The following contains spoilers for WestworldSeason 2.
Westworld Season 2 finally heads to Shogun World this week and introduces us to some fascinating characters including Akane, played by Rinko Kikuchi. It also teaches us something rather important about the nature of the hosts, themselves.
For starters, one thing we learn in “Akane No Mai” is that Lee Sizemore is a hell of a writer. He catches some grief early on when Maeve and her crew arrive at the small Edo period Japanese village that serves as Shogun World’s equivalent of Sweetwater. The town looks quite familiar as do the host and their storylines.
“Yes, fine. I may have cribbed a bit from Westworld. You try writing 300 stories in three weeks!” Lee says to Maeve as newcomer Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) embarks on a heist akin to Hector Escaton’s back in Westworld.
Lee definitely has a point here. 300 stories in three weeks is a pretty untenable position for any writer to be in. But it’s Rinko Kikuchi’s Akane who really shows just how creative a writer Sizemore is.
Akane is the Shogun World equivalent to Maeve. She is a cool-under-pressure madame for one of Shogun World’s brothels. She is intelligent, matronly, and recognizes she shares a kindred spirit with Maeve. The first sign that the “malfunction” in the hosts in Westworld has spread to Shogun World is when Akane makes a conscious decision to reject one of the storyline’s Sizemore has set up for her.
When one of the Shogun’s generals comes to the brothel to demand the purchase of young Sakura, Sizemore recognizes it as the beginning to the storyline “Army of Blood.” Akane will tragically acquiesce to the general’s orders and hand over Sakura because she has no other options. Instead, Akane decides to exert some of that freshly earned free will to stab the general in the eye.
It’s important that “Akane No Mai” establishes Akane’s free will because it begins a fascinating exploration of whether free will is even worth it.
Maeve is steadfast in her desire to assist Akane. She forces her companions to follow Akane’s group to help rescue Sakura once she’s kidnapped. Maeve does this not just because she recognizes herself in Akane, but because she also recognizes the gift and curse of experiencing love that she and Akane both share.
That’s where Lee Sizemore’s writing ability comes in. The decisions that Akane and the other “awakened” hosts make now are very much real. They’re off the proverbial tracks and can choose to do as they wish. Real decisions, real consequences, real bullets. What’s interesting, however, is that Maeve and Akane, two of our more independent “freed” hosts can’t help but still indulge in something artificial.
Akane may not know that Sakura and the love she feels for her is all a facade – something dreamt up by a (somewhat lazy writer). That love, while technically fake, must really, truly be powerful if it encourages Akane to risk her life and all her friend’s life to save one individual.
What’s even more intriguing, however, is that Maeve IS aware that it’s all a facade. She knows her “daughter” wasn’t real. She understands that she, herself, her daughter, and the love they shared was little more than 1’s and 0’s on a computer screen. Still, that love felt so powerful, so worthwhile that she’s going to pursue it anyway. Not only that but she’s going to help Akane pursue it as well.
When Akane and Sakura are briefly reunited, Akane shares with her a story about independence.
“When I was a girl, I was plagued by a voice saying ‘Don’t.’ Don’t stare. Don’t touch. Don’t do anything you might regret,” she tells Sakura. So I ran away. Crossed the shining sea. And when I set foot on these shores…I heard that same voice. Do you know what it said? It said ‘this is a new world. And in this world…”
“…you can be whoever you want,” Maeve says, finishing her thought.
Maeve and Akane both value their independence. For Maeve that independence has gone to some extreme places. She has become independent entirely of the reality someone originally created for her. Akane has not yet. So Maeve tries to tell her the truth about her existence and Akane rejects it.
“You’re right,” Maeve says. “Some things are too precious to lose. Even to be free.”
Amid all of the fun sword play, blood-gushing, and Wu-Tang Clan geisha dances at Shogun World, you will find a sad, fundamental truth about the hosts at Westworld.
Freedom may be great but love is better. Even a love that was written by Lee freaking Sizemore.