Analysis: Westworld Season 2 Episode 5 Recap, “Akane No Mai”

Akane Shogun World - Copy

A primary function of white supremacy is the “otherization” of cultures that do not fit within its defining parameters of superiority. The more pervasive and normalized the otherization, the easier it becomes for individuals of those cultures to be deemed inferior and, well, history and reality offer a plethora of examples as to the varied consequences that follow.

Orientalism is such a function and as time has gone on, the memory of the usage of the term has shifted markedly in the Western imagination. While modern references to the slur “oriental” as primarily referencing peoples from Eastern Asia and China, the slur has been used as a reference point for peoples from the Middle East to South Asia to Japan. The slur is the foundational reasoning for the stereotypes of the submissive and exotic Asian women-identifying individuals and the meek and docile Asian men-identifying individuals.

Wildly popular as a reference point in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, orientalism was pervasive in its usage as a tool to justify Western imperialism. It portrayed Eastern societies from the Ottoman Empire onwards as being lazy, exotic, and drowning in the sea of hedonism. That prevalent depiction in paintings and other forms of artistic and popular culture helped spread an attitude of the “Exotic East” and well, surely the industrious West could step in and save the “barbarians” from a life of indulgence in sin. It is this thinking that would lead to the creation of Shogun World, an “exotic” park that would offer thrills and danger for those who found Westworld to be “too tame.”

It is no mistake that in keeping with this season’s emphasis on colonialism that Shogun World takes place during the Edo period of Japanese history, which officially comes to an end with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The Edo period, established by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603, is often characterized by the official Japanese policy isolation. It is in this period that that isolationism is broken with the fateful arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry and his infamous “black ships” armada.

Samurai Shogun World

Shogun World was first teased in the season one finale “The Bicameral Mind” and its brief appearance at the end of “Virtù e Fortuna” raised the excitement bar even higher. Its appearance in “Akane No Mai” does not disappoint. Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, along with actors Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Thandie Newton, all spoke about the importance of respecting Japanese culture with the reality of Shogun World being created by white people.

It is no mistake that, in a fairly clever little bit of plotting, that Lee (Simon Quarterman) unsurprisingly displays the lack of care that is so often prevalent in the depiction of various Asian societies. He simply copies a lot of what he wrote for Sweetwater and imparts it upon a Japanese setting. The resulting balance displayed in the production and costume design is impeccable, a balance that is designed to provide our hosts with a clash between the familiar and an awe at the new.

In a self-plagiarizing move forever to be dubbed “Classic Lee,” Lee copied storylines and characters from Sweetwater into Shogun World, hoping that the locale and a few lazy ninja stereotypes would be enough to overcome the narrative similarities. Our host characters notice, however, that there are indeed significant similarities with characters inside Shogun World and that there are parallel characters with whom they can form bonds and discover new things about themselves.

Musashi (played by the indomitable Hiroyuki Sanada) is the mirror to Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). Hector has an immediately tense reaction towards the former Captain of the Shogun’s (Taishi Mizuno) armed forces, which is perhaps the result of his own insecurities and fears about himself coming to the forefront. Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) form an instant bond over violence and tattoos. The most important relationship, however, forms between Maeve (Thandie Netwon) and Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), who transcend the doppelgänger nature inherent to their meeting and bond over their mutual embraces of motherhood.

Maeve Westworld - Copy

As Maeve and Akane’s relationship blossoms, back in Westworld we see Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden) off on a side quest of their own. If the audience surmised that she was disappointed in Teddy not executing the Confederados in “Virtù e Fortuna,” that disappointment rears its ugly head this week. Dolores recounts an episode in which her father had to burn the diseased and old cows so the flies carrying the blue tongue blight would dwindle. Teddy’s empathy makes him uniquely unsuited for Dolores’s revolution and she has his entire code rewritten to make him smarter, more ruthless, and ensures that his loyalty is just right below maximum.

Dolores’s ideas of converting Teddy is contrasted nicely with Maeve’s individual approaches, such as the moment when she realizes that Akane is not ready to meet her threshold of consciousness. The Shogun World storyline itself kicks nicely into gear when Akane, instead of acquiescing to the shogun’s demand for her daughter Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), murders the shogun’s messenger instead. When Lee is unable to understand why they were risking their lives to save Sakura, Maeve retorts that he cannot write stories about them loving people and then become upset when they indeed follow the pathway of said love. As a mother, she was willing to risk her life to ensure another mother and daughter were reunited.

The shogun’s price for returning Sakura to Akane was that the latter would perform one of her legendary geisha dances. Akane, seeing no other pathway out of her predicament, agrees. The shogun, being a man of his dishonorable word, murders Sakura right in front of Akane and then demands that she dance for him regardless. Kikuchi’s performance is astounding as she moves with a thrilling combination of grace and grief, culminating in her stabbing the villainous shogun and sawing his head right off. Maeve is in awe of Akane’s devotion to her motherhood and her ferocity in defending it.

The most critical development in “Akane No Mai” is Maeve unlocking a new voice, a new depth of consciousness that was probably unlocked after her connection to Akane. Seeing a mirror of her own self forming relationships and choosing her own pathway was a powerful connection for Maeve. Now she can direct commands without saying a single word out loud, instead using the power of her mind and connecting telepathically to other hosts. Lee has no idea how she is doing it, nor does it appear that anyone else does. But Maeve, while not knowing exactly what is happening, knows that she has a new voice and is more than willing to use it.

General Musings:

  • What does it mean for a third of the recovered hosts to not have had any data within them?
  • So the Delos team is aware that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a host, right? Or was that a classic misdirect via editing?
  • I have no idea why Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) is still alive. That man is beyond obnoxious.
  • “I’m from Hong Kong, a**hole.”
  • The proper note that a geisha cannot be touched by a man without her express permission was a nice touch.
  • So, Maeve and Akane spinoff, anyone?
  • Clementine’s (Angela Sarafyan) sadness at seeing her replacement was one of the most touching moments of the series. It was quiet and perfect in its tragedy.
  • The usage of traditional Japanese was a welcome one.
  • Rinko Kikuchi’s “Arigato, Maeve” was incredibly powerful.
  • Ramin Djawadi’s “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Paint it Black” covers are available on YouTube and Spotify.

What did you like about the episode? What did you not like? What are your new theories? Chime in below!

– Akash J. Saran

9 responses to “Analysis: Westworld Season 2 Episode 5 Recap, “Akane No Mai””

  1. Great recap Akash!

    Figured I’d repost my comment from the open chat (with edits):

    Dolores is very hard to like this season, and even harder after last night. That said, it was good to see a bit more of her story to figure out what is her ultimate plan. I’m not doing the recap this week, so I’ll throw out some of my thoughts here.

    Not sure if the security team knows Bernard is a host. I think Charlotte may know, but she could be keeping it to herself.

    When Strand et al are dealing with the “dead” hosts, they discover a third of them have control units which are blank – not wiped, but brand new/never used. If my theory is true that the Valley Beyond contains a holding facility with host bodies awaiting an upload of human consciousness (either test subjects or people awaiting a successful result with James Delos), and if Dolores’ plan is to hijack those bodies and implant them with her chosen hosts’ control units so they can escape to the mainland, then it would make sense for a third of the “dead” hosts to have blank units. That would mean she was successful in obtaining the new bodies and basically put “dummy” units in the old host bodies to throw Delos off, and to buy her and her chosen hosts time to escape. After all, a host with no control unit at all would be very suspicious.

    I think Dolores is taking the train to the Mesa Hub to find her father. I think she also either already knows about the Bernard duplicates or will find them. Looking at the preview for next week, she obviously does something to Bernard – she is testing him in a lab room. I think that is the Bernard that is found on the beach in the premiere. The Bernard copy would probably need some tweaking, and also probably wouldn’t have original Bernard’s memories of everything that has happened since the rebellion began – maybe even earlier than that. Who knows how often Ford backed them up (assuming they each have a control unit and aren’t empty)? Dolores would have to “fill him in” and give him whatever story she wanted him to tell.

    On that note, the Cradle is also in the Mesa Hub. I think Dolores will use it and destroy it. The Cradle is used to store all the park storylines and run simulations to test them all. Note also the name of the next episode is “Phase Space.” Phase Space refers to a space in which all possible states of a system are represented. For every possible state of the system a point is included in the multidimensional space. The system’s evolving state over time traces a path (a phase space trajectory) through the high-dimensional space. The full phase space that represents the set of states compatible with starting from any initial condition. Basically, it gives you the ability to predict any number of outcomes with any number of variables.

    Perhaps Dolores will run a simulation in the Cradle to predict the possible outcomes of the rebellion. She could then upload this information into the Bernard copy to prepare him for any situation that unfolds. That would explain why he acts strangely on the beach, why he has no scar, and why he seems to anticipate what Strand is going to say. It’s essentially deja vu because he has already “seen” this situation play out. She could have programmed him to do or say certain things based on each possible scenario – all to give her time to get out, and to cover her tracks. Then of course she would have to destroy the Cradle to erase the evidence.

    A bit off topic, but I think Maeve’s new mind control powers are a result of tapping into the mesh network – allowing her to wirelessly communicate with, and give commands to, nearby hosts. Perhaps other conscious hosts will develop this same ability. Given Maeve’s stance on freedom and not controlling other hosts, I wonder if this will come into play when she finds her daughter. Will she try to influence her to come with her and (presumably) command her new “mother” to give her up? Or will she allow them to make their own choices?

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  2. I’m getting weary of Dolores and her path of death and destruction. I suppose that she is the counterpoint to Maeve on allowing the hosts to exercise free will. I still love Maeve’s line to her – “revenge is just a different prayer at their altar” – because it suggests that Dolores’ journey is bound to end poorly unless she makes some adjustments.

    We continue to see hosts that are not “aware” such as Clementine 2 in the saloon. The hosts in Rajworld were awake/aware and were killing the guests. In Shogun World, we see a mix of both. Why? Maybe I’m missing the point…

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  3. I am a fan of Westworld but I was disappointed by this episode. As a child I saw numerous Japanese movies that were set in this period, and Shogun World looked so poorly done in comparison. But Shogun World isn’t meant to be the real thing. It’s an amusement park designed by Westerners. So it doesn’t have to seem real. Still, I’m disappointed…

    Djawadi’s music, to my ears, did not work this time.

    I find it very difficult to root for Dolores now, and this makes me sad.

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  4. mariamb,

    I agree about Dolores – my favorite scene of hers this season was when she reunited with her father because we got to see some emotion for a change.

    I think consciousness is behaving like a virus with the hosts – some get it more easily and quickly than others. I’m sure there are varying degrees of it in every park. In The Raj, we only saw a tiny section in which the hosts began killing guests.

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  5. mariamb,

    Vanessa,

    I think Dolores’s storyline is just sort of boring/slow moving so far compared to everyone else’s. Bernard is bouncing around all over the place, Maeve is traveling through multiple parks, but Dolores’s story hasn’t really been moving along. For me at least, I’ve definitely been enjoying Dolores’s bits– I loved her first scene of shooting down guests from her horse in the first episode, and even the speech she gave the guests afterward before she left them with nooses around their necks. And of course the scene with Peter Abernathy was awesome.

    Dolores was never my favorite (I’m a big Maeve guy myself), but I’ve always enjoyed her character and Evan’s acting. I still am this season, I just think her storyline has suffered so far. But from the season trailer, it looks like Dolores still has a lot of work to do in our current timeline, and I am guessing the second half of the season her storyline will really start to pick up. There are definitely still plenty of badass shots of Dolores in the trailer that we haven’t seen yet, anyway 🙂

    Side note: What she did to Teddy’s programming was pretty ruthless, but maybe we’ll see them get along a bit better now! I have a hard time believing that Dolores would let Teddy die with the rest of the hosts, anyways. He must be one of the hosts with a wiped/new control unit.

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  6. Jaehaerys: What she did to Teddy’s programming was pretty ruthless, but maybe we’ll see them get along a bit better now! I have a hard time believing that Dolores would let Teddy die with the rest of the host

    Her speech at the end about killing off the weak had me convinced that she would kill him. Much better that she had him reprogrammed rather than killed off completely. Yet the caveat “be careful what you wish for” keeps rolling through my mind. I don’t know that they will get along better. If they up his aggression level, then what will he feel about her? He was so kind, so caring and loving of her – can she tolerate him being tough? And will a new toughness on his part alter his treatment and opinion of her?

    I was really concerned about that speech of hers, about killing off the weak. It’s an uneven view of the real world. She says she needs to be so tough to survive in the real world. But what has she really seen of that world? A few cocktail parties, a few construction sites? Her vision is skewered.

    Killing off the weak is not the sign of a more advanced society, at least what we have come to expect of an advanced society, whether we realize it or not. If the whole idea were only to maintain power by killing off the weak, there would be no need for any kind of research into disease. No need for cancer research. We’ve already seen the payoff on reducing funds for that, via James Delos. No need for remedies or special meds, no need to understand the mental diseases that plague the world. The world she creates would be a harsh, backward place, not an advanced society.

    I keep thinking that Ford is still around, in some physical form, not just in prerecorded messages. It’s as if he’s playing his own little existential experiment, seeing what mantras his “enlightened” beings choose to live by, if given free choice of them and permission to use them. His ego was far to great to just give up and die, I think the little brain pod Bernard picked up was for Ford. Also, so great was his ego and so annoyed he would be by any interference by James Delos, that he might have sabotaged the research into restoring Delos.

    Can’t wait for Sunday, can’t believe the season is already half over.

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  7. Thronetender,

    Yeah… I’m hoping Dolores isn’t heading in the direction of killing off all of the weak in the world, which her speech did point to. I really think her speech to Teddy in episode 2 (I think? Maybe 3) really laid out her thoughts on the revolution; when Teddy asks her to run away with him and carve out a nice corner of this world to live in, and Dolores tells him that they wouldn’t survive unless they took “their” world too. I think Dolores is in total survival mode at this point, and she is really only pushing forward with this revolution because it is the only way to live. Once she pulled that trigger and offed Ford, there was no way the hosts wouldn’t be decommissioned for life unless they take control of the human’s world, is the way I see it. So those are my thoughts on her motivations for this whole revolution; I think when she gets all dark about it, and especially in her speech to Teddy about the weak, it is her inner Wyatt coming out, but that all her “new” voice wants to do is survive. She will definitely need to take the world from the humans to survive, which I believe her inner Wyatt will really help her in doing so, but after that is accomplished, I think her new voice would come to the forefront and she would be sympathetic to all hosts. (Sorry my thoughts were a bit scattered there).

    About the Teddy bit. His aggression levels could cause a problem, but I would guess Dolores also put his loyalty way up to the top, just to make sure he won’t disobey her again when times get tough. I think the “fastest gunslinger in the West” is going to start fucking people’s days up though; that Delos security team best be ready.

    Now, about the Ford bit. I’m not so sure Ford is in a physical body, just because I don’t think that was his plan to live at the end of S1. But I do think it’s probable that he uploaded his consciousness into the mesh network or something like that, and that is how he is communicating through certain hosts. I imagine we’ll hear him talking to William a couple more times before the season ends, and probably in front of his daughter too; I bet she’ll be pretty confused about the whole thing. I bet he’s just kind of floating from host to host to watch his game play out, and to see if the hosts can finish their journey to sentience and see if William can “make it back out.” It is very probable that he sabotaged James Delos’s research, or what I have thought is that he just had the answer to the problem the whole time, but wouldn’t bring the solution to light because he didn’t want James to become immortal. It is possible that the only guy smart enough to figure the problem out was Ford, and he just let these Delos research fools try as hard as they could because he knew they wouldn’t figure it out anyway.

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