After announcing that production on “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020” was going on hiatus and then going quiet on us for a few weeks, Netflix released a brand new episode like a gift from the television gods offering some small relief from the current pandemic.

At first, I was thrilled. I missed laughing at Yama-chan and You’s jokes and watching the housemates’ relationships develop (with a few exceptions). But then I realized I would be slogging through 40-odd minutes of Toshiyuki pawing at Yume, and felt nostalgic for the days when the burgeoning romances on the show made my heart flutter, not sink.

When Yama-chan, the only commentator to appear in this episode due to social distancing efforts, brought out a notebook with “hell” written on the cover, it seemed like a fitting description for watching the ongoing “courtship” between Toshiyuki and Yume, one of the least romantic pairings on TV I’ve ever seen (and I used to watch “Gossip Girl”).

The two are moving ahead with their plans to visit Hokkaido together, discussing their trip at a Japanese barbecue restaurant that opened early after Toshiyuki pulled some strings. Yume one-ups him by saying she has a friend who can let them use their vacation home in Hokkaido for free. When the conversation switches to Yume’s current top pick for potential romantic interests after Reo’s arrival, she hesitates to give a clear answer but eventually says Toshiyuki is still her first choice.

Shion and Hana head out to an Egyptian restaurant for dinner — and yes, they dress up in traditional outfits, which Shion also did on his date with Vivi. Does he have a thing for this? They talk about how Toshiyuki acts possessive whenever another guy tries to get close to Yume, which could be foreshadowing because we then see Reo inviting Yume up to the playroom for a chat about her romantic inclinations.

Walk like an Egyptian: Shion (left) and Hana try on Egyptian outfits while out to dinner on 'Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.' | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT
Walk like an Egyptian: Shion (left) and Hana try on Egyptian outfits while out to dinner on ‘Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.’ | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT

Reo says what everyone seems to be thinking: By going to Hokkaido with Toshiyuki, Yume must be ready to start officially dating him. Yume looks surprised to hear this, giving the same old line on how she can’t resist being pursued and that Toshiyuki has simply been relentless. “I could end up being dragged along forever,” she says, almost wistfully. But what if Reo were to throw his hat in the ring as well? “I’d be in trouble,” Yume answers with a laugh, making Reo blush. Yume tells him that the house has been more fun since he moved in and that she’s going to decide what to do about Toshiyuki in Hokkaido. I have a sneaking suspicion Toshiyuki will somehow end up making the decision for her.

Back in the men’s bedroom, Toshiyuki tells Shion that he’s going to ask Yume to make things official in Hokkaido. He thinks he has a shot at coupling up with her since she’s already agreed to go away with him. If it turns out badly, though, “we’ll return home separately,” he says. “Or I just won’t come home. … I’ll call it quits in Sapporo.” Fingers crossed.

Before flying up north with Toshiyuki, though, Yume goes on a date with Shion that thankfully doesn’t involve an outfit change. I’m momentarily distracted by Shion’s jeans, which look like they have pleats or seams going down the front, but Yume’s admission that she doesn’t know whether she actually likes Toshiyuki or not pulls me right back in.

“When he’s not actively aiming his attention my way, I’m not sure if I actually have feelings for him,” she says. Shion repeats the same sentiment Reo told Yume earlier, which is that by going to Hokkaido, she might be leading Toshiyuki on.

Even the cameraperson thinks so. Back at the house we see Toshiyuki with his arm around Yume, and the camera lingers on it as if to say, “See? She’s totally leading him on!” After rubbing her hand in a way that he must think is romantic, Toshiyuki asks Yume if she’s able to touch other people in a similar way. “No,” she giggles, “not in this house,” and it’s not something she feels comfortable doing with her male friends. She assures Toshiyuki that they’re not “just friends,” but she’s still not sure if she wants to date him yet. As the two get ready to head off to bed, Toshiyuki pulls Yume in for a hug that turns into an awkward chokehold. (I haven’t seen chemistry this bad since Blair Waldorf dated that random lord with the fake accent.)

Cupid's chokehold: Toshiyuki and Yume (left) share an awkward goodnight hug on 'Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.' | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT
Cupid’s chokehold: Toshiyuki and Yume (left) share an awkward goodnight hug on ‘Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.’ | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT

Meanwhile, in the women’s bedroom, Reo has a one-on-one with Vivi about their recent road trip to the beach. Vivi beams as she says she had a lovely time, going as far to say, “I’m under your spell.” Reo answers, “I hope to keep it that way,” before mentioning that he keeps looking at photos from their date, something Vivi has been doing as well. Vivi is starting to get the look of a smitten kitten, something we haven’t seen since Ryo was around.

Vivi says the atmosphere has changed since Reo joined the house, and I agree with her. All the housemates seem to relax and have more fun around him, but he also has other attractive qualities, which are on full display when he and Hana go out for a bite to eat. Not only does Reo show that he’s observant enough to notice Vivi’s things have been disappearing around the house — which probably means she’s leaving “Terrace House” soon — he gives Hana thoughtful advice about romantic relationships.

On top of that, before his trip to Australia, Reo gives Valentine’s Day presents to Hana and Yume, putting the empty-handed Shion and Toshiyuki to shame. After silently sipping his tea with an expression close to a glower, Toshiyuki heads upstairs to bed early. Is it just me, or does Reo’s little smirk mean he enjoys getting under Toshiyuki’s skin?

Finally, Toshiyuki and Yume head off to Hokkaido. The pair buy ¥17,050 worth of fresh seafood at a market, take a glass-blowing class, wander the snowy city streets and tuck into a Hokkaido specialty, jingisukan (grilled mutton or lamb). After clinking glasses, Toshiyuki immediately asks Yume about her first kiss — and her first time — before letting loose a Freudian slip about lady parts while poking at some bell peppers. While he clearly needs to chill a little, he seems determined to get drunk (“My goal is to black out in Sapporo”) because this trip has a lot riding on it (“I came knowing that I might die”). I can’t help but hope that Yume makes it back to Tokyo unscathed.

After dinner, the pair relocate to a dimly lit bar where Toshiyuki coaxes Yume into chugging champagne and downing a shot of tequila. “You need to catch up with me,” he tells her, even though we never see him drink his shot. Yume seems game enough, but pressuring a woman to drink a lot is not a seduction technique, it’s predatory.

When he’s had his fill of liquid courage, Toshiyuki decides it’s time for the moment of truth: “Spending the whole day with you, I’ve had so much fun. It made me like you even more. So, if you feel similarly, would you be my girlfriend?”

The episode ends before Yume gives her answer, and all I am left with is the feeling that I have never rooted for two people to get together less. Even “Gossip Girl” step-siblings Serena van der Woodsen and Dan Humphrey made more sense.

The good news is we’ll find out Toshiyuki’s fate next week with another new episode with the vague title, “Woman Who Makes Everyone Dream.”

Stray observation

  • There’s a short scene where we see Yume at work on a photo shoot, wearing two different revealing outfits. She’s been clear from the beginning that she’s a swimsuit model, but the way this particular scene frames her, along with Toshiyuki’s questions about her sexual experience, smacks of objectification. “Terrace House” has a tendency to show close-ups of the female housemates’ bodies, and after seeing Toshiyuki’s aggressive behavior toward Yume and the panelists’ commentary that boils down to “she’s asking for it” in previous episodes, it’s frustrating and out of step with how more progressive shows outside of Japan are portraying women on television.

The Japan Times is posting weekly recaps of “Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020.” Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. New episodes of “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020” stream on Netflix and Fuji TV on Demand (FOD) and air on Fuji TV on Tuesdays.

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