Golden Kamuy Season 3
by Grant Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 3) ?
At Ako prison, Kiroranke and Shiraishi are drilling holes in the wooden walls by night. Under cover of darkness they are placing explosives in the holes, then using dirty snow to cover up their handiwork. They spend time scouting out the prison, finding out the best way to approach it, and conclude that they will go around the back via the Strait of Tartary. On the night of the raid they set off the explosives - except only one of the explosives goes off properly.
This signals to all parties that it is, officially speaking, Going Down™. Outside of the prison, Sugimoto and crew see the explosion and realize something is afoot. Inside the prison, Sofia begins takes out a guard and she and her fellow prisoners make a break for it. The prisoners run for the one hole in the wall but there is a tiger (!) waiting for them. This, rather expectedly and bloodily, complicates matters. The tiger starts slashing, while Sofia nad the prisoners do their best to subdue it which goes exactly as poorly as you'd expect.
Thankfully, another explosion goes off and opens another escape path. This is when Sofia links up with Kiroranke and crew, and recognizes Asirpa as Wilk's daughter. As they escape across the ice floes, Asirpa asks Sofia to tell her more about her father. Sofia and Kiroranke speak highly of him and relate many of the lessons he imparted. In particular he discusses the nature of the struggle of the many peoples beset by the encroachment of Russia. Soon they are interrupted as the ice floes begin to separate, and not far behind Sugimoto and company are pursuing them.
Further along, Sofia relates an event where she and Wilk were part of a group fleeing the secret police. An injured member of their party was moaning in pain from an injury and threatened to reveal them to their pursuers. But Wilk slit his throat quietly and they went undetected. Asirpa then reflects on a time involving hunting a baby bear when Wilk relayed a similar lesson: the weak lose, and are eaten. Sofia relates the instance of how when Wilk was younger he became attached to a lone wolf who the pack killed so as not to slow them down. That he then wanted to become like the wolves, a functional beauty with nothing wasted - and his father named him Wilk, which means wolf in Polish.
Asirpa recalls how he told her the name her mother had given him and that it was a secret name no one else could know. She has an epiphany about the tattoos, one which Ogata notices. In the final moments, the ice floes nearly take Shiraishi's life but Sugimoto shows up in time to save him and the episode draws to a close.
A truly engaging piece of television, if I'm being frank. For an episode that largely took place in flashbacks and exposition, this had me riveted. I have to admit that Wilk has not necessarily been the most interesting character for me up until this point. Other than his role as Asirpa's father/mentor and his important to her and the central plot hook, I did not find him all that engaging to learn about. But this single episode had me glued to the screen, and I think everything from the writing to the pacing to the direction was on point.
Wilk's life lessons blossom into the strongest central thesis of the show that I think we've seen thus far. Geopolitically, his objective is a rejection of the homogenizing forces of colonialism and fighting back against the eradication of cultures, languages, and ultimately people. Personally, this expression of a clinical and efficient strength which allows no weakness is at the heart of what he taught Asirpa - and in turn what she taught Sugimoto. This idea that ruthlessly efficient functionality has a beauty all its own is a really powerful through-line for everything that has happened thus far.
In line with that, I think the pacing here did a good job of bringing us to the most engaging material. I had expressed concern a few episodes back that there was a feeling of “Been there, done that” with yet another prison break, but the breakout at Ako is resolved relatively quickly (and with the fun extra addition of tiger wrestling). This allows us to get to the flashback sequences that are so evocative and effective.
The motif of wolves is also a powerful one. The through-line of wolves being a symbol both past and present, walking alongside them quite literally across the ice floes as a sort of present-tense analogue for their escape from the powerful forces pursuing them. It also works with tying in WIlk's theme and experiences as a child, not to mention the imparting of the “catching up with the wolf” name to Asirpa. Lastly, that hook of Ogata noticing Asirpa's realization brings him back into play as a menacing force hanging over her, and the tension is back front and center.
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