“Confidential File #620: Divine Right” sees Joran in a state of transition, with each of its protagonists at a personal crossroads following the assault on Janome's lair. Sawa's brother sacrificed himself to save her from the inferno, and her bloodlust has completely abated — she no longer wishes to be an instrument of vengeance, but Nue demands her skills and her devotion all the same. Makoto is down one arm and on the run from Nue, having formally been identified as Janome's successor, though his motives are as inscrutable as ever. Elena is pregnant, as it turns out, and even though her partner and ghost-writer knows he can't be certain of the baby's parentage, he is more than happy to accept the role of her baby's father, and now she is considering the possibility of a life beyond Nue for the very first time.
Seeing as Sawa, Elena, and the ghost-writer all end up dead by the end of the episode, we can deduce that Nue's severance package is…lacking, to say the least.
We'll start with Elena's death first, since it seems like the one that's most likely to stick. In Joran's brief but grand tradition, the impact of Elena's sudden demise hinges entirely on plot elements and character development that is introduced and resolved entirely in one episode. The presence of the kid at the end of Episode 4 hinted at her evolving stance on the value of children's lives, but to suddenly find out that she is pregnant and in a loving relationship, only for it all to be used as emotional fodder when Nue reneges on their deal to relocate her family so they can burn the couple to death instead? That's a big ask, on Joran's part.
For me, at least, I think it works well enough. Joran has always possessed the rhythms of a gory theatrical melodrama, rather than a coherently serialized drama. If you imagine all of the characters performing their lines on an exceedingly pretty stage, twists like Elena's death work better. I didn't exactly feel sad to see her (probably) get killed off, but I recognized the dramatic function of her death, and I can accept it. Besides, the show goes out of its way to cover up the bodies when Sawa encounters them, and given that Nue and Makoto are prone to elaborate acts of subterfuge, I wouldn't be surprised to see Elena return to claim the spotlight, someday.
That brings us to Sawa's fate, which feels much less genuine and permanent. For one, her characterization leading up to her “death” is a bit all over the place — all of a sudden, during the episode's singular action scene, she's straight-up trembling at the very thought of taking someone's life — but sure, whatever, I'll go with it. The trauma of losing a brother (again), on top of realizing there has nothing to give your life meaning, is enough to make anyone act a little kooky. Still, I can't believe that the show would kill her off like this, not just halfway through the season, but halfway through a character-arc-already-in-progress. Admittedly, I can totally envision a scenario wherein we flash-forward to an older Asahi that is taking on the mantle of Lady Vengeance, but the story can't justify that turn just yet.
Besides, Asahi got those pills from Makoto, and we already know he's a tricksy son-of-a-bitch. All this time, the show's made out like his grand plan to “free” her from her “cage” was to give her the head of Janome on a platter, and then…watch her burn to death, I guess? Poetic, maybe, but pretty silly. Perhaps his scheme to free her is a bit more metaphorical, wherein she will find a way to join him and exact and even vengeance-ier wrath upon Nue themselves, since, c'mon, we all know that the Shogun is totally going to be the Big Bad of the series, right?
Or maybe I'm full of shit, and Joran really is going to kill Sawa off with a full seven episodes left to go! Weirder things have happened, I suppose, and this series is banking on its endless avalanche of twists to keep its audience hooked. This might not have been the most thrilling episode ever, but it did its job in piquing my curiosity. We'll just have to see if the next act of this story will be able to deliver the goods.
Odds and Ends
• I really do have to say that, as silly as it is, I can't help but be charmed by Sawa and Asahi's insane relationship. The casual way in which the story has approached a little girl working herself up to murder the closest thing she has left to a person that gives a damn about her in cold blood is simply perfect.
• Another thing I can't help but love? The show's commitment to its gorgeous aesthetic. Give me enough shots like this and I'm putty in your hands.