Images courtesy of HBO
Westworld inspires all kinds of armchair philosophy – careful examination of every nuance, Googling every keyword for maximum allusions, wild indulgence in what the show is saying about the human condition – but it’s more than that. “Akane No Mai” keeps the answers tantalizingly out of reach, but it also serves up some satisfying payoff in world-building, narrative impact, and character development. After waiting half a season, we finally get to visit Shogun World. Dolores and Teddy’s relationship has finally gotten interesting. And Maeve is a bloody goddess. Also, more new questions. Because Westworld.
Did well all go back and rewatch the original town shootout from Episode One? It’s a good bet that everyone involved in the production had fun recreating the same scene, only this time in Shogun World. At the start, the arrival of the scoundrel squad is a shot-for-shot callback with the dialogue and music reworked for Japan’s Edo period, but the contrasts are fun and it’s paced in a way that veers back to the twisted reality of the situation before it becomes too much of a gimmick. From there, the storytelling strikes a balance between exploring one of the distinctly Shogun World storylines while focusing on momentum of the underlying revolution. It’s Maeve who steps into the central role, cutting through the window dressing to get everyone on the same page.
The connections between the mirrored characters are used to wonderful effect. Maeve and Akane’s connection as mothers and survivors who take no shit forms the heart of the episode. When Maeve hears Akane’s version of her own story about being who you want to be, fully aware but nonetheless touched by it, it’s an affecting moment of offering strength to strength. She also offers Akane the freedom of awareness, bitterly familiar with what that loss of innocence costs and reaffirming her resolution to find her own daughter in the process. Lighter takes on these character parallels come in Hector and Musashi’s posturing animosity and Armistice and Hanaryo’s mutual fascination. (Anyone else think they’re going to sleep together?) In a more vague sense, it also poses interesting questions about archetypes in storytelling. Who hasn’t imagined how their favorite characters from different stories might react to meeting their counterpart in another tale? Then, of course there’s the recurring central question of “what makes a self a self,” now cast in a whole new light. Lee might have “borrowed a bit” in crafting their stories but, in banding together, the characters have a chance to develop unique identities while drawing strength from their similarities.
Once again, this episode establishes Maeve as the series’ strongest and most interesting character. Beyond gathering a squad of badasses and misfits (gotta love seeing one-time string-pullers Felix and Sylvester helplessly swept up in her plan and pulling a carriage), her ability to control other hosts has crossed into the realm of “super powers” – or “witchcraft” in the local parlance. The fact that the hosts all have a buried ability to understand each other’s disparate languages is going to prove handy but, by the end of the episode, Maeve has passed beyond it, controlling other hosts with thought alone. The idea that hosts have an innate connection to and awareness of others around them has been established (Charlotte previously used this to locate Abernathy), and perhaps this is what Maeve has learned to manipulate. It will be interesting to see where this “access” comes from. At the end of Season One, it was pointed out that someone had altered her narrative – even her desire to leave the park had been written in advance. Could Ford have hedged his bets, altering both her and Dolores? The episode ended before we got to see Maeve truly unleash, but here’s hoping we get to see that battle in all its glory in the next episode.
[The language idea also gives another breadcrumb for those putting their money on Grace being a human/host hybrid, or a host copy sent to test her father. Last week, we saw her ability to understand the language of her Native American captors. True, she may have grown up in the park, studied everything about it in an attempt to understand her father, or perhaps with a little focus, she can activate the same language abilities that allow the other hosts to understand each other. It certainly seems that the internet conspiracy theorists have moved her to the top of the not-entirely-human list. Gotta say, I like this one.]
Even though Dolores has gone round the bend, this episode took one last opportunity to revisit the sympathetic humanity that made her so interesting last season. Her “blueflies” metaphor lays out the belief at the core of her plan, weighing the balance within each host. She wants to open their eyes, but she doesn’t want them to become too much like their flawed creators; to her, weakness and humanity are one and the same. Though she suspected that Teddy was one of the ones who didn’t “deserve to make it,” her sleeping with him was understandable. She had to be sure, had to take one last moment of vulnerability with the only person she has left. We all knew this confrontation was inevitable, that she’s too far down her path to turn back, but the heartbreak was palpable. The technician warns her that overwriting Teddy could destroy him and she proceeds, even after seeing what it did to her father. Teddy offered to go forward with her with “eyes open” but she’s forced his eyes shut.
Who will Teddy be when we see him next? Will Maeve’s team keep its new members and continue to grow? (Yes, please.) Will we get to see even more new parks? How far has the sickness that affected the Shogun spread? And just how quickly will Maeve shut down Lee’s idea of phoning for help? (That’s cute, darling.)
Though they both currently have their hands full, I’m beginning to wonder if Maeve and Dolores aren’t destined for confrontation. Maeve’s daughter is somewhere on the plains of Westworld. What if Dolores finds her first? What if she’s deemed “unworthy?” Could Maeve’s newfound control abilities trump Dolores’ stop-at-nothing fervor? Both have miles yet to go and their storylines are continuing to diverge in interesting ways, but when these two sides of the revolution come back together, it’s going to be a hell of a sight to see.
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