Title: Westworld: “Akane no Mai”
Air Date: May 20, 2018
Check out our reviews of previous episodes from season two here:
- Episode 1: “Journey Into Night”
- Episode 2: “Reunion”
- Episode 3: “Virtù e Fortuna”
- Episode 4: “The Riddle of the Sphinx”
How cool is Shogun World? After spending every episode thus far in either dusty old Sweetwater or the slick and sterile Delos HQ, it was fantastic to clean up a bit and see Westworld‘s take on the Far East. Sure, there may not have been too much substance to the episode, but it set up a couple fascinating new wrinkles and gave us some killer action sequences besides.
One of the big wrinkles came in the first scene, as the Delos mercenaries are trying to retake HQ and figure out just what happened to the hosts. This is the timeline after the big flood, and it turns out that the recovered hosts’ minds have been wiped. Not sort of gone, but “like there was never anything there at all.” It seems that whoever wound up reaching the big MacGuffin at the edge of Westworld also caused some sort of cataclysmic failure in a huge number of the hosts. Was it Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood)? Bernard (Jeffrey Wright)? It could be pretty much anyone, as they are all pretty much shooting for the same ultimate goal.
This episode was ultimately about comparing Dolores to Maeve (Thandie Newton), as their two stories took up every scene of the episode after the cold opening. These are the two most “awakened” hosts, so watching their different takes on what it means to be free is a fun conundrum about morality that Westworld has loved presenting so far this season. Let’s start with Dolores’ story and save Shogun World for the end, shall we?
Dolores spends this episode trying to figure out who she is, returning to all the locations in her history and attempting to discover if her feelings for Teddy (James Marsden) are real or just part of the code that the techs built into her. They return to Dolores’ farm and the saloon in Sweetwater, where we see a few of the surviving hosts are sadly still stuck in their morning routines: a dealer stacks chips and plays blackjack with a group of corpses, and Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) stares on in horror as she sees a replacement host saying all her old lines. Teddy makes an offer to Dolores that, now that they have freedom, they just ride off and start that new life together.
Dolores says she’ll think on it, and puts her mind-controlled goon squad to work getting the Sweetwater train running. She wants to take it to Delos HQ in order to get her father back. The really heartbreaking moment in the episode comes after Dolores and Teddy sleep with one another, and Dolores decides that Teddy is just too darn good for what she has planned. Despite the fact that she truly loves him, she has his programming changed so that he will be more useful to her. Once again, she proves she is a villain who does not care one bit for host freedom if it gets in the way of what she wants. Or, maybe she’s trying to save Teddy’s sweetness until after the rebellion is done. That could be tough, considering we’ve been shown dead Teddy a few times now in the aftermath of the flood.
Dolores’ concept of freedom seems to be only on her terms, whereas Maeve is starting to learn that hacking into other hosts to get them to do what she wants is no better than what Delos techs were doing. At the beginning of Maeve’s journey into Shogun World, her entire crew is captured by, what we soon realize, is an Shogun-ized version of Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) in Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). We learn this in one of the most stylish scenes the show has ever shot, replaying Hector’s heist from back in the very first episode as Lee (Simon Quarterman) explained that they recycled some stories in the different parks due to time crunch. We got to see the safe being dropped, got a gagaku take on “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones, and met a few other cribbed versions of our strange group, like Maeve’s Shogun World counterpart, a geisha named Akane (Rinko Kikuchi).
It was through these interactions that we got to explore Maeve’s new understanding of what free will truly is, as Lee continued to question her usage of her ability to control other hosts. That power came in very handy when the Shogun rolled into town and started throwing the storyline all out of whack, but not before we got some more stylish action scenes.
Let’s face it: no one watching Westworld would ever say they don’t want to see cowboys versus ninjas. That was a cool scene and one where Maeve leveled up, as she unlocked the ability to control hosts with just her mind, rather than her voice. And that power came in extremely handy at the end of the episode when the titular dance got underway and everything went off the rails. Maeve had the chance to stop Akane from literally carving off the Shogun’s head, but she let her do it because she realized that mucking with someone’s personal choices is not what she should be doing. Whereas Maeve allows people to act on their own accord and reacts to it, Dolores goes about manipulating people’s core values and ideals to better suit her needs. That’s not to say Maeve’s plan is better: it still made for a ton of bloodshed.
Next week it looks like we’ll get back to Bernard and Elsie (Shannon Woodward), which will hopefully continue to answer some of the big questions from this season of Westworld. With all our characters headed toward the same end goal, we should be in for a barn burner for the second half of this season.
Verdict: “Akane no Mai” was a really fun episode, but it seemed to be a bit more of a style over substance run of things for Westworld. That is a fine track to take after last week’s revealing and emotionally taxing episode; sometimes you just want to watch cowboys fire shotguns at ninjas. The main issue was that it seemed to just be treading water with some of the messages and themes so far. A placeholder episode, for sure. But an extremely gratifying one.
- Stylish action sequences
- Great callback to Hector's heist
- Good payoff on Shogun World
- Not a ton of substance
- A bit heavy-handed