7:01pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Westworld' Gives Voice to Violence as Season 2 Enters Shogun World
[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode five of HBO's Westworld, "Akane No Mai."]
"Welcome to Shogun World."
Those are the magical words fans have been waiting to hear ever since the mysterious park was first teased in the first season finale of Westworld. There's no more waiting; the audience has now well and truly arrived in Shogun World, a place that's designed for "the true aficionado of gore," according to Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) — the same man who gives voice to the aforementioned welcome.
Indeed, voices are at the forefront of "Akane No Mai," as Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) is forced to find new ways of communicating in this brand new world. Not only does she spend much of the hour speaking Japanese to her fellow hosts, Maeve also finds "a new voice," one that allows her to interact with and even control other hosts without speaking a single word. It's a frightening phenomenon, and an exciting one, as Maeve — already among the single most powerful hosts we've thus far encountered, if not the most powerful host — has just become virtually omnipotent.
The sojourn into Shogun World wasn't the only focus of "Akane No Mai," helmed by Craig Zobel, the director responsible for bringing the riveting "International Assassin" episode of HBO's The Leftovers to life. In addition to Maeve exploring brand new territory, the episode also sees Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden) returning to somewhere very familiar, with devastating results. Before all of that, the episode begins in a place far away in time, if not in space; the perfect place to begin our recap of everything that happened in "Akane No Mai."
The Missing Third
Because Westworld isn't confusing enough, the show once again kicks off an episode in a temporally perplexing point in time. The first scene takes place in the storyline playing out roughly two weeks after the assassination of Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), with Delos operations head Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) overseeing the collection and forensic analysis of the dead hosts recovered from the mysterious body of water in the season premiere.
While speaking with his colleague Antoine Costa, the technician working with the extraction team, Strand learns something very disturbing: about a third of the recovered hosts have been completely wiped, to the point that it seems as if they never carried data to begin with. Worse still, there's nothing that can be recovered; the hosts' back-ups have been destroyed.
"We've essentially lost a third of our IP in a single sweep," says a subtly shaken Strand. He goes on to muse further: "It's quite a story they gave them, and one hell of an ending. A lot of disparate threads come together to make this nightmare. If we figure that out, we'll know how the story turns."
And with those words, Strand has given voice to exactly how Westworld viewers have approached the show since the very beginning.
Before the scene ends, we see Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) standing nearby, staring out at the piles and piles of dead hosts. As before, he appears completely out of sorts. Within the body pile: Teddy Flood (James Marsden), whose floating corpse was revealed in the season premiere. Thanks to certain events that occur later in this episode, we have some fresh theory fodder about how Teddy wound up in the water. But first...
Welcome to Shogun World
The moment we've all been waiting for: Hiroyuki Sanada steps out of the shadows as Musashi, a ronin with an axe to grind — except his axe alternates between a sword and a sodegarami, depending on the occasion.
In this first scene, it's a sword, as Musashi and a bunch of his allies surround Maeve and her allies, a direct continuation of the cliffhanger from episode three. Maeve attempts to command the men into dropping their weapons, once again relying on the power of her voice commands. As was the case with Ghost Nation, however, no such luck. Musashi promptly commands his men to gag Maeve, which they do with pleasure.
The next day, Musashi marches his prisoners toward a village. Along the way, they pass eviscerated hosts, the sunrise glistening in the reflection of bloody entrails. As is often the case, Sizemore describes the current situation with his typical vulgar flair. "This is the tip of Shogun World's prick," he says, adding that the park is based on Japan's Edo period, and is "uniquely designed for visitors who find Westworld to be too tame." What's more, Sizemore offers Maeve a helpful hint: she and the other hosts can speak Japanese, as the ability is buried in their code; the reason why Maeve was unable to control Musashi and the rest is because she wasn't speaking the right language.
Soon, the travelers reach the village, and while the specific scenery is very different from Sweetwater, the events are rather reflective of something we've seen before: Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) robbing the Mariposa Saloon — except this time, it's Musashi and his fellow ronin robbing a house of entertainment owned by a woman named Akane (Rinko Kikuchi). The scene plays out incredibly similarly to Hector's heist in the series premiere, with Hector and Armistice on hand to witness the similarities for themselves. Even Sizemore is forced to admit it: "I cribbed a little from Westworld. You try writing 300 stories in three weeks!"
Musashi's violent robbery plays out against the backdrop of series composer Ramin Djawadi's latest cover of the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black." Inside the house, Musashi slits the throat of an "invited guest" from China, in possession of vast quantities of gold. Outside of the house, arrows sling through the streets, nearly penetrating Maeve and the rest, who are set up as human shields. Armistice saves one of Musashi's allies, a woman with a snake tattoo on her face, just like Armistice. The woman frees them all, which leads Maeve to burst into the house and bust out some very impressive Japanese, for someone speaking the language for the first time.
"I know how this story ends," she tells Musashi and Akane. "Lay down your swords, and let's have a more civilized conversation."
"Excellent idea," Akane responds. "After all, from the look of it, we have a lot in common."
Maeve smirks: "I couldn't have said it better myself."
The New Voice
As it turns out, there's no such thing as a quick "civilized conversation," at least not in Shogun World. Maeve and her allies are invited to sit and watch a performance at Akane's house, with no actual conversation to speak of. With little else to do, Maeve takes the chance to scold Sizemore for how he wrote the stories in Shogun World — namely, by copying his own work from Westworld. Sizemore contends that "it's not plagiarism, it's supply and demand."
Whatever it is, it's led to the collision of "dopple-bots," as Sizemore calls them. Hector and Musashi are clearly cut from the same mold, as are Armistice and her snake-tattooed new friend; the former pair have it out for each other, while the latter pair are deeply fascinated with one another. As for Maeve and Akane, the two are clearly linked with parallel stories; just as Maeve cared for Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), so too does Akane watch out for a dancer named Sakura (Kiki Sukezane).
Speaking of Sakura, a man marches into the house, demanding her presence. He represents the Shogun, who has asked for "the most ravishing dancer in the region," not just for a single event, but for a permanent residence. Sizemore believes he knows how this story is supposed to play out, but it takes a hard left turn when Akane murders the messenger in cold blood. She proceeds to hire Musashi as a ronin, in order to bring them far away before the Shogun catches onto what's happened here. Sizemore offers the idea of retreating to Snow Lake, Sakura's narrative cornerstone, not to mention a place that has an access point back to the tunnels; it'll help Maeve and company get back on track.
Musashi agrees to let Maeve and the others accompany him on the mission, but circumstances arise that prevent the voyage — and in this case, "circumstances" and "ninjas" are analogous. A small army of assassins attack the house at night, leading to an impressive action scene. Maeve commands two of the ninjas to kill each other, but a third ninja witnesses her actions and describes her as a witch. He attacks Maeve, and keeps her mouth covered to prevent her from voicing any other commands. It's during this skirmish that Maeve taps into this brand new ability to command other hosts without uttering a single word; in this first instance, she compels her assailant to impale his own head on a spike. Pretty vicious.
In the aftermath of the battle, the group realizes Sakura has been taken. Before they have time to process what's happened, the Shogun's army marches into town, which is apparently a massive deviation from their normal loops. Musashi, who was once the captain of the Shogun's guard, knows what's coming next: the army will terrify the town into absolute submission. The group hatches a counter plan, as Musashi, Hector and Armistice distract the army while Maeve, Sizemore, Akane, Felix and Sylvester escape.
The next morning, Maeve and her group (which no longer includes Musashi, Hector and Armistice, all captured) set out to find and free Sakura from the Shogun. Maeve has found herself deeply drawn to Akane's story, so much so that she seemingly can access Akane's vivid history. Sizemore tries to appeal to Maeve's sense of survival, but Maeve won't listen. She knows that she's coded to be selfish, but still feels compelled to risk her life for these people. Sizemore knows things are changing with Maeve, which leads him to ask how she was able to wordlessly command the ninja. For now, Maeve can only offer an enigmatic explanation: "I think I'm finding a new voice."
The Dance of Death
After a fairly quick road trip (in which Maeve promises Akane that "this is our fight," while Sizemore steals a walkie-talkie during a pee break; classic move!), the group arrives at the Shogun's, where they are surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of soldiers. Maeve tries buy her way into the Shogun's good graces, by offering up a completely fabricated back story about a supposedly rare statue.
The story falls on deaf ears, however. Actually, it falls on no ears at all: the Shogun, who is revealed to be malfunctioning, has commanded his men to remove their own ears, so they cannot be controlled by Maeve's "witchcraft." The Shogun brings out Sakura, forces Akane to reveal herself, and offers her a deal: he will surrender Sakura, but only if Akane, the greatest dancer he's ever known, will perform for him later in the evening.
Akane accepts the terms, and when next we see her, she and Sakura are getting dressed up for the performance. Akane tries to comfort Sakura, suffering from a particularly nasty wound: a cherry blossom, brutally carved into her back on the Shogun's orders. In order to comfort her daughter-like figure, Akane tells Sakura a story about a voice she once heard that compelled her to cross "the shining sea." Her words ring a bell with Maeve, as they should with the viewer: it's the exact same story Maeve once told as part of her own backstory.
Recognizing this continued kinship in Akane, Maeve not only finishes the story, but also offers Akane "freedom," the chance to join her on a quest to a world beyond this one, beyond the stories and lies. Maeve begins using her new abilities to mind-meld with Akane, but Akane asks her to stop. Maeve relents: "Some things are too precious to lose," apparently realizing that in waking Akane, she risks robbing her of her happy memories with Sakura.
Sadly, the happy memories with Sakura are about to end. When Akane and Sakura arrive to begin their dance, the Shogun decides that there's "one detail missing," leading him to stab Sakura through the stomach. As Maeve watches, she remembers her own experiences with the Man in Black (Ed Harris), attacking her and her child in a past narrative. Somehow, Akane steels herself and begins her dance anyway — and at the climax of the beautiful movements, she removes a dagger from her hair, and uses it to cut the Shogun's head off from the jaw up. It's easily among the most gruesome images Westworld has offered up yet, which is quite the achievement.
The Shogun's men are quick to action, forcing Akane and Maeve to their knees, facing certain execution — except nothing is certain where Maeve Millay is concerned. Once again, she wordlessly takes control over the hosts around her, commanding all of the Shogun's men in the near vicinity to kill each other. A huge group of soldiers marches upon their surroundings, far away from Maeve's influence. She proudly picks up a nearby sword, holds it high, and reassures her allies about the imminent battle: "I found a new voice. Now we use it."
And that's it for Shogun World! But before we bow out completely...
Back in Westworld, Dolores and Teddy return to Sweetwater, where Dolores sets her minions about searching the train that leads to the Mesa. "Fix what's broke and strip her for speed," she orders her followers. Inside the Mariposa Saloon, Dolores and Teddy take a drink. She reveals that they're going to set off to find her father, who she apparently assumes is back at the Mesa. Inside the saloon, there's a brutal moment where Clementine sees her replacement host; despite her relatively zombified nature, Clementine can still remember bits of old dialogue and reveries. It's painful to see.
Further away, Dolores and Teddy ride out to the outskirts of the town, the same spot they used to visit and dream about running away together... "someday." Teddy begs Dolores to abandon the war and turn "someday" into today. Dolores doesn't budge. She instead tells Teddy an old story about her family's herd coming down to a disease called "bluetongue," carried by flies. She asks Teddy how he would have handled it, and he offers a peaceful solution. Dolores says they burned the weak in such a great pyre of fire that the flies stayed away, and the herd survived. She promises Teddy that she'll think about his offer to ditch the cause.
That night, Teddy and Dolores sleep with each other for the first time since the war began. It's a tender moment between these two star-crossed lovers... until it all goes horribly wrong. Dolores wakes Teddy in the night and brings him elsewhere, confessing that she's been questioning her feelings for him over the last few days. She now knows her feelings were true — but sadly, she also knows that the Teddy won't survive the battle ahead in his currently innocent condition.
And so, Dolores does what any concerned partner would: she completely, fundamentally alters Teddy's entire programming against his will. She commands her followers to grab Teddy, and orders her imprisoned engineer to perform an impromptu full reset. She's warned that such a drastic move could deeply damage Teddy forever, leading to a very sad reply from Dolores: "To grow, we all need to suffer."
It's a brutal development for the romance between Teddy and Dolores. Sadly, can't say we didn't warn you.
What did you think of the very first Shogun World episode? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.