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‘Westworld’ Review: Visiting Shogun World Leads to One of the Season’s Best Episodes

Season 2 Episode 5, "Akane No Mai," focuses on Maeve and Dolores, with seismic results.

Westworld Season 2 Thandie Newton

“Westworld” Shogun World

John P. Johnson / HBO

[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 5, “Akane No Mai.”]

Programming Update

Episode 5 was the last screener critics received prior to premiere; while we hope that more are coming down the pike, at this point fans and journalists are all on the same page when it comes to what’s coming next. Hold on to your horses (literal and figurative).

Diagnostic Report

While last week focused elsewhere, Sunday’s episode was all about Maeve and Dolores. Maeve’s primary focus was surviving in Shogun World, a mission complicated by the fact that she discovered a deeply personal connection to the narrative in place there. But on the plus side, her abilities to influence other hosts have grown more and more powerful; by the end of the episode, she doesn’t even have to speak to make her will known. To quote the amazing Lindy West: Yes, this is a witch hunt. She’s a witch, and she’s hunting you.

That said, it’s not enough to ensure a happy outcome for Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), who essentially functions as the Maeve equivalent inside Shogun World, ensuring that the two of them establish an immediate bond. (If Sizemore had a real objection to the idea, he might have thought of that before he literally copied-and-pasted the Mariposa heist to Akane’s geisha lounge.) The pair team up to face down the Shogun and his army, but Akane’s daughter-surrogate Sakura gets killed in the crossfire. Which means that both Maeve and Akane are all the more ready for bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Dolores is in planning mode, including some important work in regards to Teddy, her seemingly loyal servant who has just a touch too much good in him. Fortunately, Dolores has acquired herself a technician who can solve those sorts of problems with just a flick of the wrist — and in a heartbreaking turn, decides to change Teddy into the kind of man her army needs. It’s an important reminder that we’re calling this character Dolores right now — but there’s a whole lot of Wyatt in her.

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

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This week, with the exception of the early scenes with the Delos clean-up crew, we stick very firmly with the post-revolution/pre-Delos recovery time period, with a dual focus on Dolores and Maeve’s individual campaigns through the parks. Which is honestly something you only come to appreciate after the fact — the notion that an episode of TV might only contain two different timelines shouldn’t necessarily be so novel, and YET.

Player Piano

A new twist on “Paint It Black” greets us in the central town of Shogun World, one fitting with the new surroundings, but more importantly, we hear a similarly executed version of the “Westworld” theme song as Sakura’s dance number.

Also, pour one out for the Mariposa player piano, for real. One hopes it gets repaired soon, but blood is an awfully hard stain to remove.

Paired Off

Our initial reaction to Teddy and Dolores finally getting a real moment of intimacy together was, well, yay! But then their love scene became a cliche of soft-focus images that disguised the actors’ nudity as well as, frankly, whatever they were actually doing, beyond hugging a whole bunch. Technically, it was beautifully shot. But was it at all erotic? Nope. It definitely feels a bit crass to point out that a love scene on this show could have been more explicit, but the point remains true — especially given what follows their time together.

Thumbs up, by the way, to Hector’s continued loyalty to Maeve. Good guy, that Hector.

These Violent Delights

As Akane cuts off (most of) the Shogun’s head, there’s a very brief cutaway to Maeve where she seems horrified by what’s just happened. It’s a bit surprising, given that Maeve has never shown herself to be skittish about violence, but perhaps what it signals is her surprise that Akane would ever make such a move. If the two of them continue to work together, let the rest of Delos Destinations quake in fear — because they will not hesitate to fuck shit up.

This Natural Splendor

All of Shogun World was beautifully rendered by the production team, especially in how its central township echoed the town of Sweetwater while still being theoretically authentic to Japan’s Edo era.

In addition, Akane’s final dance for the Shogun was magnificent, angry, and graceful, especially thanks to her beautifully designed kimono’s flapping wings. “Westworld’s” engagement with other cultures is a tricky topic, given how the premise is rooted in the concept of appropriation. But this episode seemed to own a sense of authenticity when it came to its subject matter.

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Best Quote

“They built us to perform for them, for each other. That’s over. I saw you tonight, Dolores and you saw me.”
— Poor, poor Teddy

We’re calling out this line because it’s such a great encapsulation of all the conflicts in play here this season. Rebellion! Genuine connection! And then… the aftermath, in which Teddy is truly seen — and Dolores decides that he needs to be changed. So much of a host’s existence is driven by the concept of what is real and what is not, and in the aftermath of Dolores’s revolt, we’ve been led to believe true feelings are possible for them. But what this episode confirms is that maybe they are… but also, maybe they’re not.

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

Can “hosts” actually get drunk? Or is it a programmed effect? Or is the fact that they’re programmed to act drunk the equivalent of them getting drunk? Oh, the existential questions inspired by this show.

In a pre-revolution era, how does the “Army of Blood” narrative usually go? It’s intriguing to think about, given that Sizemore specifies that in the written version, Akane gives up Sakura to the guards.

Final Reveries

Plunging us into a whole new world, but revealing the plagiarism that makes it possible, “Akane No Mai” was perhaps the glue that brought the whole series together, thanks to it truly digging into the existence of other parks within the Delos Destinations universe, and how they’re interconnected. One of the best things about Season 2 is how it’s made the universe surrounding the Westworld park feel more and more real, and this episode was the epitome of that accomplishment.

And then beyond that, Teddy and Dolores’ romance took a tragic, brutal turn, one that has fascinating repercussions for future stories. Even though, thanks to flash-forwards, we know Teddy has met a tragic end, we still want to believe in him and Dolores as a couple. Well, at least, we wanted to. But Dolores’ choice to change him from a good man into the soldier she needs definitely has an impact on their love story. We’re not looking for a happy ending. But we’re definitely looking forward to what happens next.

Grade: A

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