Review – Westworld: Akane No Mai

ww ep5 Maeve

It’s been teased for a long time now but finally the wait is over. Shogun World extends a welcome to all – or rather it would do if it wasn’t infested by rampant self-aware hosts. We pick up where we left Maeve and her crew before their week-long hiatus last week in Riddle of the Sphinx, during which – for those who can’t remember – we saw the consciousness of James Delos uploaded into a brand-new host body before being imprisoned by William, Ford’s game deepening and one of the biggest reveals of the season so far. There will be spoilers from here on out so for all intents and purposes; be warned. So with that said and without any further ado, let’s get into it.

Before we get into the beefier parts of the episode, we see a fleeting scene between the head of Delos’ security forces, Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) and his lab-techies who are trying to find out what happened to the hundreds of hosts we saw drowned at the beginning of the season’s pilot episode, all the while Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard dominates the background, staring into space in his usual bemused kind of way. A few passing comments later and it seems as though the head-honcho of the human camp is growing suspicious of Bernard’s delirium and indeed his character in general.

We then switch over to Maeve’s group who find themselves in something of a standoff with a group of samurai warriors in the very same frozen forest we saw them in at the end of Virtu e Fotruna. The writers this week, decide to indulge in Maeve strange ability to be able to command other hosts to her bidding, as she immediately attempts to brainwash one of their captors from the outset. While this becomes a common theme throughout the episode, Thandie Newton’s characters is quickly bound and gagged by the group of samurai and the group is quickly shifted along to an Edo-period Japanese town up in the mountainous regions of the park.

 

Arrving in the town, it is striking how similar the layout is to that of Shogun World’s wild-western counterpart – something which isn’t lost on the other characters with their criticism of the similarities becoming a common vein of comic relief throughout the episode. However the architecture only really scratches the surface and, by Sizemore’s own admission, the stories and personalities of the hosts that inhabit the town are revealed to be half-copies of the original Westworld characters. I must admit, I wasn’t a massive fan of Lee Sizemore’s character in the first season of Westworld but the direction the writers have taken him this time round is far more amicable; his sarcasm and nonchalance paint him as a blend between a Statler and Waldorf type character and a grumpy teenager who’s been dragged on a day out with the family by mum and dad. Simon Quarterman’s character remains the show’s shining beacon of comedy in amidst what is otherwise a pretty dark and serious world – his off-handed remarks help to break up the depressing gloom of the rest of the episode.

As Maeve and her gang meet their Japanese counterparts – a Geisha named Akane, her young daughter, Sakura, and a black-clad ronin named Musashi – they are sucked into a derailed version of the Shogunate-storyline, forcing them to ally with Akane in her battle against the unstable local shogun.A big part of the episode’s plot is Maeve’s quest to find her daughter and with a number of flashbacks, empathetic moments with Akane and some heartfelt lines, its suggested that Thandie Newton’s character may be coming to terms with the loss. That’s not to say she gives up hope on finding her lost child but she seems to be accepting reality far more and preparing herself for a fall.

Elsewhere, after a local shogun’s warriors attack Akane’s home, Maeve’s nigh-on supernatural abilities are explored once again as she discovers she can give commands to other hosts without even uttering a word. The mystery and intrigue surrounding her newfound powers could well prove to be a major plot point for the show going forward and is a refreshing – if somewhat contrived – addition to the series, given how stale many of its other aspects had become.

 

Switching back to something else that getting pretty stale – I mean back to Westworld, rather – Dolores is the same stone-hearted de facto leader of the host rebellion which we left in episode three. The lack of emotion, while you can see why its necessary to the story, is getting fairly boring and her constant coldness seems a million miles from the Dolores we saw in the first season – full of self-discovery and struggling with the fact that her whole life has essentially been a lie. Admittedly we do see glimpses of real emotion shining through in Evan Rachel Wood’s performance this week, namely in her determined pursuit of her captured father and in her interactions with her hapless love interest, Teddy – essentially the times when her love breaks through her seemingly emotionless facade.

As the posse of rebellious hosts return to a Sweetwater which is littered with corpses, both human and host, Teddy begs Dolores to leave her uprising behind and settle with him out in the wilderness of the park. This falls on deaf ears, however, as the rampant revolutionary decides that, although she loves Teddy, his conscience is getting in the way of her mission and has him killed – well, not quite. As Dolores employs the skills of her captive technicians, she rewrites her naive lover’s code, taking everything which made his character so likable and replacing it with the same coldness which resides within herself. The scene was pretty powerful, it must be said, with the look in Teddy’s eyes as his love betrays him and his realisation that his time as her foil is up foreshadowing some dark days ahead for the young gunslinger.

So, in summary, Akane No Mai, sees an bitter lack of emotion as the machine side of the hosts takes centre stage in both stories. Maeve’s telepathic code commands elevates her character further above the other hosts and paints her as a worthy adversary to the other major players in the season two storyline. Dolores, on the other hand, hits a real low point in this episode as he cold-hearted nature comes to fore in her forcible reprogramming of Teddy. As the episode ends we see Maeve, Sizemore and their new ally, Akane, preparing to fight their way out of the Shogun’s stronghold in a particularly similar way to how the episode started. With Shogunate blood on their hands, it will take something special to save the hapless threesome as the hundreds of nearby Samurai warriors converge on the regal compound.

 

Westworld – Continues Mondays at 9:00pm on Sky Atlantic.

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