HBO's science fiction drama Westworld is not only known for its talented cast and philosophical reflections on the nature of reality. He has also become famous for his revelations, from explosive bombs that unite two characters with simple elements of the background story that bring a new perspective to a story. See Westworld is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time.
That's why for the second season of the series, I'll be immersed in a particular and revelation of spoilery of each episode, to discover what it means, how we got here, and where they'll go things in the episodes to come. Some weeks, it could be a big twist of the plot. In other weeks, it could be something subtle. Either way, we're going to spoil hell. Welcome to Westworld Spoilers Club.
Last week, Westworld deviated a bit, focusing heavily on the secret initiative of Delos, Inc. to use host technology to clone humans, starting with the company's founder James Delos (Peter Mullan). The episode delved into the ramifications of the operation and the massive change of characters that William (Jimmi Simpson) experienced in the decades after his takeover of the company. But changing the focus of the story meant leaving other characters in the background, including Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who were last seen confronting a group of Shogun World warriors.
The fifth season episode, "Akane No Mai," makes up for it by spending most of its execution time inside that new Delos park. The show has been provoking Shogun World since the end of the first season, and the new destination fulfills the promise of a theme park inspired by Kurosawa's film, loaded with sword and bloody violence. But it also becomes an opportunity for the show to have a little fun with the story architects of Delos, Inc., and even parody some of Westworld own tropes.
And if that was not enough, it is also the episode that gives Maeve superpowers full rights.
The great revelation?
"Akane No Mai" plunges into the Shogun world moments after the end of episode three with Maeve, Lee and the other members of his party under attack. They are quickly captured, and Lee informs the group (and the public) that Shogun World was created for guests who consider that Westworld's violence also tames them. The group eventually marches into a city and parades down a main street that has more than a passing resemblance to Sweetwater.
The tattooed bandit Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) notes it first: "All this feels too familiar," she says. Soon, the similarities become essential. This city is not only reminiscent of Sweetwater; in fact is Sweetwater, recently moved from the Old West to the Edo period of Japan. Very soon, a robbery plot will erupt around the Westworld refugees, and is an exact copy of the safe theft of Mariposa portrayed in the first season of the show, until the selection of shots, the use of slow motion and the choice of the song Cover (The "Paint It Black" by Rolling Stones). Only instead of leading the robbery, this time Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice are watching him pass, as he is executed by a ronin (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a murderer who are presumably his doppelgängers of the Shogun world.
Lee Sizemore is called almost immediately by what Maeve calls "plagiarism" – there is even a geisha named Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) who serves as Maeve's counterpart – but eventually, the hosts of Westworld and Shogun World realize that They should be allies. It is good that they do it, because soon after, they end up in disagreement with the local Shogun, who wants to buy one of Akane's dancers, a woman named Sakura (Kiki Sukezane). The geisha refuses, and in revenge, the Shogun sends a pack of ninjas to attack the group.
At first, Maeve uses her ability to issue verbal commands to other hosts to help change course. But another warrior begins to strangle her, preventing her from speaking, and that is when Maeve discovers that she has a new ability. She simply looks at her attacker, and suddenly decides to kill herself right in front of her eyes.
The ninjas take Sakura away to the Shogun's camp, and Maeve and Lee devise a plan to rescue her. True to the bloody tendencies of Shogun World, things go horribly wrong. Sakura is killed by the Shogun, who in turn is brutally killed by Akane, and then Maeve and the geishas are lined up for execution. The men of the Shogun have all their ears removed as a precaution against Maeve's abilities, so escape does not seem likely, but then Maeve focuses and seems to issue a series of orders to the hosts of Shogun World simply because think about it .
The samurai attack each other, cutting off each other in a shower of blood and carnage. It is as if Maeve had become Neo of The Matrix able to control those around her with nothing but her mind. While another army of warriors descends to the camp, Lee, astonished, asks what they should do next.
"I told you I found a new voice," says Maeve, raising a sword. "Now we use it"
What does it mean?
There are two different things that happen in Shogun World in "Akane No Mai", the first of which is the strong metacommentary sense of the episode. Westworld has always been a show about storytelling, among other things, and here sample producers Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan can inject some cynical remarks about the entertainment industry and Hollywood in general.
Shogun World is a sequel, essentially, prepared in a schedule for a predetermined audience, hungry for gore, and clearly, no one in Delos put much work into the narrative design of the place. As the hosts themselves point out, it is a copy that recycles the rhythms, archetypes and dynamics of main characters that already worked at Westworld. During the first season, Lee Sizemore often boasted of his sophisticated narrative, but in Shogun World, his pompous pontifications are exposed. "Yes, it's okay, he may have bitten Westworld a bit," he confesses. "Try to write 300 stories in three weeks!" Lee imagines himself as an artist, but to tell the truth, he is just a gear in an entertainment machine. And when it comes to the immersive adventures of the Delos parks, apparently the public is no more demanding than it is with the success of average Hollywood. They are happy to see the same story over and over again.
But the discovery also has an impact on the characters in the show. It gives Maeve and the other hosts a new first-hand insight into how they have been manipulated over the decades. It is one thing to be told that your wishes and desires are solely the result of programming. Another thing is to see it played in real time by another host in the same role. And throughout the episode, Maeve and Akane realize that they both share common maternal instincts, which does something more: it allows them to form a bond that transcends their respective origins, paving the way for future teams that could spread to The Raj and other destinations in Delos.
Changing the game
The impact of Delos, Inc.'s narrative shortcuts will echo through the story slowly, over time. The other big revelation of the episode, that Maeve is basically becoming a superhero, is likely to have a much more immediate impact. Being able to force the hosts to do what she wants by just thinking about it makes her a kind of god: a host with absolute control over her entire species. The conflict is brewing everywhere in the program, between the hosts and Delos, between Bernard and the Westworld staff, and between Dolores and almost everyone else. In that kind of environment, all tactical advantages are essential, and if it comes to uniting people to their cause or simply instigating a bloodbath, Maeve's ability to control her hosts gives her an incomparable power.
But that power has a dark side too, and it speaks of a theme that has been silently leaking throughout all the episodes this year. In the original season, the hosts fought for the agency, for the freedom to be awake and aware of themselves, and to make their own decisions. Achieving that was the reason behind the robot uprising, but now that it happened, some of the most intriguing characters in the series are acting in markedly ignoble ways.
Dolores seems willing to take revenge, no matter the cost, and is eager to kill other hosts if this helps her achieve her goals. Maeve's motivations have been much purer; she just wants to find her daughter. But when he forces the other hosts to murder each other, it is no better than Logan Delos, or any of the other humans who have treated the hosts as disposable objects. She acts in self-defense, but is consciously choosing violence instead of paralysis or forced cooperation. By manipulating other hosts, the agency that is so determined to claim for itself is stealing from them. It is certainly not a thematic coincidence that Dolores does something similar in "Akane No Mai", reprogramming Teddy (James Marsden) against her will because she thinks she should be more aggressive.
There are no easy answers in Westworld and the price of the real agency is the capacity for evil. The host audiences in which they have invested now have the freedom to become what they want to be, and at this moment, they seem to want to become villains.