'Westworld': Shogun World and the Secret of the Witch

The latest episode of the HBO drama, "Akane No Mai," adds a new ability to the hosts, with compelling ramifications for the future.
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode five of HBO's Westworld, "Akane No Mai."]

"I think I'm finding a new voice."

Ever since we first met Maeve (Thandie Newton), voices have been a key part of the character. First, it was the voice that compelled her to cross "the shining sea," at least in her false memories. Lately, it's a voice of God of sorts, an ability to compel any and all hosts to do her every bidding, even against their own best interests. In the third episode of this past season, Maeve's powers were dulled when leveled against Ghost Nation. This week, in "Akane No Mai," we finally understand why: Maeve was speaking the wrong language, as she learned when trying to control the Japanese-speaking denizens of Shogun World. Consider that lesson well and fully learned.

But an even more important lesson has come into focus as of the second season's midpoint: Maeve doesn't even need to speak in order to communicate with hosts. The all-powerful ex-madame of the Mariposa Saloon is in the process of discovering "a new voice," one in which she can wordlessly control and interact with other members of her species. 

Exactly what's going on with Maeve? Depends on who you ask. If you ask the Shogun, first of all, maybe don't do that; the Shogun's dead, he's not giving any answers. But the Shogun's surviving men would describe Maeve as a "witch," to the point that they would cut their own ears off in order to protect themselves from her spells. Little did they know Maeve's powers extend beyond the spoken word. 

If you ask Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the narrative director currently traveling with Maeve and company? He wouldn't have much of an answer. He seems just as surprised as anyone at what Maeve is able to do, as he witnesses the host silently compel one of the Shogun's ninjas to commit suicide by pounding his own face into a spike. Sizemore's questions are sure to multiply after the final moments of "Akane No Mai," in which Maeve makes a large swath of the Shogun's army fight each other to the death.

But there's at least one familiar quantity who could answer what's currently happening with Maeve: Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), currently dwelling far away from Shogun World. A moment with Bernard in the very first episode of season two more or less tells us exactly what's happening with Maeve.

In the premiere, Tessa Thompson's Charlotte Hale reveals to Bernard that she needs to find Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum), but has basically no idea how to track the host down. Luckily, Bernard knows a thing or two about how the hosts operate, considering the role he served at the park prior to discovering he's one of the subjects he's been studying. Bernard reveals the existence of a "mesh network" between the hosts, which essentially allows the artificially intelligent beings to interact with one another a la a hive mind. 

As Bernard puts it: "All hosts have a subconscious link to the closest host around them." Maeve was in very close proximity to all of the hosts she controlled in this episode; it's all but guaranteed she used the mesh network to access them, whether consciously or not. It explains why she felt such a kinship with Akane; not only did Maeve recognize their parallel stories, she was able to actually experience what Akane has lived through via the mesh network.

How is Maeve able to wield the mesh network to her own advantage? The same way she's able to control the other hosts: her attributes have been boosted all the way to the top. The longer she's able to hang onto those attributes, and the longer she's exposed to other hosts, the more powerful she's likely to become. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) knows a thing or two about how to command her army, but it's Maeve who currently has the leading potential to fully command the hosts in her vicinity.

In the final moments of "Akane No Mai," the Shogun's additional forces start storming the fortress, a seemingly insurmountable army against Maeve's meager forces. But she's calm. She picks up a sword, and pacifies the people she's traveling with, asking her how they can possibly survive what's coming next.

"I told you," she tells them with confidence. "I found a new voice. Now we use it."

What are your theories about Maeve's "new voice"? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.