Even if we call “Wizard of Far East” one long arc, it sort of feels as if the prelude ends with this episode and the real last arc starts with the next one. Sticking this extended flashback loop in the middle of the arc the way Great Pretender did is interesting – I’m not sure if it was effective, but it was unconventional. The truth is, I’m still sort of grinding on why it is that while this series is still very good on every level, this story isn’t working quite the same way for me that the first three did.
One thing I do know is this: if you choose the career of confidence trickster, you can’t really expect any pity when things go south on you. I’m been quite disconnected through this Laurent backstory, maybe in part because I’ve always found him the least likeable of the main group. But I think that’s also because Dorothy never won me over (the character design has some very unfortunate choices), and because honestly, what happened to her wasn’t all that surprising. The life these people were living isn’t a game, and she seemed to treat it like one. I appreciate that Laurent had the instinct to try and bail on it, but hey – shit happens. Rip dangerous people off for a living and there’s always a chance you’ll get the bad end.
I also find some of the gang’s rules to be hypocritical to say the least. You say “we never kill”, while sabotaging airplanes and causing them to crash in order to support a con? Sure, it reflects better on Oz that he got himself arrested deliberately to shelter from the Shanghai mob rather than actually abetting human trafficking, but he’s still a professional criminal who neglected and lied to his family. I think Makoto is the only one in the main cast whose instincts have been on target – the others (especially Laurent) try to convince themselves there’s something noble about what they do when in fact, they just dig the thrills and the money.
Makoto is, in fact, the moral center of Great Pretender and his absence from the last two episodes has been felt. It’s still not clear exactly what Oz’ last big scheme is, but it’s a sure bet more than ever that the executions of Cynthia and Abby were staged – the symmetry of it with Dorothy’s death is too perfect. Laurent is surely in this to revenge himself against Liu and Shanghai Trading, but where does that leave Makoto? I don’t see a tearful reconciliation with his father as a satisfactory or logical conclusion to his arc.
That’s the real question hanging over the final three episodes of “Wizard of Far East”, and how Great Pretender answers it is going to be very telling as to the lasting impression the show leaves. The spine of this story is Makoto trying to be a better man – better, specifically, than his father – and continually being dragged back down into the muck. Nothing we’ve seen in the first six eps of this arc changes that – his father may be a different sort of scoundrel than Makoto assumed him to be but he’s still a scoundrel. And Makoto’s desire to free himself from the world his father lived in was in no way misdirected – he was absolutely right to harbor it.