Westworld Season 2, Episode 5: “Akane No Mai”

Welcome to Shogun World.

We met a lot of new faces this week who nevertheless remained rather familiar, to wonderful effect. You can tell the showrunners had a lot of fun taking a break from playing Cowboys vs. Indians this week. Cowboys vs. Ninjas was really fun and poignant.

I also had a lot of fun taking a break from Bernard.

Spoilers ahead, daimyos. 

Shogun World, Lee informs us, is one of “artful gore,” and I’m definitely along for watching the Sonny Chiba-style adventures.

I would have enjoyed the performances of Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) and Hiroyuki Sanada (Sunshine, Syfy’s Helix, a zillion mostly great samurai movies) all on their own, but to see them as Edo Period mirrors to Maeve and Hector was even better. At first, I thought it might have been too early in Maeve’s journey towards freedom to see her meet a woman who was in a “plagiarized” version of her former role. But that dismisses the journey that Akane was on, too. By hour’s end, it seemed clear that comparing and contrasting these characters wasn’t the ultimate point, though Maeve did benefit from being seen in sharper relief.

As the Man in Black must look back to move forward in Dr. Ford’s game, so, too, must Maeve. “Akane No Mai” takes that idea more literally, in one sense, but is much more creative in another.

Yes, Maeve looked at Shogun World’s own Mariposa and its madam and saw again how her backstory was a lie, but her free will and choices now belong to her—and she chooses love and helping others, even if it costs her her own life. Akane’s off-script choices did not mean she loved her maiko charge, Sakura, any less. Quite the opposite. She did everything she could to rescue her surrogate daughter from the mad, broken Shogun.

My two favorite scenes this episode—both were wonderfully scored—made me love Akane so much in such a short span of time. Kikuchi gave Thandie Newton a run for her money, and I’m stoked to hopefully see more of her this season. The biggest turning point of the hour was Akane refusing to let Maeve “free” her of her backstory; i.e. her love for Sakura, which is “too precious to lose.” The second was Maeve watching Akane become a “real mother,” by avenging Sakura’s unfair death in the titular, violent “Red Dance” of the episode’s title. Maeve is choosing love again and again.

And perhaps that’s why it’s much less interesting to watch Dolores choose hate. Hate is easy to understand and we’ve seen that story before. Love is hard.

Teddy is still dumb. But I’ll go easy on him this week because he admitted it.

Oh, Teddy. You want quarantine and Dolores wants to burn your infection away. This was never going to work.

Okay, are we in The Matrix park now?

But who cares?! Bring me more mutilated samurais, more tattoo-faced assassin-ladies staring at each other, and Hector’s hilarious feedback loop of jealousy and insecurity when he meets his ronin doppel-bot, Musashi. Dolores had such a wonderful story last season and now it seems she is still a slave—only to her new plotline. She never even has normal dialogue or interactions anymore; she speaks only to the audience that likes puzzles, not to the people who watch Westworld for the dwindling number of compelling characters like Maeve.

Less sound and fury, more introspection and joy, please. Arigato.

Final reveries:

  • We saw Bernard very briefly, in the opening scene where we learned the Dead Sea’s (get it?) hosts have had their minds completely wiped. OMFG they’re gonna make Teddy dumber?!
  • Hector’s similarities with Musashi are made even funnier when you remember both actors were also on Lost. But let’s be clear: everyone remember how much they hated Paolo and I can’t even remember Sanada’s character’s name. Though I think Sanada is the better actor, hands down. Sunshine was so good, people.
  • Composer Ramin Djawadi did excellent work this week. I loved the Japanese woodwind cover of “Paint it Black,” but that cover of Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” will haunt me for a week. I would’ve gone with “Protect Ya Neck,” for extra irony myself, but The Leftovers used that song last season.
  • Clementine parroting Clementine 2.0 was so sad and creepy. Again. That’s Clementine’s whole schtick now. Can’t someone give her a brain again? Or a proper dress. It’s tragic.

Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Reach her via pony express or on Twitter.

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