengeance on fate.” She also points out that whatever the Council decides to do, Toranaga has once again outwitted him. Ochiba, whose wit is also well documented in the series, manifests an audience with Mariko under the guise of the Heir wanting to meet John.

Ochiba sternly tells her to stop being Toranaga’s lure. This isn’t how Mariko should win her freedom. When Mariko retorts insisting that Toranaga wants to end the fight, Ochiba looks back on her childhood with Mariko. She also asks her to translate for John to make him understand their bond. They grew up like sisters but were torn apart due to the enmity their fathers shared. Both shed tears as they emotionally appeal to one another to stop the mind games.

Ochiba is angry with Mariko for surrendering herself to a “pointless death,” whereas Mariko feels Ochiba has the influence to end the war. After they leave, John confides in Mariko about his thoughts. He feels Toranaga is a coward for “sending a woman to do his bidding.” He also calls her sacrifice “pointless.”

John tries to dissuade Mariko from committing suicide by talking about his feelings for her…something that Mariko reciprocates. The stage is set for her seppuku. The atmosphere is bleak and uncertain. In the background, we also have a feeling that a plan is afoot to avert this tragedy.

In Kiyama’s absence, John comes forward to be Mariko’s “second” (cutting off her head after she has fallen). Just as she is about to do it, Ishido storms the room. He throws the permit papers on Mariko’s feet, saying she is free to leave the next morning. Others in the room – Lady Kiro and Shizu – also request the same, prompting Ishido to say, “No one is a hostage in the castle. You are free to leave.”

Episode 9’s thrilling and wholly unexpected conclusion takes place due to Ishido’s secret plan. Earlier, we saw him accepting Yabushige’s plea for mercy on one condition. Yabushige kills many of Ishido’s own men while the rest of the crowd in the castle celebrates their freedom. Yabushige lets in assassins from the Shinobi, whose sole purpose is to kidnap Mariko. Although they do a lot of damage, they aren’t able to succeed as John, Mariko, and the others become alert to the unfolding situation. The group is able to move inside a stonehouse outside.

The Shinobi do not give up their will and prepare to blow up the door. This might kill everyone inside, but even then, Yabushige isn’t ready to help John avert the disaster. Mariko, in a moment of opportunity, puts herself against the door, condemning Ishido’s unfortunate attack before dying in the explosion.

The Episode Review

Anna Sawai has already had sparkling moments in Shogun’s Season 1, proving her mettle. But what she is able to do in Episode 9 with Mariko’s character captures the extraordinary performance. Sawai is tethered to her character’s desperation to redeem herself, as easily shedding tears to express her grief as wielding a spear. This might even change the persception of her being the show’s protagonist to a great extent.

The conclusion – like most other episodes – is the element of surprise that has constantly elevated Shogun’s dramatic appeal. It sets the finale on an exciting, unnerving path that has many possibilities.

Yabushige’s betrayal is a tough one to take, especially given how his character was set up. The most heartening aspect of the episode’s brilliance is how without Hiroyuki Sanada’s character, the makers manage to keep us engaged. That is how complex and well-built Shogun’s foundation is. 

Episode 9 features poetic writing and dialogue that tears through your heart. The mood, melancholy, and situational awareness make the episode’s cinematic experience second to none. This must count as one of FX’s most cherished victories on the small screen…with the final bow yet to come.

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