Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.

Great Pretender – 12 – The Unfathomable Subtleties of a Woman’s Heart

The con moves to London, with Makoto spearheading a revenge scam against art appraiser James Coleman. It starts with Abby approaching him and asking to be his protege, while Makoto and Kudou bug the house of Farrah Brown, a wealthy woman who buys the art he doesn’t want to sell at auction, and is also Coleman’s lover. That they’re able to plant bugs under the pretense of checking Farrah’s house for literal bugs is a nice touch.

When the team hears the recording of Farrah and James in bed, Abby concludes that Farrah is simply “a stupid woman”, but Laurent corrects her: she probably does know she’s being used, but “tells herself she doesn’t notice”—either because she genuinely values James’ companionship and attention or for some other reason only she knows.

In any case, this is an episode that may have more Cynthia than any other, and that’s a very good thing, as we see her separate from everyone else working a con of her own…or is it a con? This arc is called Snow of London after the Montoya piece, but the card used for the arc features the silhouettes of a couple I initially thought it was Cynthia and Laurent.

Turns out the man in the silhouette is Thomas, a starving London artist in the throes of painter’s block when he meets Cynthia, who is, presumably years ago, working at the cafe by his flat. The two have an instant easy chemistry, and eventually Thomas goes for broke and asks Cynthia to model for him.

In between taking dance classes and auditioning for acting roles, Cynthia ends up hitting it off with Thomas and becomes his muse. He paints gorgeous portraits of her that are filled with obvious love for the subject. Her stolen glances of the painter show that a part of her seems to be falling for him.

For all its lack of drug lab shootouts and planes threading through skyscrapers, this might just be my favorite episode of Great Pretender yet. It’s certainly the most human and intimate-feeling, with the coldness of London in winter creating a warm cozy atmosphere to the scenes with Cynthia and Thomas.

As this understated romance is taking place in the past, back in the present the gang scores a major victory. Snow of London comes up for auction and Laurent manages to outbid Farrah to get the painting back—for £30 million!—which Cynthia must liquidate some real estate to secure. It’s a slick case of Coleman’s greed (in this case having to accept the highest bid) undermining his own artwork-hoarding operation.

Still, Coleman thinks it could one day be worth ten times that, so he’s furious Farrah gave up. Knowing how Farrah operates, the team knows they can use her doghouse status with Coleman to compel her to buy back the painting in order to get back into his good graces. But the Snow of London they sell her won’t be the one Cynthia bought, but a fake.

Makoto gives forgery the ol’ college try, but he can only do so much with no experience, little practice and scant time. But as we know, Cynthia already knows an artist with the talent to reproduce Montoya’s masterpiece.

Back in the past, Coleman happens by Thomas’ painting stall and is duly impressed by the man’s reproductions, telling him straight-up that he’d do very well indeed in the world of forgery. This may be the genesis for the reasoning behind Cynthia’s present beef with Coleman, and why she wants to bilk him for as much as she can.

Great Pretender – 11 – Mr. Nice Guy

After the high-rolling glitz and glamour of LaLaLand and Singapore, Great Pretender’s newest destination of Nice feels downright quaint … and that’s not a bad thing! Makoto may have followed Laurent and Cynthia to France, but he’s determined to walk away from con artistry and make an honest living at one of Nice’s not-so-famed sushi restaurants.

Unfortunately both his philosophy towards sushi and the language barrier prove to be dual challenges. On the bright side, his boarding house is cheap, has great food, and the owner’s daughter is quite lovely. But when a hoity-toity Englishman samples Makoto’s boss’ sushi and absolutely eviscerates him with withering criticism, the boss is ready to throw in the towel and return to China.

Another blow comes when Makoto gradually learns that his lovely hosts will soon sell their boarding house due to debts owed by the owner’s wife. Soon to be out of a job and a home, what’s Makoto to do? Run a con, obviously! Specifically, he intends to sell an intriguing little painting hanging on the wall for a sum sufficient to help the father-daughter duo pay off the debt and keep the house.

While it’s technically a con, Makoto’s justifications for re-re-breaking bad are twofold: one, it’s to help people out—he’s a Nice guy in Nice, after all—and two, the target is the hoity-toity Englishman who insulted his sushi boss. So he calls in Cynthia, Abby, and Sudou—though pointedly keeps Laurent out of it. Maybe my favorite part of the episode is his quiet, understated reunion and quasi-date with Abby. The two have clearly become closer since their little skydive!

Since this is Makoto’s show, Cynthia lets him run it, but the moment she sees the Englishman she calls for everyone to pull out. After all, the guy is none other than Coleman … James Coleman, Art Appraiser par excellence. Trying to fool him is a fool’s errand. Makoto doesn’t abort, however, and to Abby’s surprise Coleman is happy to buy the seemingly worthless painting for twenty-five thousand Euros.

Turns out the joke was on Makoto: the painting was a genuing Montoya, and a rare lost one at that which Coleman had apparently been looking for for years. He bought it for 25 thousand, but it’s really worth over 20 million—something Makoto’s landlord and daughter learn on the news.

But while they still got twenty thousand (Makoto didn’t keep any for himself, the other five split between Abby and Sudou), it still doesn’t sit right with Makoto that they were the ones taken for a ride. Despite not taking any of the cut, Cynthia is also outraged, and when she gets drunk enough, she decides that their next move is to get the painting back!

Great Pretender – 10 – Throwing Off Gravity’s Chains

When Abby asks Luis about his role in the bombings that killed her folks, he’s really in the mood to come away from the conversation with his life intact, so he says what he thinks will provoke her into killing him the fastest: “taking a dump” on Baghdad was doing his duty, and he couldn’t give two shits about whoever died because of it.

That does the trick; both he and were fully ready to let things end bloody. Then Makoto tackles Abby before she can do the dead. It’s his first step in, well, I can’t call it a “con” per se, but it’s definitely a scheme to create a different kind of end: One that could mean redemption for both tortured souls.

Taking advice from Cynthia, Makoto doesn’t pry into what happened with Abby and Luis, but is simply there for her as she looks out onto the city, wrestling with her grief, rage and helplessness, assuring her she’s not the only one suffering. Interestingly, he already had a bit of an effect on Abby when she spots a capsule toy dispenser and decides to buy one as a fortune good luck charm.

Abby thinks Makoto is full of shit, but she also doesn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, the figurine she acquires has special significance to her situation: historical “bad guy” Akechi Mitsuhide, who betrayed his lord like Brutus did to Caesar—presumably because they didn’t share the same values.

As Isabelle shares with Makoto (with Abby listening close by), Luis suffered PTSD after his tour of duty, and took up stunt piloting in order to satisfy his need to continue putting his miserable life on the line, a pattern virtually identical to the similarly-scarred Abby’s.

When they grudgingly meet with Makoto as a go-between, Luis points out that he and Abby won’t agree on much as long as they’re still alive, as if their beating hearts are anomalies in the universe that must be snuffed out in order to restore balance.

But again, Makoto thinks he has an equitable solution which will break both parties out of their respective funks. It starts with putting Luis back in the cockpit, in Abby’s place. When she pulled a knife on him he stood up from his wheelchair, leading Makoto to deduce that his physical injuries weren’t sufficient to keep him out of a plane. Instead, he needed an emotional reason to get back in: a chance to settle a score with his protege Clark.

When he’s back in the cockpit, it’s as if a switch is flipped. Having calmed down from their earlier scuffle, Luis brings Abby in close before he takes off, and says something she had no idea how much she needed to hear. It was only two words—I’m sorry—but they mean everything, because he means them.

Laurent put Makoto in Clark’s hanger so he could sabotage the engine when the time came to pit Abby against Clark, but he doesn’t sabotage it. In order for this race between Clark and Luis to matter, it has to be real, and make no mistake: Clark prefers it that way just as much as Luis having taken no pleasure in his role in the fixed results.

What results is the best race sequence the show has yet delivered. Photoshoppy color banding aside, the dogfighting planes against the vivid Singapore skyline have never looked better, and there’s a nice bittersweet symmetry to their air ballet being set to the same music as Abby’s last recital years ago.

In the end, Clark manages to eke out a win over his master, who after all hadn’t been in a cockpit in years. Still, it was close and thrilling. We know who wins because the color of the fireworks matches the victor’s plane color. Sam may have bet everything on Clark, but since Laurent arranged for a special doctored video feed and installed color-changing cellophane on the casino’s windows, Sam believes that Abby won, and that he lost everything…

Of course, he does lose—just not due to betting on the wrong pilot! In this regard, Laurent & Co. relied on quite a bit of luck in their win, as the winner of a no-holds-barred race between Clark and Luis was not altogether known. By the time Sam realizes he was swindled, Laurent, Kim and Kudou have already fled with the cash to a yacht.

In a way, just as Clark was able to learn through Luis how to be a better pilot (and let’s be honest, he’s definitely the more honorable of the two brothers), by watching Luis essentially regain his desire to live up in the sky serves a similar experience for Abby.

If that old fart can put the past behind him and take back his life, maybe she can to. His genuine apology also goes a long way towards her ultimately forgiving the guy, since that’s the first step in her moving on to whatever’s next.

When Abby and Makoto visit the abandoned casino, they are trapped and shot at by Sam and his men. Thankfully, Abby is still in her flight suit, so Makoto embraces her and leaps out the window to “give dying together a go”. The chute works and they land safely in the water for Laurent to fish them out.

It’s without doubt the scariest thing Makoto has ever done, and his face says as such, but damn it all if it’s not worth it to finally see Abigail Jones’ genuine, radiant smile! That makes for one hell of a strong ending to the Singapore Sky arc.

Great Pretender – 09 – Shock & Awe

In Singapore Sky we’ve had two storylines running in parallel: the Thierry gang’s efforts to bilk the Ibrahims out of their fortune through air racing, and the slow reveal of Abby’s Dark Past and her apparent ongoing death wish. While the two plotlines bear little in common, this week it’s starting to become clearer why they occupy the same arc.

The biggest issue for Laurent and Cynthia is whether Abby can stay alive long enough for their scam to pay off. Makoto proves he’s a born con man by effortlessly luring Sam and his millions into the phony underground casino, but Abby’s continued deteroiration concerns him, and not in terms of whether she’ll cost him money. He wants to learn more about Abby’s story, and help if he can.

It’s what sets Makoto apart from his more emotionally detached partners, but they haven’t gotten as far as they have with their conning if it weren’t for that commitment to detachment, or at least compartmentalization. Laruent and Cynthia may well care a great deal about Abby, but they have a job to do, and trying to break down Abby’s walls could threaten that job and Abby herself.

Meeting Luis Muller was a catalyst for Abby’s continued descent into her traumatic memories. While she had loving parents and early success in ballet, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad claimed those parents’ lives, and Abby channeled her physical talents into what from her perspective was freedom fighting. Unfortunately, this ended in abject defeat, and while her comrades died all around her she was cursed with the good luck to survive.

Back in the present, Makoto has Sam eating out of his hand, getting him to bet 2.5 million on a race he then loses because, deliciously ironically, Cynthia is able to successfully seduce the baby-faced young pilot he bets on, which lets Abby slip a compound into the engine that causes his plane to stall out.

Since this was the first time Sam trusted Makoto to wager his cash (having been banned from the casino by Laurent after “discovering” his secret identity) you’d understand Sam suspecting Makoto of being In On It. But when he points his gun at Makoto’s head, it’s not because he suspects Makoto at all—he’s just pissed off in general.

The gang may have made millions off him already, but Makoto didn’t lose his trust, so they can still milk him for more, knowing his frustration and insatiable greed for winning and money will continue to drive his actions.

Abby, meanwhile, quietly does her job when she needs to, and one night she goes out for a walk with Luis Muller so she can confirm what she suspects: he was one of if not the fighter pilot who dropped the bombs on her hometown, killed her parents, and ruined her life. Her knife is literally out when she broaches the topic, which means whether Luis denies it or not, she’s ready to exact revenge.

Extremely strict Singaporean laws notwithstanding, murdering Luis is most definitely not on the list of things Laurent and Cynthia want to happen just as they’re ready to finish cleaning the Ibrahims out. And while we saw what she did to a dummy with her knife, I believe we’ve yet to witness Abby definitively kill anyone, even in the past where the fog of war throws all in doubt.

That would make Luis her first, and who knows how that will affect her in or out of a cockpit. As Cynthia tells Makoto, knowing someone’s story is different from understanding how they feel. Well, it looks like we’re poised to find out just how Abby feels about a great many things, and what if anything Makoto can do.

Great Pretender – 08 – Tinker, Gambler, Soldier, Fly

The plan is to get Sam to join an underground casino the gang controls and squeeze him for all he’s worth. When Cynthia’s honeypot angle fails (Sam likes ’em young), and Abby refuses to be her replacement, Laurent is ready with a backup: Makoto. Specifically, his skills as a mechanic. In order to sell him, he brings in Luis Muller (Clark’s rival in the air who was nearly killed in an accident) and his attractive, patient wife Isabelle.

Thing is, Luis is only interested in one thing: revenge. He wants Sam and Clark dead and their entire race burned to the ground, but isn’t willing to stoop to a con to accomplish that. He’s also a bit…unbalanced since the accident. Fortunately Isabelle is steady as a rock and comports herself well in selling Makoto as a desirable mechanic, even though it’s her very first time participating in a con.

Clark is eventually sold by Makoto’s mechanical know-how, but Sam is on the fence. Clark thinks he’s a cheeky but otherwise “nice guy” but Sam, being a self-professed “bad guy” can sense that Makoto is more like him than he lets on. That belief is confirmed thanks to Laurent’s use of Mrs. Kim and some goons to pose as Muller’s “patroness” who are looking to hang Makoto out to dry for double-crossing her pilot.

Sam eats right into their hands, claiming Makoto as his “property” and “buying” him off of Mrs. Kim. The kicker is when he hears about the underground casino to which Makoto has connections. Sam may not fall for pretty faces like Abby’s or Cynthia’s, but he certainly falls for the prospect of betting on pilots and making more money on the side, especially as it caters to his bad-guy image.

One thing I like about Sam (who is otherwise a scumbag) is that you’re never 100% sure whether he’s buying what the con artists are selling, or simply going along for the ride to see where it goes. As for Abby, she’s interested in learning whether Luis was really a soldier, and when and where he operated, as he may have played a role in her own dark, traumatic militant past. That said, you can only have so many shots of Abby staring stoically out of windows!

Great Pretender – 07 – Skybrawl

Team Confidence heads to Singapore, where Makoto sees the Ibrahim brothers in action for the first time. While Clark plays the flashy playboy, Sam is the ruthless wheeler-dealer. The pair bought up the struggling race and have since made it a fixed affair a la WWE—all the winners and losers are chosen ahead of time.

Watching racing planes swoop over around and through Singapore’s futuristic skyline is fun, but the pulse-heightening action is once again hurt by a lot of obvious CGI and harshly posterized photo-based scenery. It’s an aesthetic that works sometimes, but often comes off as cheap.

The night after prelims, in which Abby just manages to qualify for the race by the skin of her teeth, she and Cynthia to the brothers at the rooftop pool of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. While Abby skinny dips and plays hard to get with the already-smitten Clark, Sam proves a more stoic nut to crack, but Cynthia seemingly convinces him that she’s enough of a rising star to promote—and ensure she’ll win the next race.

While we often see Clark carousing with ladies, this is still a PG-13-equivalent anime, so it call comes of as pretty chaste, especially when he doesn’t push for a more intimate rendezvous with Abby. She retires early for the night, but probably doesn’t get much sleep, as ever since she started flying she’s been getting flashbacks from her Dark Past.

The next day, Sam doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and the veteran pilot steals the lead from Abby. When Cynthia gently protests, Sam drops any semblance of a nice guy act and tells her he neither promised nor owes Cynthia a damn thing, and proceeds to go into a bitter misogynist rant that you know he’ll pay for later. Abby has another flashback in the cockpit, but Makoto is able to snap her out of it via radio headset, and she ekes out a photo-finish victory.

From what I gather, Abby was at one point an award-winning ballerina whose life was suddenly turned upside down. At some point she became separated from her parents, ended up in a terrorists training facility, and got caught in a fierce battle where her comrades were cut to ribbons. When Makoto asks why Abby is in the con artist business at all, Laurent’s answer is simple and devastating: Abby is trying to find the right way to die.

We’ve seen her flashbacks and heard a bit about her from Laurent, but the fact remains Abby’s said very little herself—either about herself or anything else—in the past seven episodes. Will Makoto, con man with a conscience, seek to talk her out of her apparent death wish? Will Abby ever be in the mood to listen? All I know is, they’d better inspect her plane thoroughly for sabotage before her race against Clark.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

Great Pretender – 02 – Sins of the Father

When Abby cuts Makoto down from the HOLLYWOOD sign, he falls quite a ways and gets knocked out, which is the perfect opportunity to get into his backstory. “Edamame” the con man used to be clean as a whistle, you see. All he wanted to do was make his bedridden mom proud, but he was hired by a company that turned out to be perpetrating consumer fraud. He just thought they were selling a quality health tea product.

The fuzz raid the office and he’s arrested with everyone else. No one believes he was unaware that a crime was being committed, thanks to the ages-old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Because his father was a convicted criminal, he’s suspected of simply following in ol’ dad’s footsteps. He goes away for eighteen months and his mom passes away. But since everyone in the world assumes the worst of him, the only thing to do is lean into the skid.

The newly conscious Makoto has a luxurious seaside lunch as Laurent explains that after spreading rumors of a hot new drug, Eddie Cassano wanted to meet the Japanese researcher who designed it. He hired the water filter lady he scammed as well as Kudou and his old crew to basically put Makoto through his con artist paces, and he passed with flying colors. He also knows Makoto’s past, and considers it an added bonus that beneath the hardened con man one is an innocent, pure-hearted mama’s boy.

That night, Laurent leaves Makoto at his swanky pad with Abby to keep an eye on him. Convinced that the plan will go south and they’ll all be killed, Makoto tries to sneak out, but Abby puts him in a bodylock. Despite this, Makoto is able to pick a bent gold medal from her pocket. She ultimately lets him go, believing him useless as long as he doesn’t want to be there, and warning him Cassano’s men will be watching both him and the airport.

Makoto ends up getting one over on both Abby and Laurent, as they assume they’ve lost him and have to start over at square one, only for Cassano to tell them Makoto’s already there and closed the deal for double the original price. It stung when Laurent said there were no good con artists in Japan, especially when he believes Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who rose from a peasant background to unify the country, to be the greatest con artist in history.

I’m still not a fan of the posterized photo-based backgrounds, but no one can accuse this show of not being colorful enough; that poppy pink-and-yellow lunch was pure Vice City. While neither Makoto’s past nor the trio’s present mission is nothing original, it still manages to be pleasantly diverting.