Best of the West: ‘Westworld’ episode 2×5 ‘Akane No Mai’ makes new familiar, old strange

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At the end of the first season of “Westworld,” the presence of Shogun World was teased by the samurai host models spotted in the underground labs. Finally, after subtle allusions to the other parks outside of Westworld, this episode is almost fully centered around Shogun World. However, it soon becomes apparent that as Westworld veers further and further from its recognizable form, Shogun World is more familiar than it seems at first blush.

Headquarters

First, though, we get another glimpse at what’s going on at headquarters in (what we currently know to be) the present timeline. The countless drowned hosts previously found in the flooded valley — including Teddy (James Marsden) — are dredged up as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) watch. Strand hopes to reprogram these hosts to function in a way that once again adheres to the rules of Delos theme parks. Yet the investigative engineer (Fares Fares) soon reveals that the hosts’ processing units he’s observed so far have the same abnormality —  their memories are all wiped, and they are essentially blank slates.

Westworld

A bit of an explanation for the strange state of the drowned hosts comes through a flashback of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy’s continuing storyline in the Westworld park. Dolores took Teddy with her after leaving the Confederados in order to rescue her father Peter (Louis Herthum) from the Delos employees who captured him. In contrast to the action following this storyline, in this episode, Dolores and Teddy quietly reflect and philosophize upon their relationship’s place in their changing world.

While Teddy still clings to old narrative arcs, calling Sweetwater “home” and yearning for an idyllic life of isolation for him and Dolores, Dolores has cut almost all ties with Sweetwater — she knows now just how fake their world was, so she has no remaining emotional connections to it. As if to illustrate the point, the familiar lines uttered by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) on her own narrative arcs throughout last season have now been relegated to a new host meant to take her place, while the original Clementine battles disorientation at her role’s removal. The town Teddy and Dolores once called home has become something entirely unrecognizable to them all.

Dolores reminisces about simpler times with Teddy, but she’s sad to see that he still doesn’t share her revenge mission. She tells him a story from her provincial backstory: When a portion of the Abernathy cattle were afflicted with the disease bluetongue, borne by flies, she and Peter elected to burn the diseased to drive out the illness and the flies in one move. Yet upon hearing the story, Teddy instead remarks that he would have placed the cattle indoors until they recovered so as to better protect them from the flies. His inclination for mercy already made itself apparent at the end of the fight with the Confederados, when he let them go instead of executing them as Dolores ordered. Dolores fondly promises to keep his merciful streak in mind moving forward, but the sorrow with which she speaks says otherwise.

Later that night, Dolores asks Teddy about his wish to run away with her. She wonders aloud whether he still would want her even if she most certainly would disappoint him. He assures her that he knows her better than an outsider would and is cognizant of all the wrinkles of their lives and potential relationship.

Dolores seems to buy it, as the two share a night of passion, but soon, she leads him into a barn and informs him that although their love is real, someone like him has no place in her plan for revolution. All along this season, Dolores has been saying that not everyone deserves to make it to “the other side” — evidently, Teddy is one of this number. She then calls in an engineer and has him change Teddy’s core personality — the mercy now gone and more violent attributes turned all the way up. Teddy is now essentially a husk of a supersoldier for her. This could be at least a partial explanation as to why he and the other drowned hosts from the start of the episode had such skewed processing units.

Shogun World

We last left Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her group as a samurai shrouded in shadows ambushed them — the action picks up right away. Although Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) are quick to the draw, the samurai are quicker; they bind the group members and march them through to Shogun World as their prisoners. Lee (Simon Quarterman) informs Maeve that Shogun World is a theme park set in Japan’s Edo period, and that it was written to capitalize on gore and horror in order to cater to clients who might find Westworld “too tame.”

Once they come upon the main town, Armistice begins to observe its similarities to Sweetwater. All the while, a subdued cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays in the background, albeit with subtle Japanese instrumentation — this harks back to a western-style cover of the same song playing during a pivotal scene last season, when Hector and Armistice broke into Maeve’s saloon to steal a safe. As the song crescendos and comes to a head, a shot-for-shot parallel scene begins to unfold in the town — one of the captors, Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto), removes her hat to reveal a dragon tattoo on her face similar to Armistice’s distinctive snake tattoo. With Lee’s confirmation, it becomes clear that each of them has a closely written counterpart in Shogun World.

The main samurai who first captured them is revealed to be Hector’s counterpart, the ronin Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). He enters a geisha house to complete the break-in narrative arc and meets Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), the madam and Maeve’s Shogun World counterpart. Before the arc can complete, Maeve interrupts and suggests that they parley. Perhaps recognizing a kindred in Maeve, Akane agrees.

Soon, however, the shogun’s emissary shows up to the geisha house. Lee explains that this is the start of an established storyline, in which the shogun requests to purchase Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), a popular geisha, for his own permanent, private entertainment. While the madam will at first refuse because Sakura is like a daughter to her, he says, because she is only a geisha, she will have to go along with what the shogun’s emissary commands.

However, Akane actually ends the storyline by stabbing the emissary with a concealed knife and hiring Musashi to escort her and Sakura far away before the shogun’s men arrive to investigate the disappearance of the emissary. Lee suggests that they all go to Sakura’s hometown, which happens to lie near the tunnels that will lead them back underground to safety.

That night, as everyone rests before they prepare to leave, Maeve meditates and finds that the memories she has of her daughter begin to meld with Akane’s memories of rescuing Sakura off the streets and raising her herself. In a sense, finding Sakura is as close as Maeve has ever been to finding her daughter — if Akane is basically Maeve, Akane’s daughter figure is essentially the counterpart of Maeve’s own daughter.

During this restful period, however, the group finds itself under attack by the shogun’s ninjas, who manage to make off with Sakura. Maeve is able to activate the assailants’ programming by commanding them in Japanese to stand down — that is, until one ninja captures her and begins to strangle her. Just as she’s in the throes of death, Maeve looks suddenly calm. She issues a mental command to the ninja to impale himself on a sharp post in the room — he does as he’s told. The other ninjas panic, calling her a witch, and flee. Lee looks on in surprise: This ability wasn’t written into the hosts. It’s something Maeve has unlocked within herself.

Meanwhile, the shogun’s army arrives unexpectedly, leading Lee to theorize that he, too, overcame his programming to act of his own volition. Maeve, ignoring Lee’s protests, elects to delay her search for her daughter in favor of helping Akane rescue Sakura. She asks Musashi, Hector, Armistice and Hanaryo to hold the army off as they escape. As the hosts and their parallels begin plotting together, their innate closeness grows increasingly apparent.

Soon, Maeve, Akane and the others arrive at the shogun’s court. He informs Maeve of news of a “witch” whose commands his men heard and obeyed, and that he therefore cut off all of their ears. It becomes clear soon that the shogun’s erratic behavior was not the result of free will but rather a malfunction. Continuing with his unpredictable streak, he tells Akane that if she dances for him with Sakura that evening, she can take Sakura from him.

Maeve accompanies Akane as she reunites with Sakura to prepare for their dance later. As Akane attempts to cheer up a dejected Sakura by promising a bright future, Maeve recognizes that this is a direct Japanese translation of the same words she used to buoy up Clementine back in the first season. Akane and Maeve share an emotional moment as they comprehend the depth of their connection, but as Maeve attempts to reveal the truth about their worlds, Akane’s thoughts blend with Maeve’s. As she begins to realize that her entire life might be a lie, Akane begs Maeve not to uncover the entire truth yet. Maeve understands — parts of their fabricated lives, regardless of their reality, are too precious to part with.

Finally, the shogun summons Akane and Sakura to begin their dance. Just as they’re about to start, though, he ascends the stage himself and stabs Sakura. He tells Akane that, to keep up his end of the bargain, she can still take Sakura’s body back with her if she dances for him. She reins back the emotion clouding her face and places herself at center stage.

The episode’s title, “Akane no mai,” translates to “Akane’s dance, “ so we know the scene unfolding is pivotal. At face value, the dance is gorgeous — flowing, punctuated with sharp movements just as grim determination smolders in Akane’s eyes. She then dances up to the shogun, cradles his face and then beheads him with her hairpiece.

The shogun’s men immediately seize Akane and Maeve and prepare to execute the women. Maeve compliments Akane’s maternal fortitude; she issues another telepathic command just as the executioners’ swords are about to descend. Soon, instead of targeting them, the shogun’s men are fighting each other at Maeve’s behest. As a growing army surges toward the court, Maeve rallies up her small group, and they prepare for the fight to come.

Contact Sahana Rangarajan at [email protected].