“This Side of Paradise” is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald published in 1920. It follows its protagonist from childhood to his early twenties, including his time in college and his life post-World War I. While I can think of a couple of ways this novel might be fitting, the origin of the title itself might be more relevant (or more direct) here.
“This side of paradise” comes from a phrase in “Tiare Tahiti.” It was written by Rupert Brooke, who was famous for his poems about World War I in the early 20th century. The phrase basically says that heaven is awaiting after death, but it’s followed by a line that conveys that times are harsh and there’s little comfort in the idea (“there is little comfort in the wise”). This can easily reference Griffin’s death and the effect it has on Max and Ash.
A lot happened again this week, but unlike previews episodes, this time the pace slows down; it takes a moment to breathe in and fully absorb pain.
Before continuing, I have good and bad news. The good news is that, just like with episode 1, the existence of that homophobic slur is not intentional; is an unfortunate translation choice rather than a part of the original script. The bad news is that the slur is a translation choice when there was no reason to go there. It’s frustrating and infuriating because these seemingly small choices are actively adding layers of homophobia that aren’t in the actual show.
A sharp revenge
Since we’re speaking of infuriating things! Absolutely no one needed to see that sick bastard threatening to rape Ash again. No one! But here we are. On a uh, different note, I can definitely see the cathartic value in Ash kicking him like a piece of trash he’s getting out of the way before, well. Let’s just say that the banana Ash stabbed last week in a scene with (questionable) comedic framing suddenly became foreshadowing.
It’s certainly brutal, and deliberatively so. Interesting changes include making those who rape and those who beat up Ash for both information and retaliation the same people, maybe to keep evil in one place, maybe for the sake of time and convenience. Originally, the one who almost gets choked in the cell was Ash’s rapist. That scene is an instance of Ash acting in self-defense, and him not letting go of the sheet (before Max stops him) could be seen as him losing himself in his anger in a situation that started as a way to keep his opponent incapacitated. In the new scene, after that merciless head-butt–that seems to have gotten his nose and that’s a lot of pain–his attacker goes down.
Ash could’ve walked away. Instead, he goes out of his way to lock his target, ominously prepare his weapon and strike. This is not just a moment of giving in to anger; it’s Ash deliberately choosing to have revenge. The framing gives power to an Ash who’s body language is telling us that he’s literally looking down on his enemy. It’s a quick moment that gives Ash the opportunity to make a decision, and the brutal retaliation clearly becomes a choice now, instead of possible circumstance. Ash is rightfully angry, and this rapist is not getting off with a slight head concussion anymore.
Innocence, death & powerlessness
We have already seen Shorter before, but he gets a little more spotlight in this episode. His color palette tells us a lot about him. Shorter wears bright yellow, which is not only very attention-graving, it can also convey his easygoing and bold personality. He has also worn orange before, which can be a youthful and energetic color. As bright as his yellow is, he wears gray and light denim blue underneath and over it respectively, which tones the color down a little. He’s not the only character with a “toned down” wardrobe in this episode.
I’ve mentioned this before and apparently, I’ll keep mentioning it a lot (I do love this color) but purple can foreshadow change or death. It doesn’t have to be literal but in this case, it is. Abraham, who Griffin connects to banana fish, wears a purple shirt and a purple tie. Griffin wears a pale blue shirt. I’ve mentioned last week that blue has passive qualities can make it a color of powerlessness, and perhaps nothing represents this better than pale blue. As soon as Abraham and Griffin face each other, the former panics and shoots the latter. It’s a fatal wound, so Griffin only lasts a few hours more. Purple and blue, in this case, foreshadow and reaffirm death and powerlessness respectively.
Ibe is another character who wears a powerless blue. Fortunately, his case isn’t fatal. He wears pale blue under a green jacket–like Eiji, he was worn green while “exploring” New York before–when he meets Eiji in China Town. Wearing this color, he has a little emotional outburst–revealing just how much Eiji made him worry–and learns about the dangerous banana fish situation in which Eiji is now involved.
Pink and blue had been established as Eiji’s colors, and they are present here in one way or another. Gray is rarely a perfect mix of black and white; Eiji’s gray also uses blue. He wears it with black when he receives Ibe and takes him to where Griffin, Shorter and the doctor are. It’s a bland color combination that certainly doesn’t attract any attention, but it’s calm, serious and dependable. He wears them as he explains the situation and banana fish along with the doctor.
While Abraham is presumably banana fish, there’s still mystery surrounding the drug Ash leaves with the doctor. Its duration is compared to LSD (to indicate that is longer) and its destructive power is explained with lab rats. During the explanation, the rats go from purple (foreshadowing death) to yellow (caution) to red (literally a bloodbath).
Later, Eiji wears a cardigan with brownish-pink tones (and his trademark nori² mascot). It’s barely any more attention graving than the grey he was wearing before, but it conveys his warm and caring personality. He wears that when we learn about Griffin’s death and starts to worry about the effect it will have on Ash.
Meanwhile, Ibe wears a pale yellow shirt, very similar to the color Eiji was wearing when he visited Ash in jail, and it conveys a very similar thing. He wears this color in a scene that gives us a hint of the reason behind Ibe bringing Eiji with him: Eiji was having a hard time. However, the situation has changed, and now Ibe’s trying to convince a very stubborn Eiji to go back to Japan out of concern for his safety. The color reaffirms that his intentions are pure.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, Ibe is a nice, caring man. He comes to the states to do journalist work on street gangs, but considering he comes from a country that has banned guns, it’s likely he hasn’t even seen a real one before. We know for sure that Eiji hasn’t. The point here is not in the gun itself, but in what they can represent: danger, violence, death.
Both Ibe and Eiji had the same scared reaction when they enter the bar to meet Ash for the first time, and Ibe feared danger just with Eiji asking to see Ash’s gun. Ibe is, of course, older and more mature than Eiji–who does things like stare at the NYPD precinct with wonder and compares it to the ones he sees on tv while Ibe shows mild exasperation. They both come from normal lives in Japan though, and both are fish out of the water when it comes to crime and violence in New York.
What we have here is not a simple cultural clash, it’s a clash of different worlds. We have already seen signs of this during the gun scene when Ash and Eiji first interact, but with Griffin’s death, the story practically slaps our faces with the concept. Wearing the color of purity, Ibe angrily mocks the concept of the “land of the free.” People, kids are being mercilessly killed, and the nice, well-meaning Ibe can’t help but feel anger and frustration at the situation.
Max & Ash
Last week’s episode spent a while introducing Max and setting up his relationship with Ash. By the end of the episode, it was clear that the boy was just too much for him. Ash’s personality by itself is certainly a lot, but being Griffin’s resentful little brother was something Max just could not deal with.
Max is someone who has been through a lot, yet he can’t help but still care. He has made mistakes that he’s now paying for; besides having to lose a close friend, we know that he feels guilty for what happened with Griffin. In this episode, we also learn that he will lose the custody of his son.
Ash being Griffin’s little brother is what drives Max away and towards him. Max is unable to truly face his guilt, but at the end, he’s just not capable of turning his back on Ash either. This is notable in all the instances where Max frantically looks for Ash out of concern and in his determination to get the latter to speak with his lawyer and get out of jail.
Perceptiveness, fights & catharsis
There had already been a couple of scenes meant to display Ash’s perceptiveness and calculating head. In this episode, it’s way more subtle, but it’s there. Someone goes to Ash to tell him that Max is looking for him, and Ash starts to answer that Max should be busy with other things before changing his expression to a knowing, challenging smile.
Little details like those are meant to tell us that he’s going with the knowledge that something will happen. Still, when Ash enters the room, we get a shot that makes it look like Ash is walking into a cage, foreshadowing that his attackers will have the upper hand–for a while. Soon, Ash finds a moment to use that fork to threaten the trash and tell them to get him a deal with Dino. I’ve already talked about what he does with that fork later.
Max shows up and tries to stop Ash from fighting, but–almost ironically–they both end up fighting instead.
Some minutes before this, Max learns about Griffin’s death. The framing makes him look lost and shaken, which might be the reason he ends up doing exactly what he was told not to. He slips up and mentions Griffin’s name, and that’s enough to get Ash’s attention.
Ash literally starts from the ground and rises up to meet Max’s gaze. While Max looks unsure, they stand equally strong. The only light comes from a window with a view of the outside world that separates them. Max tries to avoid telling him the truth, and when Ash asks him if he’s going to keep quiet and betray him “like he betrayed Griffin” it has a strong effect on Max, who gives in. In those shots, there’s always a window present. It’s a vulnerable moment for both of them, and the window (with light coming in) can symbolize the access we have to their true emotions.
When Max gives in and tells Ash the truth, the latter’s face is hidden from us after the initial shock. Instead, we see the bloody fork in the floor while Max tells him that Griffin was killed by Dino’s men. We don’t need to see Ash to get an idea of what’s going through his head. We have just seen what he did with that fork, and seeing it again is enough to tell us that he wants revenge.
Max tries to stop him, and everything finally explodes. Their fight ends up in a stalemate, not without a reason, and we only see their faces again when they exchange basically the same insult. It wasn’t a matter of who would win; the importance of this fight lies in both of them finally getting rid of all the negative emotions they had towards the other. It was a cathartic fight, basically.
Grief & scars from the war
Blue has been present on plenty of jail scenes now, but in this instance, it would be fitting to think of it as a sad blue. It’s a quiet, reflective and frankly depressing moment that reveals how much Griffin’s death truly affects Max and Ash.
For Max, it brings back memories of his time as a soldier. He remembers his service with sadness and bitterness, and claims that in a place where everyone was equally vile, Griffin was the only one he had. As he remembers this, we see deathly purples, smoke, bombs, destruction. A lost little girl surrounded by the ruins of what could’ve been her home. It never gets explicit, but it’s enough to understand Max’s feelings. The moment he says that he has a right to mourn, when he wishes–almost tearfully–he could’ve seen Griffin just one last time, that’s when we truly see how battered he is.
Max starts blaming Griffin’s fate to the latter’s own weakness before acknowledging that any sane person would have probably done the same. Griffin turned to drugs when the atrocities from the war became unbearable, and Max ultimately directs his anger to those who “make a profit out of people’s weaknesses.” Getting angry at those who use war to make a profit is certainly a perfectly understandable and relatable position.
Ash understands. He sympathizes with Max and opens up, sharing everything he knows about banana fish, acknowledging how he just needed someone to hate, and revealing what Griffin truly meant to him.
Based on Ash’s words, Griffin was the one who took care of him when he was a kid. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that perhaps, the only unconditional love Ash’s has ever know came from his brother.
It’s a scene where we see the pain, grief and the scars the war causes. We see its effect on mental health and just how hard it is for those who are left behind. War takes away our humanity, our sanity, and even those we love. By the time we meet Griffin, he was only a shell of what he used to be. We never got to know much of Griffin, but that was the point, because that Griffin was already gone. He couldn’t even function anymore. Not only did this war virtually killed this person, it greatly hurt those who loved him. Besides his own scars, Max lost a friend and Ash lost his family.
Ash finally accepts the drink Max offers him, which he has rejected at the beginning of the scene. Ash crying in front of Max, deciding to trust him and taking that drink it’s what cements their relationship. Drinking together symbolize what we already see; they finally understand each other. They’re on the same page now.
The episode ends on a quiet note. It’s a moment of silence for the fallen, for the pain of those who are left behind, and it’s reflective of the understanding these pained individuals have finally found.
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