Thus far, the two separate parties have enjoyed fairly easy going across the subarctic lands of Karafuto, but Sugimoto’s team finally runs out of good luck when their dogsled convey hits a nasty blizzard. The two sleds are separated, and Sugimoto, Tanigaki, and Cikapasi must dig a hole in the frozen ground and destroy their sled to build a fire, which Tanigaki quickly buries so it will burn slower.
They pile the dogs on top and wait for one of two things: the blizzard to let up, or death. Tanigaki warns Sugimoto not to fall asleep or he’ll die, but he still has a semi-waking dream about his time in the trenches with Toraji, followed by a vision of Asirpa which underscores his longing to return “home”—i.e. to her side.
The second group, composed of Tsukishima, Koito, Enonoka and Henke, manage to find shelter in the form of an old pre-war lighthouse occupied by a kindly Russian couple. They put the soldiers to work cleaning the soot off the old lens so they can activate the light, which Sugimoto and Tanigaki eventually see and realize to be their salvation.
Up here in the colder wastes when the weather turns, there are no flags or allegiances beyond to your fellow man, and the hospitable Russian husband and wife are truly a welcome salve in a show packed with double-crossers and chiselers. The Japanese and Ainu kids get to taste borscht for the first time, and find it very vkusno (yummy).
They learn the couple aren’t empty-nesters by choice; one day a Russian defector came upon their home and took away their only daughter, Svetlana. As soon as we saw her photo I suspected we’ll meet her at some point in the future. As thanks for their kindness, Sugimoto tells the couple he’ll ask around for Svetlana’s whereabouts. In exchange, should Asirpa visit the lighthouse, he gives them a photo of himself along with the message that he’s still alive.
From there, Sugimoto’s group camps at an Ainu village near Niitoi, still well south of the border Asirpa & Co. have already crossed. There, Enonoka regales a weary Cikapasi of the local legend of the meko oyasi, or thieving mountain cat. Koito likens the cat to Ogata, since “mountain cat” was not only army slang for “geisha”, of which Ogata is a son, but because a mountain cat is synonymous with deception.
We learn that Asirpa heard the same story of the meko oyasi from her dad that Enonoka tells Cikapasi, and she even shared Cikapasi’s replies. Kiroranke tells her he and Wilk once made bank selling a cat’s pelt, though the meat wasn’t anything to write home about. Asirpa wants to know more, so Kiroranke is taking them to a woman who knew Wilk well: their boss Sofia, currently imprisoned in the prison in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, AKA Ako.
Like the meko oyasi, Sofia was an accomplished thief who stole to fund their anti-imperialist operations, earning her the nickname “Golden Hand”. We cut to her being whipped by a prison guard but laughing off the lashes; time and prison have clearly hardened her considerably. And while she’s no longer a young beauty, she just so happens to share a cell with none other than Svetlana, whom we see when Sofia receives a letter in invisible ink from her old subordinate Yulbars, AKA Kiroranke.
For all the raging testosterone of Sugimoto and the other soldiers, this season continues to cultivate a strong theme of feminism. Wilk and Kiroranke were led by a woman, and Wilk in turn raised his daughter to lead the Ainu into a new era. The introduction of Ako Prison, Sofia, and Svetlana presents the possibility that after Sugimoto and Asirpa split apart at one prison, they’re poised to reunite at another.