Westworld Post Mortem of “Akane No Mai”

Shogun World

With Westworld‘s groundbreaking fifth episode of the season, “Akane No Mai”, officially behind us, we once again take a look at all the subsequent cast and crew interviews and videos that have come out in the last couple days. Of course, before jumping in, I have to take a moment to bring up the realization that we’re now halfway through the show’s sophomore season. How has this show already flown by so quickly?? Ok breathe, just breathe…

With the mini freakout now behind us, let’s get started!

We kick off with the helmer of the episode, Director Craig Zobel, who assumed the very difficult challenge of bringing a world to life that we had never seen before. Speaking with HBO.com, Zobel explains that he made the decision to introduce Shogun World to the viewers from the perspective of the company, and specifically, from Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman).

“Being set in a new place requires some level of reestablishing. In ‘Akane No Mai,’ you’re with characters you know in places they don’t know, so they’re proxies for the audience,” says Zobel. “So I came into it as someone like Lee, who’s looking at Shogun World from a company perspective.”

One of the more enjoyable parts of the episode comes as Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her troupe realize that Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is about to pull off an identical bank vault heist to the one Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and his gang successfully accomplish at the Mariposa in season one. Zobel says that the choice to reenact the same heist wasn’t originally written in the script, but was a decision he made, once again, through the eyes of Delos:

“It wasn’t a mandate to film it that way, but I went to [co-showrunner] Jonah [Nolan] and asked, ‘I should do a variation on the pilot and just rip you off, right?’ It seemed like the best way to explain the elements of what’s really happening in this scene. I imagine it as: Delos Incorporated looked at Westworld and a demographic who wants a certain level of intensity they’re not getting in Sweetwater. So the company decides to create a park that offers that kind of intensity and rushed it out the door — as corporations do. Since that’s the central element at play, we decided to film the same scene.”

The choice to mimic Westworld‘s season one vault heist was definitely a smart one, as it helped to convey the message that Delos wanted to create this brand new world for the purposes of continued profit, but didn’t want to put in the time or resources necessary to craft brand new characters and storylines.

Check out Zobel’s entire interview here, during which he also talks about the challenges of directing foreign language dialogue, and how Sanada helped he and his technical advisors perfect the sword fighting sequences.

Maeve Westworld - Copy

In a season that’s already been full of surprises, another big one came during the last episode as Maeve discovers her “witch” powers, which allow her to control the minds of the other hosts. This newfound power certainly comes in handy during a couple life-threatening situations throughout the episode, and ultimately serves as her and her troupe’s saving grace in the face of a charging army.

Newton recently chatted with Insider about her character’s new set of powers, which she seems to be quite thrilled about. “[Maeve] has basically got them all by remote control. Which is f—ing awesome,” admits Newton. “And to give that kind of technology and power to a single character … and that character happens to be me? [Laughing] It was the best news I’ve ever received.”

That being said, Newton does also note that these new powers only seem to emerge during dire circumstances, at least for now. “That’s the other thing — she’s not just like, ‘Mm-hmm, here we go!’ [Maeve] has to be f—ing strangled and nearly have her head cut off before she can really use the full strength of it.”

Another highlight of the episode for Maeve, or rather, for the actress behind the character, is the mastery she displayed in her grasp of the Japanese language. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Newton admits that she was initially intimidated by the task of delivering her Japanese dialogue, which couldn’t help but cloud her mind as filming started. “The only thing I could think about was my terror over learning all of that Japanese,” Newton admits. “That’s all I thought about. Nothing else crossed my mind. I didn’t think about costume, I didn’t think about performance. All I thought about was, ‘How am I not going to fuck this up?'”

Luckily, Newton was paired with dialogue coach Junko Goda, who not only helped her with her dialogue, but also provided helpful training on how a Japanese woman during that time would have carried herself:

“The first thing she did was talk to me about the etiquette and the literal aspects. How a woman carries herself physically, posture, the tilt of the head, not making eye contact, modesty, not putting the tongue in front of the teeth… all of these rules that are just completely second nature to a person in Japan before the 1960s.”

Newton also notes, during a conversation with Entertainment Tonight, that she thinks the show is destined to continue exploring new cultures and timeframes in the upcoming seasons in the same way it introduced Shogun World and its Edo-era Japanese style. “That’s something I think we’re going to be seeing in Westworld as it continues season after season, is how it just shines a gaze on a particular time in history, but also a particular filmmaker’s tradition of filmmaking,” says the actress. “And it’s such a joyride for us as actors, and contributors, too, because more and more they’re opening up to allowing us to really collaborate with how we see our characters in these situations.”

Check out all of Newton’s interviews via the links above.

Samurai Shogun World

Along with the reveal of Maeve’s powerful mind control abilities, the latest episode also introduces Musashi, played by Hiroyuki Sanada. The Japanese actor sat down with Esquire to discuss his involvement with the show as an actor and Japanese culture consultant, as well as what it was like to step on the set of the show he’s grown to be a big fan of.

Sanada explains that, as preparation for his role on Westworld, he made it a point of re-watching the first season to pick up on the movements and details of his Western counterpart. “I was a big fan of Season One, but I re-watched it to see what Hector had done because he’s like a mirror,” says the actor. “I am so happy that they used the same music. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m in the world.’ Dream come true.”

Along with bringing parts of Rodrigo Santoro’s character into his own performance, Sanada also contributed quite a bit of his knowledge about Japanese and Samurai culture to the show, even during the set building process:

“They built a great open set, which is a whole Japanese village, and the buildings were so authentic. They researched a lot. I had worked with some of the crew before on movies or TV, so some came to me to ask if this was correct or what do I think for the costumes or the props or the hair and makeup. I gave them some ideas and suggestions as a Japanese-born actor as much as I could. I respect their work, because they did a great job. But of course in the show it’s a theme park in western country and it’s created by western scientists, so we didn’t have to be 100 percent authentically Japanese. It’s a balance between authenticity and entertainment. We had to find out the best balance—especially for this show. So we always discussed that. It was a great collaboration.”

Check out Sanada’s entire interview here, during which he also discusses some of the subtle departures from the traditional Japanese style that had to be made for the show, and the importance of introducing Eastern culture and values to the West.

Lee Sizemore_Akane No Mai

While not known for his heroics or fighting skills, Lee Sizemore still played an important role in the last episode as he helped the viewers orient themselves to the new surroundings of Shogun World through exposition. Speaking with Vanity Fair, Simon Quarterman dives into his thoughts on being the character responsible for delivering this important information, and how he’s tried (and failed) to theorize about what’s to come next.

While it may be natural to think that delivering exposition dialogue should be fairly straightforward and easy, Quarterman explains that in reality it’s quite the opposite. “It’s one of the most challenging things to do, I think, as an actor. Making any type of exposition interesting,” admits the actor. “You want to engage the audience as best you can without going crazy yourself. There were a couple of moments where I was banging my head against wall going how am I…Because Maeve next to me is gagged and bound.”

Upon further thought, his point does make sense. In real life, would I make it a point of describing certain details to help orient the people accompanying me as I take in a new environment? Probably not. And if I did, it would probably sound weird and forced. So the fact that Quarterman was able to deliver his lines in character and in a way that sounded natural and believable says a lot about his abilities as an actor.

As with many fans and some of the show’s actors, Quarterman took his turn attempting to dissect the scripts and episodes in order to predict the future of the series. But, as with most of us, his efforts fell short of uncovering the truth. “I’m pretty useless at the whole getting what’s going on,” admits the actor. “I did try for a bit. I got it so disastrously wrong, I gave up and hung up my boots. I’m not even gonna bother. Leave everyone to it, I’m just gonna get on with this and try to get through it best I can.”

Check out Quarterman’s entire interview, which appears on Vanity Fair‘s podcast “Still Watching: Westworld”, here.

Dolores Teddy Westworld - Copy

A major turning point occurs in this episode with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy’s (James Marsden) longstanding relationship, filled with love, devotion, commitment, and now…betrayal?

Marsden recently spoke to Vulture about the choice Dolores makes to forcibly alter Teddy’s code, throwing their relationship, as well as the wellbeing of Teddy himself, into complete flux. The actor explains the emotional drive behind the scene, and the rationale to completely alter the mind of the host you love:

“It was heartbreaking because it felt like a long marriage of two people changing over time. There’s still levels where they connect and they do have this idea of wanting all this to go away. Not wanting to have these feelings of revenge that she’s driven by and just wanting to run away from it all. But they have different directives now and he’s starting to feel the conflict of, ‘This is the woman I love, but I’m not sure I’m on board with this.’ And —  I don’t want to speak for her — but it’s a betrayal, yes. But you can see her point as well which is, you’re not going to live, man. You won’t survive. You’re too kind. You’re too good of a man. The world doesn’t deserve you.”

Not only was the scene difficult for the characters, as well as certainly for the audience, but for Marsden and Wood themselves. “Evan and I were on set actually getting quite emotional about that scene,” admits the actor. “She was not having a good time with it. Nor was I, because you get put in some pretty perverse situations on this show […] So it was a sad day when all of that went down. But we also know that we’re telling a long story, and we’ll see where it all goes.”

It remains to be seen how much potential damage was inflicted upon Teddy, and how Dolores may or may not alter her trajectory based upon this latest choice, but knowing the former ends up unconscious in the water-filled valley found by Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) and his team, it looks like things may only get worse for the gunslinger before they get better.

Check out Marsden’s full interview here.

Akane Shogun World - Copy

We end our interviews with the writer of the episode, Dan Dietz, who spoke with HBO.com about the idea behind the “dopplebots” as they came to be called, and how Maeve’s arc within the episode allowed her to ascend to the next level of her android consciousness.

Dietz explains that they decided to mirror many of Shogun World’s characters around their Western counterparts to help the audience establish an immediate connection using the characters we’ve grown to love in the Westworld park:

“As we started working on the episode, we thought it would be fun if several of the characters in Shogun World were riffs on characters in Westworld. It points to the fact that this is a corporate-created theme park where they have too many stories to create and not enough time to do it. It also gives you the pleasure of watching familiar characters and stories through a completely different lens. We had a lot of fun with [exploring] the ways Akane and Maeve are similar and different. We wanted to use [the doppelbots] as an opportunity to bring out central aspects in each of the Westworld characters we know and love. We had a good time exploring what happens to artificial intelligence when it meets its double; How does that affect its experience of the world? Does it break down, get upset or, find itself strangely drawn to its double?”

As we’ve discussed, Maeve uses the horror and brutality of the Shogun’s orders as an advantage, helping her to discover her inner “witch” and subsequently control the minds of her android foes. Dietz says that this idea of Maeve coming out of the episode as an evolved character was always the goal. “We wanted everything to explode so that Maeve winds up being a goddess of death by the end,” admits the writer. “We wanted her to ascend to a whole other plane of power by the end of this episode — something that can be shocking, surprising, and hopefully riveting and grotesquely beautiful at the same time.”

Check out Dietz’s entire interview here.

This week’s behind-the-scenes video delves into many of the integral parts of the episode that made it not only narratively beautiful, but also a success in terms of properly portraying the Japanese culture – and all on the Melody Ranch backlot in Southern California:

A second BTS video, released a few days ago, joins Executive Producer/Director Richard J. Lewis as he explains the differences between seasons one and two and his reaction to first reading this season’s scripts:

And finally, in case you missed it, here’s a teaser for this upcoming Sunday’s episode, “Phase Space”:

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