WARNING: FULL SPOILERS
American Westerns and Japanese Samurai films have always shared the same DNA. Lone gunslingers and ronin. Charismatic madams and geishas. So it came as no surprise that Westworld brought their Western heroes together with the legendary samurai. Much was made about “Shogun World” in the lead up to “Akane No Mai,” and the episode definitely paid off with blades and blood.
But the true highlight of the episode was the emergence of Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) new “voice.” This new ability not only adds a new powerful player into the struggle for control in Westworld, but it could also lead to a potential conflict. While Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) turned her back on love, Maeve embraced it as she fought alongside another lost mother.
“A New Voice.”
So what exactly has Maeve become? It may be a hard to figure out at this point, but the possibilities are certainly intriguing. Her powerful ability to command other hosts with a thought was amazing to see. And completely unexpected…were other Hosts like Maeve capable of this? Or was this an evolutionary step?
The episode set her power up brilliantly as well. Like a great Western or Samurai film, a showdown was set up. Maeve was just as confused as everyone else when she discovered her power. When she embraced it, the evil (Read: Broken Host) Shogun found a way to subvert it by cutting off his soldiers’ ears. And when Maeve finally unleashed her full potential by turning those soldiers against each other, it was immensely satisfying.
Maeve’s triumph was not only crowd pleasing, it also set up a new power player in the growing struggle. While Dolores held the secrets to programming other Hosts, Maeve could literally do it on a whim. Their brief confrontation at the beginning of this season was more important that we initially realized. Remember, Maeve accused Dolores of seeing only one way to fight: Cold vengeance. In “Akane No Mai,” Maeve fought for love.
Maeve found a kindred soul in Akane (Rinko Kikuchi). Much made about Hiroyuki Sanada (And for good reason…He was stoically cool), but Akane was the more commanding presence. Her vengeance against the Shogun, who murdered her surrogate daughter Sakura in front of her, was gruesome but oh so satisfying. She literally cut the Host’s head open! Her rage and sorrow were palpable, and instantly forged a powerful link between her and Maeve.
Their unwavering love for lost daughters was a source of strength. Maeve grew to respect Akane when she refused “freedom” if it meant giving up her love for Sakura. There were some things not worth freedom. Something that another main character could never accept.
“To Grow We All Need to Suffer”
Dolores’ story line felt a little by the numbers when it first started, but it ended tragically and contributed to the slight power shift in the episode. As Dolores’ army returned to Sweetwater for its train, her calm demeanor hid a calculated action. Teddy (James Marsden) was always going to pay for his mercy, and it finally happened.
Dolores saw his kindness and her love for him as a weakness. While that speech about the diseased cows was a little on the nose, Wood and Marden absolutely sold it. Maybe they both knew what was coming. Maybe Teddy was in denial. The love scene between Teddy and Dolores was beautifully shot, and all the more tragic. It was her goodbye to him.
Dolores used the captive scientist to reprogram or reset Teddy…exactly what it was unclear. Whatever happened, it was a frightening scene, one that show just how cold Dolores was becoming. All she could see was the revolution, but was this really necessary? She saw the love she felt as a weakness. It scared her so much she was willing to sacrifice a beloved ally. For the first time, our powerful revolutionary seemed vulnerable.
It was a stark difference from Maeve’s journey. Her monologue with Sizemore (Simon Quartermain) was great. Maeve’s emotional bond to her lost daughter may have only been back story to the weaselly writer, but she truly felt that love. She embraced it and she saw Akane’s break from her story loop as proof that it was genuine.
Maeve wasn’t weak here. She emerged as the stronger of the two.
More Than One Way to Fight
“Akane No Mai” didn’t quite reach the heights of last week’s “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” but the episode was exciting in more ways than one. The action was great and it was incredibly fun to see a different version of Hector’s (Rodrigo Santoro) infamous heist from the first season. Not only was it a great throwback to that fun scene, it was a nice satirical stab at how both Westerns and Samurai films “borrow” from each other. Sizemore’s defensive consternation for plagiarizing his own work was great.
But it also showed that Dolores’ way wasn’t the only one. Maeve has slowly gained power as Dolores’ outright war took center stage. Many may look at Maeve’s new power as a simple character wrinkle, but the possibility of a possible showdown between Westworld’s two powerful female leads was equally appealing.
SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10
Westworld airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO