by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Banana Fish ?
Banana Fish makes a direct reference to the literary work in its title this week. It's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," a short story by Ernest Hemingway about a doomed couple camping on the mountain. The leopard Ash discusses in his conversation with Eiji in the episode opens the story, symbolizing the fate of the main character—who also wanders out of his "habitat" to a remote wilderness, succumbing to preventable wounds. Ash seemingly takes the "wrong" message from the story, seeing himself as doomed to find a "place of no return" like that leopard, but Eiji reminds Ash that humans can change our fates. We have wisdom that animals do not.
It's an interesting story to have hanging over this episode, which is also preoccupied with fate, death, and the extent to which we can impact either of those. It's also an episode that illustrates how living with these constant preoccupations has warped Ash's view of the world and himself. It's not a bad place to return to Banana Fish from a week off. This episode is full of what the series does best: subtle character drama that requires your attention. I really appreciated that these characters are understood as people, not just as plot points and means to a story's end, which Banana Fish can unfortunately dip into in its weaker moments.
One such character is Arthur, who gets that classic last-minute burst of character development before someone is slated to die. "The Snows of Kiliminjaro" really digs into how personal his beef with Ash has been. Before, Arthur just felt like a particularly bloodthirsty second-in-command for Golzine. Now we see his resentment runs deeper to the way that Ash has always been singled out as the favorite of the mob with his effortless talent. Arthur isn't like that, and somehow the fact that Ash didn't ask for his talents or want them makes Arthur hate him even more. His interesting bit of double talk comes after Ash evades him on the subway, telling his starstruck henchmen that Ash is "just human!"
Yet we see that Arthur himself doesn't really believe this. He's also in awe of Ash's abilities, knowing full well that Ash is a stronger fighter. If he didn't, why would he need to pull the subway trick to defeat him? Arthur should feel like he could take Ash in a fair fight, but he knows he can't, which is why in every showdown they've had, he's tried to cheat in some way. It also reinforces the connections Arthur possesses that Ash no longer does, since he's able to shut down a whole subway line for this. (I also appreciated the depiction of that particular aspect of New York life, as someone who struggled with subway construction shutdowns last time I was there. Even if it's unrealistic in execution, this felt closer to home than some of its other depictions of the city.)
This big fight is juxtaposed with tender moments focusing on Ash and Eiji's relationship. It really hits home the way that these two come from "different worlds"; while Ash is fighting for his life on the subway train, picking off Arthur's mooks, Eiji is back at their apartment, processing his feelings for Ash over tender romantic music. If the framing isn't enough for you, Eiji spells it out explicitly. The awful things Ash has experienced have taken their toll on him, and even if he closes that off to the rest of the world, he still shows this to Eiji—intentionally or unintentionally.
I also found this scene interesting in terms of framing. While the visuals keep reminding you that Ash and Eiji do indeed inhabit separate beds, Eiji talks about him with an intimacy where if you heard the lines out of context, you'd think ottherwise. Plus, there's romantic music playing. It's pretty clear what we're supposed to think about who these two are to each other. It reminds me of all those old Hollywood movies where they showed married couples sleeping in separate beds, like that was going to fool anyone.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but I think their relationship is relevant in an episode that seems to be so concerned with how that relationship impacts their choices. That's the other big thread of this episode, how Ash's attempts at "selflessness" toward Eiji are really selfish in nature. We see the truth of that in his final line, where we learn it's more about him being afraid to share this side of his life with Eiji, to have him see Ash at what he considers his worst, than it is about protecting him. But throughout the episode, Ash leads us to believe it's about Eiji's safety, while other characters (mainly Eiji himself) give us glimpses of the truth.
Ash's underlings are also beginning to catch on. I thought it was notable that they compared Ash's bond with Eiji to that with Skip, but they seem to realize over the course of the episode that this isn't true. Eiji occupies a truly special place in Ash's life, as the parallels with that past girlfriend showed us last week—he's so special in fact, that Ash seems to have "Eiji-dar" in that last scene, picking out his voice from a crowd. As Ash's gang realizes why Eiji wants to stick around, they end up helping find him rather than going to the airport. Even if Ash is in denial about the importance of this relationship to him, others can help him see the light.
Of course, the truth is that while having people he loves around give him more "weaknesses" for enemies to exploit, love is also his strength. Eiji grounds him, keeping Ash from going off the deep end—acting as a conscience while reminding him that he'll always be worthy of love, even when he can't see it for himself. Eiji also gets to see a more vulnerable side of Ash than anyone else; he's the one person who knows that he's not just the untouchable genius mob boss façade he presents to the world. Ash doesn't really have anyone else in his life like that, with the death of his brother and other close friends. So Ash pushes Eiji away at his own peril. That's the message of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"; while main character HARRY bemoans how his creature comforts and wealthy wives have made him too soft as a writer, it's his isolation on the mountain—pushing away even Helen, the woman who accompanied him—that kills him. I hope Ash gets a chance to re-read it soon, because maybe he should remember more than just the striking visual of that dead leopard.
Maybe it's because the show took a week off, but this strikes me as a particularly elegant episode. Everything about this week's installment feels exquisitely deliberate, particularly the shifts between Ash and Eiji's stories and what that structure says about both of them. With seemingly everyone off to prison, hopefully the show can continue to use all the different characters and stories it's telling well in the future.
Banana Fish is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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