'Westworld' Review: 'Akane No Mai' Finally Takes Us To Shogun World

Welcome to our weekly recaps of HBO's Westworld. This Westworld review takes a look at the fifth episode of season 2, "Akane No Mai". Be warned: spoilers follow.

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Shogun World

After much hype, Westworld finally arrives in Shogun World. Was it worth the wait?I guess?While the storytelling in this week's episode, "Akane No Mai", is handled with grace, there's a prevailing sense that the show is trying to stall. Almost as if the showrunners realized the main narrative of this season isn't enough to fill out a full 10 episodes, so they threw in some side-trips for good measure.While Shogun World may not be all it's cracked up to be, this week's episode is pretty breezy when compared to last week's incredibly complicated episode. Last week was all about exposition and mystery. This week is about action.Sure, there's still some mystery here – we learn that Maeve (Thandie Newton) has become almost super-powered, to the point where she doesn't need to talk to other hosts to control them – she can literally just get inside their minds, as if she's Professor X from the X-Men. How did this happen, exactly? We don't know yet, but I suspect we'll find out. But beyond that, the storytelling of "Akane No Mai" is pretty straightforward. I'm not saying that makes this week's episode better than the previous episode. It just makes for an easier watch.After a brief trip into the present, where Bernard and the Delos staff stand around wondering what the hell happened – they find some blank hosts, and ponder how "all these disparate threads came together to create this nightmare" – we're hurled back in time to visit Maeve and the gang.They've been captured and taken to Shogun World. Maeve's vocal persuasion doesn't work – because she tries it in English, rather than in Japanese. The imprisonment is short-lived, and Maeve and company are freed soon and strike up a friendship with Madame Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), a geisha who is essentially Shogun World's version of Maeve.As it turns out, Shogun World has a lot in common with Westworld. In fact, it's pretty much the Eastern equivalent of Westworld. Annoying writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) cops to plagiarizing his own writing to come up with the events of Shogun World. "You try writing 300 stories in three weeks" he says.This is fairly clever on the part of Westworld's actual writers. There's a very Akira Kurosawa feel to Shogun World, and many of Kurosawa's samurai films were inspired by Hollywood Westerns. In turn, Hollywood ended up looking at Kurosawa's movies for inspiration as well, creating remakes like The Magnificent Seven. As a result, the samurai genre and the Western genre are both cut from the same cloth, and by making Shogun World an imitation of Westworld, the writers seem to be acknowledging that.This also gives Westworld some cover in terms of cultural appropriation. If Shogun World ends up coming off as a white writer's idea of Japanese culture, well, that makes sense, because that's literally what it is. All of Shogun World is supposedly from the (very white) mind of Lee Sizemore. Not that that makes any of this okay, of course. akane no mai

A New Voice

Trouble arises in Shogun World when the Shogun sends his emissary to purchase Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), one of the geishas in Akane's care. Akane loves Sakura like a daughter, and rather than hand Sakura over, she kills the emissary. Lee is quick to point out that this shouldn't be happening – Akane usually hands Sakura over according to the script.After this event, ninjas descend upon the town – ninjas Maeve seems to sense before they even show up. After a big bloody battle, Maeve is able to get the upper hand by using her mind to make a ninja kill himself. Some ninjas get away, however, and take Sakura with them.Things go from bad to worse when the Shogun's army come marching into town. Maeve instructs a helpful samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) to buy some time, while she, Lee, Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Felix (Leonardo Nam), Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) and Akane go off to try to rescue Sakura.Before they get there, they come across some slaughtered Delos security guards. When no one is looking, Lee swipes a walkie talkie from a corpse, and them promptly forgets all about it.At the Shogun's camp, everyone is captured yet again (lot of capturing going on this week). The Shogun believes Maeve to be a witch, and has had all his men's ears cut off in order to not hear her "mystical commands." The Shogun also offers a deal to Akane: if she'll dance for his pleasure, he will let Sakura go.Akane agrees to this, but as you could've probably guessed, things go wrong. When the time for the big dance comes, the Shogun murders Sakura right in front of Akane's eyes. Akane then gets very bloody revenge by sawing the top of the Shogun's head off right at the jawline. Things look very bad for Maeve and Akane, but before the Shogun's men can lop their heads off, Maeve uses those newly discovered mind-control powers she has to get inside the heads of all the Shogun's men and make them kill each other. "I'm learning to speak with a new voice," Maeve says, and that voice's main message seems to be "Kill as many people as possible."akane no mai dolores

Poor Teddy

And what of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood)? She's still on her quest. Her party ends up back in Sweetwater, which is full of corpses. All that death isn't enough to ruin the romantic mood, though, because soon Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) are making passionate love.All Teddy wants to do is run away with Dolores and be happy, and peaceful, somewhere. But alas, it's not to be. After the lovemaking, Dolores confesses she really does have feelings for Teddy, but she also adds that there's no place in her mission for Teddy.Teddy is, in her words, too "nice." She spins him a tale of an infected herd of cattle, and asks him how he would handle it. Teddy's solution is to quarantine to sick cattle but nurse them back to health. But the correct answer, as far as Dolores is concerned, is to slaughter the sick animals and burn their corpses.The only thing left for Dolores to do is to have Teddy's mind wiped. Poor, nice, doomed Teddy. He never stood a chance.

The next step in Dolores' plan involves stealing a train to go find her missing father. As you'll recall, last week's episode saw the construction of some new train tracks, with people being used in place of planks of wood. Slowly but surely, all these threads are coming together. But where will they all lead?

Stray Observations and Questions

  • This week's episode belongs to Thandie Newton. She knocks all her big, emotional moments out of the park, and the quiet scenes she shares with the excellent Rinko Kikuchi are the highlight of the episode.
  • I can't help but wonder how much more of Shogun World will be featured this season. This was the last episode given to critics in advance, so I don't quite know what happens next. That said, I get the sense that we won't spend much longer in Shogun World. I could be wrong, though.
  • I love Dolores, and I love Evan Rachel Wood's performance. But Westworld really needs to kick her storyline up a notch, because it's starting to drag. Please give her more to do beyond looking sad and delivering cryptic speeches, I beg of you.
  • Lee's constant exposition – "Ninjas never showed up in this story!" "The Shogun's army never comes into town!" – is getting real old, real fast. Stop it.