Thursday, May 24, 2018

Westworld, Season Two, Episode Five: Akane no Mai

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The continual juxtaposition of Maeve and Dolores leads me to believe that this season is leading up to stand off not between the robots and humans but between Maeve and Dolores.  It's clear now that Dolores's only goal is to burn it all down, whereas; Maeve has no greater purpose than finding her daughter. As long as these two don't get into each other's way everything will remain fine but I believe that their paths will cross again and that this time, it won't be so peaceful.

This week, we finally got to see the long awaited Shogun world, billed as a place for those who find West World too tame. It makes me wonder why the Man in Black has spent his time in Westworld when he could have lived out his dark impulses in Shogun world. Perhaps the appeal of Westworld over Shogun world is that the first time William lost himself in tech, he was wearing a white hat.  Maeve is captured by Musashi and his men and tries to use her powers right away but is quickly gagged.  It seems the character don't recognise Maeve's orders because she's speaking English rather than Japanese. It's not long before it becomes painfully obvious that there's something familiar about Shogun world, despite the very different aesthetic. It seems that because of a tight timeline, Lee reused the elements of Westworld and simply add a Japanese aesthetic. This results in Maeve and the others meeting their doppelgangers. Lee is concerned that the collusion of the two worlds will lead to some unpleasant results. We watch as Hector displays an almost irrational anger towards Musashi and Amistice a game of mirror with  The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (read: her doppleganger)  Even the robbery happens, though it's a geisha's home instead of Maeve's saloon. I gotta say that if I were Hector, I might be a little jealous of Musashi, who is clearly an upgrade on him. 

At this point, Maeve is forced to deal with the reality that she is simply a highly recognizable archetype. Maeve doesn't even pause and instead argues that they have free will but how free are they when Akane, Maeve's double shows determination to protect her adopted daughter? Akane murders one of the Shogun's men rather than sell Sakura.  This for Maeve serves as proof that they are evolving but this reasoning only works if you ignore the fact that though both Maeve and Akane are off script, they are both driven to protect a daughter and willing to do anything to do so.  Maeve and Akane may have deviated from the script written by Lee but given their actions, they're very much following a script.

Akane's actions result in the most epic ninja attack where the crew struggles to hold their own. Maeve is being choked out and therefore cannot use her speaking power and in desperation, thinks the action that she wants her attacker to make and he complies.  After witnessing what happened, the other ninjas get spooked and take off, calling Maeve a witch.  Maeve doesn't quite understand what happened but she is more than happy to have another weapon in her arsenal.  The ninjas were not able to kill the crew but they did manage to kidnap Sakura, thus beginning Akane's quest to get her daughter back. Does this sound familiar?

The Shogun attacks again and this time Maeve enlists Hector, Musashi and Armistice to offer up a distraction while she slips away with Akane, Lee and the rest of the human contingent.  The plan is to approach the Shogun, pretending to be emissaries from China, but it all backfires when they learn that the Shogun not only damaged his own ears, he had his men cut off their ears after learning about Maeve's sorcery.  This makes the Shogun even more dangerous because now, he's broken. They manage to strike a deal, with the Shogun promising to release Sakura if she and Akane perform for them. As the women prepare, Maeve listens as Akane tries to comfort Sakura, who has revealed that the Shogun branded her entire back with a lotus blossom. The words Akane uses are familiar to Maeve because of course she's said those same words herself.

The women take the stage and the Shogun decides to kill Sakura, proving that the robot has most definitely lost his mind.  Akane begins the dance as commanded but as soon as she's close enough, she pulls a knife out of her hair and kills the shogun.  Of course, chaos ensues but it's all quickly handled when Maeve uses her mind power and gets the forces to fight each other.

Back in Westworld, Teddy and Dolores have made their way back to Sweetwater. For Teddy this is a homecoming, despite all of the carnage lining the street.  Teddy just wants to fulfill his long programmed dream of settling down someplace quiet with Dolores and building a life together.  Dolores however has seen the outside world and knows that the world is so much larger than Teddy can even conceive of. The bigger question for Dolores is if she actually loves Teddy, or is simply holding onto a love she was programmed to feel, and there's also the issue of Teddy sparing the Major Craddock after she gave a direct command for him to be killed.

Dolores and Teddy have some time to kill before the train can be ready to travel and so they spend the night together.  This is a big deal because despite the fact that Dolores and Teddy have been programmed to love each other and to plan a future together, Teddy always dies and the dream is never fulfilled.  Their night together is the culmination of a long shared dream and it's sweet. In the morning, Teddy awakes alone in bed and wanders off to find Dolores, who declares that after their night together, she knows that she loves him. Of course, there's a catch, there's always a catch. It seems that Dolores has determined that Teddy has no place in the war she is fighting or the world she is trying to build because of his inherent kindness.   Men surround a shocked Teddy and restrain him, as Dolores reminds Teddy that she did say that not everyone is meant to make it. A tech enters, asking if Dolores is sure about the changes that she wants him to make on Teddy because he was not built for this sort of thing but Dolores is determined that it's time for the sweet Teddy to say adieu.

When we see Teddy again, he is going to be a very different man. 

Finally to Bernard, who had a very small role this episode. This week, Bernard is in the future at a time I believe to be after Dolores burn down the world war.  As the techs are going through the hosts that were discovered floating in the river, they learn that the hosts have been erased - no narrative and no data.  If you recall, Bernard in an earlier episode claimed to be responsible for the dead hosts. Bernard doesn't say much and clearly seems to be confused about whether or not what he is seeing is what is actually happening or if he is living in a memory. 

So, this episode gave us a long awaited trip to Shogun world and the fight scenes were absolutely awesome, even if I did groan when Hiroyuki Sanada showed up to once again fulfill the role of inscrutable Asian character. At this time, we don't know what happened to Hector, Armistice, and  Musashi, but I highly suspect that we will be seeing them again.  

Akane no Mai powered up Maeve once again and I worry that this might be used for some sloppy story telling. At this point, Maeve is pretty invisible because all she has to do is to think an action to make it happen. There is always a problem when a character becomes so powerful.  You can see the difficulty of this situation with the Originals on CW. How do you make a suitable antagonist for someone who merely has to think go kill yourself?  At this point, we are just as in the dark as Maeve as to where this power comes from, so I hope that Westworld expands on that in the coming episodes. 

It's clear that though the hosts are somewhat woke now, they are not nearly as independent as they believe themselves to be.  Maeve and Hector may be able to show and feel affection for each other which is absolutely a change in their narrative but the changes all seem to come on a theme as evidenced by Maeve and Akane. It makes me wonder where Dolores's burn it all down theme comes from? At this point however, despite being super powered, I don't really feel like I know Maeve. Sure, Maeve is always there for an excellent one liner and she won't submit but her character is basically a quest to find her daughter and no nuance seems to exist. It's particularly troubling given that in future clips we've seen, the humans seem to be victorious.  Watching a strong female character who is destined to be defeated in some ways diminishes the wonder of said character.