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!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 06 – The Great Destroyer

“Why are you enjoying this so much?”
“Because it’s not my problem.”
—Rikuo and Kinoshita on why I love this show

Just as things were attaining a semblance of balance, enter Yuzuhara Chika, Rikuo’s high school ex-girlfriend, her hair now kissed by bottled fire and voiced by the often fiery Kitamura Eri. She’s behind on rent and happened to be passing by, and asks if she can crash at Rikuo’s until she’s back on her feet financially.

That’s right, YwU is not quite done introducing new characters at the expense of the core trio. That’s probably in part due to the fact we’re now only a third through an 18-episode series, not halfway through a 12-parter.

Kinoshita warns Rikuo that Chika is a serial destroyer of bands due to her penchant for ginning up relationshop drama among the members. There’s every indication Chika came to Rikuo because she tends to use usable people and he’s an easy mark, but she proves to be a model freeloader, cooking, cleaning, welcoming him home, all things he’s used to doing alone.

One day while readying dinner, Chika mistakes Rikuo collapsing from fever for a sexual advance, and her eyes narrow as she consents…only Rikuo isn’t propositioning, he’s ill. And so the time arrives when Rikuo is in need of being nursed back to health, and Haru is nowhere to be found, because Rikuo hasn’t told her about Chika.

When they find out from Kinoshita that Rikuo is sick, it’s because Minako accidentally wandered to the konbini after drinking with her friends (who wouldn’t leave her alone about not ever being in a relationship) while Haru is already loitering there.

Whether due to her guilt about him “setting up her wires—i.e. relying on him when it’s convenient—or because she’s knocked back a few, or both, she accompanies Haru, and they share in the utter shock of a third pretty woman at Rikuo’s apartment that late at night.

Haru is NOT okay with this—Rikuo is as good as a cheater in her book—but while Minako is also upset, she says she only has herself to blame for rejecting him. Hearts are fickle, and expecting Rikuo to keep standing still and waiting for her wasn’t realistic.

After being confronted by a steamed Haru (and saying precisely the right thing to have a milk crate thrown in his face), Rikuo stops by Minako, but the sight of her expression…frightens him (in a nice touch, we never see the face he sees). Minako is angry too.

During another homemade meal, Chika and Rikuo talk more about why things ended and who they are. Chika plays the piano for a living and was always good at it, but at first it was because she was forced to play. She’s always wanted to be liked, and saying no can make people not like you, even if she’s never fallen in love or been “deeply invested” in anything. Sound familiar?

She also breaks it to Rikuo that telling him he didn’t understand her was just an excuse she gave to break up with him so she could date a new guy she liked more. “Understanding” her more, then or now, wouldn’t have made any difference, so there’s nothing for him to regret regarding that. I’m not sure if he should feel better or worse about that!

Minako stops by Rikuo’s again, and Chika finally clears the air, assuring her that she simply asked for help from a guy she knew would help, and doesn’t want “things to get ruined” because of her (again, allegedly). Yet again, Minako feels bad, because she’s not actually Rikuo’s girlfriend, as Chika initially assumes.

Chika dated Rikuo for just four months in high school, but Minako straight up turned him down! I’m sure her relief Chika is not interested is mixed with guilt that she has some kind of claim on Rikuo. But, well, she clearly does, doesn’t she? She never dismissed Haru’s declaration of war, and Chika’s sudden appearance on the battlefield put things in perspective.

I can harp on precious little time spent on the Haru/Minako/Rikuo triangle so that a new player could take the stage, but honestly I found Chika’s brutal honesty with her feelings and motivations refreshing, right up to her polite goodbye-and-thanks note, prompting one more charge of selfishness from Rikuo.

She came and went like a storm, but before she left she looked out into the sunset while smoking on the balcony (in a beautifully drawn and lit scene), with what seemed to be an internal debate in her head.

Should she stay, keep enjoying cooking and eating with the nice guy she once dated at the risk of blowing something up that was there before? Or should she leave, and later on look back fondly on those few days when she played house with an old flame? She chose to leave, but I wouldn’t mind if she wasn’t gone for good.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.