“To grow, we all need to suffer.”
This recap contains spoilers for Westworld Season 2, episode 5, “Akane No Mai.” To refresh your memory of where we left off, check out our review of Season 2, episode 4, and our explainer on what the ending of episode 1 could mean.
Season 2 of Westworld seems to be falling into a pattern; odd-numbered episodes feel slow and self-indulgent, while even-numbered installments like last week’s twist-filled “The Riddle of the Sphinx” offer new revelations and deeper insights into our characters. “Akane No Mai” finally makes good on the promise of Shogun World – which is oozing with atmosphere and chock full of gory, spectacular action sequences – but much of Maeve and her gang’s trip to the other park seems to prioritize style over substance, hammering us over the head with obvious parallels about our thirst for violence but never really succeeding at moving the story forward.
(The one big reveal? Strand and his Delos tech guys back at the Mesa discovering that one third of the hosts they’ve recovered have nothing on their control units – like they’ve never held data. Could Dolores’ posse have recovered some of the brand new control units from Delos’ secret labs and plugged them into old host bodies while Dolores – or perhaps Bernard – uploaded the original hosts’ minds somewhere else? The plot thickens!)
Lee Sizemore outright admits that he and the rest of the staff didn’t bother trying to come up with original plotlines or characters for the other parks, just recycling Maeve, Hector and Armistice’s stories elsewhere, but that point is perfectly illustrated in one of the show’s most satisfying sequences, as Maeve and her crew witness the Shogun World version of Hector’s Mariposa heist playing out with almost beat-for-beat accuracy. (Check out our side-by-side comparison of the two robberies in the video above.) It’s a perfect way to show, rather than tell, the audience that these worlds are the same, which proves to be far more effective than some of the episode’s more heavy-handed moments, like Armistice and her dragon-tattooed counterpart staring at each other like they’re looking in a mirror, or Maeve and Shogun World’s equally steely madam, Akane, seeming to share the same fierce protectiveness for their “daughters.”
Ultimately, aside from being meta-commentary on how audiences are content to consume the same attractively packaged stories over and over again with little deviations, this episode is about Maeve coming to terms with her power – which includes learning a handy new skill: Mind control. Since she spends most of the episode with the inhabitants of Shogun World literally trying to stifle her voice (so heavy-handed), she soon realizes she has the power to control the other hosts without saying a word, pulling some Jean Grey-esque psychic trickery and getting most of the Shogun’s soldiers to turn on each other in the heat of battle.
But the season is clearly also trying to draw parallels between Maeve and Dolores’ journeys to enlightenment; in episode 5, Maeve realizes that free will means always giving someone a choice about their path, not just when it’s convenient – and yet she’s still falling into the same traps that have plagued Dolores this season.
When Maeve tries to “awaken” Akane to what she is, the other madam fights against that awareness and forcefully says no, choosing to remain blissfully oblivious to the horrors of the life she’s been programmed into and instead focus on the purity of her relationship with her protege, Sakura – prompting Maeve to realize, “Some things are too precious to lose, even to be free.”
This stands in stark contrast to Dolores’ behavior; rather than choosing to love and accept Teddy for who he is now that he’s gained consciousness, or giving him the chance to evolve in his own time, she basically decides that he’s just too precious for this world and alters his code to make him less compassionate and virtuous, all while cranking up his hostility and aggression, just to make him a more useful tool in the battle against the humans. While it’ll be interesting to see what James Marsden does with the meatier material when he gets to be a swaggering bad guy for a change, Dolores’ decision is a complete violation of the freedom that Ford was trying to grant the hosts – she’s become every bit as ruthless as William, equally willing to see her fellow hosts as disposable and disregard their consent when it suits her needs.
And while Maeve is still willing to kill any hosts that stand in her way rather than simply freezing all motor functions, she does seem to slowly be developing the kind of empathy that you’d expect from a human. By mind-controlling other hosts, she’s still not quite at the point where she’s acknowledging their autonomy, but by respecting Akane’s wishes, she seems to have a much greater capacity for human behavior than Dolores currently does – it just remains to be seen whether she’ll acknowledge that capacity in all of the hosts, not just the ones she relates to.
That raises the question of whether this season will come down to a confrontation between Maeve and Dolores – their last encounter was brief and somewhat anticlimactic, but it’s worth noting that even in that scene, Maeve challenged Dolores on the fact that she seemed to feel entitled to command everyone around her. Right now, Maeve is certainly the one with the power – she’s the only host who seems to have gained the ability to control others, hinting that perhaps Dolores is still playing out her Wyatt programming rather than thinking for herself, but also suggesting that both of these women have the capacity for darkness, if they choose to give in to it.
It’ll be interesting to see whether fate brings them back together, since right now, Maeve seems far more equipped to survive in the real world by playing the long con, than Dolores does with her guns blazing approach. We’ve only got five episodes left to see how it all ties together, so fingers crossed the show starts wasting less time telling us things we already know and more on helping us find the door out of this maze.