Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

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.