Shōgun Episode 5 makes an art of discomfort and ratchets up the tension

Shōgun's streak of excellence is as unstoppable as a landslide.
“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX
“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

With "Broken to the Fist," we've officially reached the halfway point in FX's new Shōgun limited series. Last week saw the Anjin John Blackthorne begin training a regiment of Japanese warriors in European cannon tactics, while also trying to acclimate to his new responsibilities as the head of a household. Now things get even more complicated as Lord Toranaga returns to the village of Ajiro with an army at his back and a samurai back from the dead.

Things are getting complicated, which means they're more riveting than ever. Spoilers ahead for this week's episode of Shōgun.

“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shōgun Episode 5 review: "Broken to the Fist"

Let's just get this out of the way right at the top: obviously, this episode of Shōgun was fantastic. We're officially halfway through the season, and thus far it feels like the series is incapable of putting out anything other than bangers. I'll try to keep my gushing in check, but needless to say that "Broken to the Fist" kept the hot streak burning.

This week's episode digs even deeper into the themes and thorny character relationships that have kept Shōgun so engaging. "Broken to the Fist" wastes no time picking up where last week left off, with Lord Toranaga's (Hiroyuki Sanada) son Yoshii Nagakado (Yuki Kura) blowing some of their enemies to bits with cannonfire, an act which will almost certainly instigate war. Toranaga arrives right at the top of the episode, and he's less than pleased about this development. He also brings a specter from the past with him: Mariko's husband Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe), who was believed dead after staying behind in Osaka to hold off Lord Ishido's forces.

These two threads run through most of the episode in one way or another. Because Mariko (Anna Sawai) is still serving as a vital translator for Englishman John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), her husband Buntaro moves into the same household with them. Considering that last week Mariko and Blackthorne sneakily made love, this obviously comes with some pretty major complications.

This leads to a boiling tension that is extremely engaging, as pretty much everyone in Blackthorne's household clashes in some way or other. It's a huge credit to Shōgun that it's able to service every character in its ensemble cast while keeping them all three-dimensional. Yes, Buntaro is awful, but he's not played as a straight villain; instead, he's a man who returned from the dead against miraculous odds only to chafe at being forced into a situation he resents. But he's also absolutely horrible to his wife; the scene where Blackthorne wakes up to the sounds of Buntaro beating Mariko and pursues him out into the courtyard was both hard to watch and hard to look away from.

Mariko, meanwhile, is caught in an impossible situation between a man she was beginning to develop feelings for and a husband she has detested for a number of reasons. Mariko's translations have always been fascinating, since she often has to toe the line between getting the meanings of words across to various characters while also sanding away their rough edges. But in this episode, those translations slide far more into the murky territory since everyone around her is throwing decorum to the wind, knowing the other person won't understand. There are quite a few standout performances in "Broken to the Fist," but Anna Sawai is definitely near the top of the list. The scene where Mariko tells Blackthorne that they will no longer speak outside of official business is heartwrenching.

“SHOGUN” -- "The Eightfold Fence" -- Episode 4 (Airs March 12) Pictured: Moeka Hoshi as Usami Fuji. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Another character who has become a favorite for me is Fuji, played by Moeka Hoshi. Fuji has had an interesting role in the Ajiro village arc of the season. As Blackthorne's consort, she is expected to manage and protect his household, and has taken that duty extremely seriously. But because he hasn't forced her to bed with him, what began as a resentful duty has become something she has given her all to in a way that is very endearing, and Hoshi plays that multidimensionality well.

This leads to a tragic misunderstanding late in the episode, when Blackthorne hangs a pheasant out to season it, offhandedly remarking that anyone who touches it will die. His gardener disposes of the pheasant after it starts stinking up the village, accepting that he must die for the transgression, which was not Blackthorne's literal intent. Culture clashes are a hugely important part of the Shōgun story, but in "Broken to the Fist" they come to the fore in a way that feels terribly personal. The writing deserves an immense amount of credit for getting it all across so well.

“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured: Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

While the drama unfolds in Blackthorne's house, Toranaga lays schemes on top of schemes. The title for this episode comes from a speech he gives to his son Nagakado, disparaging him for being manipulated into attacking Ishido's messenger. Toranaga rightfully guesses that Nagakado wouldn't have thought to execute such a daring plan on his own. He even figures out who did the manipulating: Omi (Hiroto Kanai), Yabushige's newphew.

To Toranaga, the high crime here isn't even that Nagakado killed the messenger; it's that he was so blindly played for a fool, "broken to the fist" the same way that a falcon is by the huntsman. Toranaga claims any man can be so played, and until Nagakado realizes this, he can't be trusted to lead.

But here's where things get interesting: while Toranaga revokes his son's leadership of the cannon unit and threatens Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) for being duplicitous, he also rewards Omi for being smart enough to instigate the war, gifting him command of the cannons. It turns out that it very much serves Toranaga's purposes to have Ishido's army leave from Osaka and engage him in the field. The problem wasn't starting a war, it's that his son was dumb enough to do it at someone else's bidding.

These sorts of decisions lend a fascinating depth to Toranaga. Yes, he often comes off as a scrupulous character, but even more than that, he is a canny politician and master manipulator. Don't cross him, folks.

“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko, Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Yuki Kura as Yoshii Nagakado, Jodai Suzuki as Toranaga’s Brown Kosho. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Yet for all his savvy, not even Toranaga is immune to the wrath of nature. A huge idea that came up in this episode is the transience of life in feudal Japanese culture. Throughout the season, Blackthorne struggles to accept that idea that life and death are so fleeting, as those around him willingly give up their lives for a variety of reasons. In "Broken to the Fist" we see how nature impacts that worldview, when a sudden landslide claims countless lives, including, very nearly, Toranaga's.

The landslide itself is breathtaking to watch. I don't know exactly how the production executed it, but it might be one of the most convincing natural disaster's I've seen in a television show. It's terrifying and visceral, and so sudden that when the ground gives way beneath Toranaga it made me gasp in shock.

It's here we get one last, wonderful reversal on the culture clashing ideas of the series. The whole episode, we've watched people struggle with societal boundaries and miscommunications. But when Blackthorne races to Toranaga's aid and pulls him from the dirt, its that exact ignorance which leads to a redemptive moment, as he offers Toranaga his own swords to replace those the lord has lost without skipping a beat, something that the Japanese samurai around him likely wouldn't have done, given the importance they place on keeping their blades.

All in all, Shōgun is still going pretty damn strong here at the halfway point of the season. And with the mother of the heir, the formidable Lady Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido) returned to Osaka and pushing for control of the council, it seems safe to say things are only going to heat up from here.

Shōgun Bullet Points

  • The scene where Buntaro shot arrows past Mariko's face while drunk on sake was terrifying. It may be even more terrifying that he hit his target across the courtyard without even being able to see it. The series has done an effective job of illustrating how deadly and unstable Buntaro is.
  • The spy in Ajiro village managed to buy himself a bit more time by framing Blackthorne's dead gardener. Hopefully that sticks, because I doubt a happy fate awaits if Yabushige figures out he was duped.
  • I do wonder how Fuji is going to feel about her family's swords being given to Toranaga.
  • But also, the scene where Blackthorne holds Fuji's hand after finding out she was injured in the landslide was a nice note to end things on. Those two had some ups and downs this episode, but they're become a fairly interesting team.


"Broken to the Fist" keeps up Shōgun's high standard of excellence while also sprawling out even farther into its cast of characters. That it's able to pull off the juggling act is impressive. That it's able to do it while keeping sky-high production values, beautiful sets, and a fantastic ending sequence are even better. At the rate it's going, Shōgun is almost certainly going to emerge as one of the strongest genre shows of the year.

Episode Grade: A+

Shōgun reviews:

Next. 5 times the Targaryens were even wilder than the British royal family. 5 times the Targaryens were even wilder than the British royal family. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels