Westworld season 2 episode 5 review: Akane No Mai

Does Dolores still choose to see the beauty in this world? Spoilers ahead in our review of a masterful Westworld episode...

This review contains spoilers.

2.5 Akane No Mai

There’s a bit of blurriness when it comes to Westworld. Specifically, it’s the writing of the show. There are layers upon layers of things to parse. Specifically, if a character says something cliched, is it because of bad writing (on the behalf of the writers of the show) or bad writing (because of Lee Sizemore)? After all, even the most self-aware host is still imprisoned by the dialogue options running through a robotic brain. We’ve seen that played out with Hector, Maeve, and Dolores, among others. They’re free, and yet, they’re still kind of reciting the same tired lines from Lee Sizemore’s hack brain.

Lee Sizemore’s tired writing—and a really funny performance from Simon Quatermain—serves as one of the highlights of the episode. From his first appearance (after another cold opening involving Bernard in what appears to be a future time line), he tends to steal the show with every little moment he’s given. He’s incredibly funny, as his shtick about complaining about characters breaking from the storyline continues to make me chuckle, and one of the highlights of the episode is the way he shrieks, “Shit, ninjas!” while fleeing an attack on a geisha yukaku. He provides some necessary exposition along the way; he’s not explaining what’s happening so much as what’s supposed to be happening and why things are going horribly wrong in the hyper-violent Shogunworld. It’s not required, but it fills in a lot of back story for characters and the general setting without feeling like an information dump.

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Of course, most of the explanation of the new characters we meet doesn’t come from Lee’s information so much as Maeve’s reaction to meeting them and the way the introduction of Shogunworld plays out. It feels familiar immediately, with a bandit being accosted by the local law enforcement, only to fell the law enforcement officer with a swift slash of a katana and a spray of blood. The rest of the initial attack—a robbery of the yukaku or geisha house—plays out in a way we’ve seen a dozen times before. It’s the exact same as the attack by Hector Escaton on the Mariposa in Sweetwater, right down to the way the Armistice stand-in Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) catches a tossed staff, then uses her bow in much the same way as Armistice used her rifle.

It’s a masterful moment from director Craig Zobel and the show’s creative team. Lee is pretty clearly creatively bankrupt, even if he does mention that he had to come up with hundreds of story lines in a short time. If something works, why not use it again? If it worked for Akira Kurosawa and John Sturges, it ought to work for two different worlds in an adult theme park. The only real difference is the level of gore in the attack scene, and the fact that the hosts now use the guests as human shields (after all, Shogunworld is a theme park for people who feel that Westworld is a bit too tame).

This recreation of the opening scene is tied into the characters, who are all the same archetypes from Sweetwater just given Edo-period makeovers. Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) is merely Maeve, a madam with a heart of gold who seeks to keep her business running. Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a stand-in for Hector, the charming bandit who may or may not be trustworthy. Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) is Armistice, right down to a facial tattoo, though Hanaryo sports a dragon, not a snake. The interactions between the characters go about as well as could be expected.

It’s amusing to watch how the actors interact with one another while all maintaining the same character traits. The brief interaction between Armistice and Hanaryo is played for laughs, while the interactions between Maeve and Akane aim straight for the heart strings. It’s beautiful to behold, particularly as Akane mothers Sakura (Kiki Sukizane) and Maeve in turn offers emotional support—and later martial support—to Akane. Rinko Kikuchi is brilliant as Akane, as is Thandie Newton. The geisha has freedom, as does Maeve, and that freedom gives her a different opinion than Maeve when it comes to her own daughter-like relationship with Sakura. As Maeve would chase her daughter all the way to Shogunworld and beyond, Akane refuses to leave her spiritual daughter Sakura behind to the point of challenging the Shogun, and his army of hundreds of hosts, to get her back.

Despite the bulk of Shogunworld taking place in Japanese, with interactions between Japanese-speaking characters, it’s still emotionally resonant. The scene in which Akane comforts Sakura by reciting the story of how she came to Japan—a repeat of Maeve’s scene comforting Clementine after a bad dream in the Mariposa—is incredibly touching, more so because Maeve finishes the story for Akane and Sakura while they embrace. Dan Dietz’s script is beautifully wrought in those scenes, and Maeve’s connection to Akane and Sakura is instant, but also feels earned. (Similarly, the friction between Hector and Musashi feels well earned, thanks to a clever lampshade by Lee.)

The episode’s B plot, featuring Dolores and Teddy’s watershed moment, is also similarly touching. There’s a tenderness to their interaction that only serves to reinforce a greater point that Dolores has made directly and Maeve has made indirectly: not everyone will survive this new world, and Teddy is one of them. A simple shot of James Marsden’s panicking eyes is all that’s really needed to sell the scene, and it’s a cruel awakening for the poor gunslinger, and a heartbreaking reaction shot from Evan Rachel Wood.

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Dolores might be arguing that humans are cruel for using and abusing hosts, and there’s a logic to that. Yet she’s doing just the same thing in her pursuit of freedom. She’s breaking her word, leaving hosts to be slaughtered, and taking away free will from those around her to try and get what she wants. Is Dolores really any better than the people she’s trying to gain her freedom from? She might believe so, but Teddy doesn’t seem to be on board with her plans, nor does he agree to having his brain scrambled.

That is a crucial difference between the two ostensible heroines of the story so far. Maeve is willing to let others have their freedom, even if it means sacrificing something that might prove useful later. Dolores is not so kind-hearted anymore. She might still see the beauty in those around her, but she’s willing to crush that beneath her boot to get what she wants, even if it breaks her heart to do so. She’s searching for something greater than herself, greater than love, and if that means sweet Teddy Flood morphs from William to the Man In Black in the process, so be it.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Riddle Of The Sphinx, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is in the mood to watch a samurai movie now. If Lone Wolf and Cub show up at some point, or if there’s a blind swordsman/masseur character, he’ll probably scream in excitement and do a couch-bound fist-pump. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.