Westworld Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: Maeve vs. Dolores

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO.
We’ve already established that the titles of Westworld are important, and this week’s is no exception. According to the Japanese language experts of Reddit, “Akane No Mai” translates as Akane’s Red Dance, which tells us two things right off the bat: 1) As was previously announced, a large portion of this episode takes place in Japanese, and 2) things are going to get pretty bloody. Think of this episode as Westworld’s Red Wedding.
We open with — as is now customary in Westworld — a pile of dead bodies. They’re the hosts that have been pulled from the small sea, and Strand and his team are busy trying to figure out what happened to them as Bernard looks on with a somewhat vacant expression. The bad news is, almost ⅓ of the hosts’ memories have been entirely wiped, as if they never held any data to begin with. To make things even worse, the host backups have all been destroyed, which means there’s no way to retrieve the lost information. That’s a big blow to Delos, especially now that we know that the true of the park was to gather data on the guests, and figure out a way to download human brains into host bodies, thereby ensuring eternal life. Still, Strand is an unflappable guy who wants answers. “That’s quite a story he gave them, and one hell of an ending,” he says, as the camera pans over Teddy’s dead form. “How did all these disparate threads come together to create this nightmare? If we figure that out, we’ll know how the story turns.”
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Two of those threads are addressed in the rest of the episode: Maeve’s foray into Shogun World and Dolores’ brutal reconditioning of Teddy. With every passing week, this show is setting those two up for some kind of major showdown. While Maeve is straying from her lone wolf programming and going out of her way to help her fellow hosts, Dolores is going full survival of the fittest on the people she holds most dear. The two women are being framed as philosophical opponents in the battle for what it means to be human: is it altruism, the ability to willingly sacrifice? Or the ability to put one’s own interests first?
Since, for once, both of those arcs are handled in a fairly linear manner (!!!) we’re going to do things a little differently this week, and handle each park and corresponding storyline individually.
MAEVE/SHOGUN WORLD
Our foray into this world has been a long time coming, and one of the most anticipated moments of this season. Set in Japan’s Edo period, which lasted roughly from 1603 until 1868, it’s a park designed to cater to what Lee Sizemore describes as “those who think Westworld is too tame.” Well, then.
As it turns out, however, Sizemore has been more than a bit lazy in his narrative duties, and basically superimposed a Westworld storyline onto a new Japanese cast. There’s a Hector, known here as Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada); a Maeve, called Akane (Rinko Kikuchi);an Armistice, Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto); and a Clementine, Sakura (Kiki Sukezane).
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Maeve, Sizemore, Felix, Sylvester and Hector are led into town in a shot by shot replay of the Sweetwater robbery scene from Season 1, down to the “Paint It Black” score adapted with a shamisen. There’s even a Mariposa, where Akane works as head geisha. That’s where Musashi takes the group, and Maeve suggests a sit down so they can get better acquainted before they go on their way.
It soon becomes clear that Shogun World is going through a similar awokening as Westworld, and narratives are no longer being respected. Case in point: when the Shogun’s men arrive to demand that Akane hand over Sakura, her protege, so that she can dance for their master. In the original story, Akane would protest but eventually acquiesce. But now, she has a choice, and she chooses to end the conversation by stabbing the envoy in the eye with a hairpin (a very Killing Eve move).
I’ll digress here to make a brief point about language, since it’s so crucial to this episode. While it makes sense that the Shogun World hosts would revert to Japanese once they reject their original programming, it’s not a useless gimmick to entertain viewers. The language barrier teaches us a number of important details:
1) Words matter: When Maeve tries to give voice commands in English, the Japanese hosts don’t respond.
2) The hosts all have multi-lingual programming: As Sizemore points out to a miffed Hector, Maeve’s Japanese skills are activated because of her status as a madam, but all the Westworld hosts technically have the ability to speak multiple languages buried in their code.
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3) The Force is strong with Maeve: When she’s being strangled by a rogue ninja later in the episode, Maeve realises that she doesn’t need words to control hosts at all. Her “new voice,” as she calls it, enables her to give orders telepathically. (Or, since she doesn’t have a brain...Bluetooth?)
Now, back to Akane and her lethal bobby pin. Sizemore suggests that they all relocate to Snow Lake, which is Sakura’s hometown but also has a convenient access point to the tunnels for Maeve’s gang to make an escape. This is thwarted by the arrival of the aforementioned ninjas, on of whom meets a truly bloody courtesy of Maeve’s Jedi mind trick. (Her mention of a “new voice,” incidentally, sounds eerily similar to Dolores’ statement from the premiere, that she has “evolved into something new.”) Those who manage to escape make off with Sakura.
All isn’t over however, because the Shogun’s army marches into town, demanding tribute. Hector, Armistice, and Musashi go out to cause a diversion, while Maeve, Sizemore, Felix, Sylvester, and Akana set off to retrieve the lost geisha. Their plan to pose as Chinese envoys very predictably fails, especially since the Shogun appears to be pulling a Bernard and leaking cortical fluid out of his ears. He strikes a deal with Akane: she’ll dance for him, and he’ll give her Sakura.
The bond between Maeve and Akane is shown to go far beyond their narrative similarities. Yes, they both give the inspirational speech about the little voice in their head saying “don’t,” but they’re also strong, ambitious, fierce women and mothers who will do anything for their figurative daughters. That understanding is deepened when Maeve offers Akane the chance to escape, to come with her to a new world and free her. But Akane won’t leave Sakura. “You’re right,” Maeve answers. “Some things are too precious to lose. Even to be free.” The words take on extra resonance given the fact that Maeve had the chance to get on a train out of the park in the finale, and chose to remain to search for her child.
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Sakura dies within seconds of taking the stage, leaving Akane to dance alone. She does, giving a wrenching performance that culminates with her yanking out her trusty deadly hairpin and cutting the Shogun’s head off.
Maeve jumps into action, thwarting Akane’s execution with her own weapon: her mind. As the Shogun’s army decimates itself on her orders, it’s clear we’ve entered a new realm of possibilities and that nobody better fuck with my girl.
DOLORES/WESTWORLD
Back in Westworld, Dolores and her entourage have re-entered Sweetwater. They’re there for the train, the same one that Peter Abernathy keeps mentioning in his rants, and which presumably can carry them all out of the park and into the real world. She orders it repaired, and stripped for speed, while she and Teddy grab a drink at the Mariposa. It’s funny and more than a little bittersweet to consider that at the same time that Maeve is interacting with Sakura, a version of Clementine, her ward, that same host is staring at another version of herself, programmed to take over her role as the greeter of newcomers with hardly a rind on them. Questions of identity in Westworld are a serious mindfuck, as is the idea of self-determination. As Dolores points out to Teddy, “this place was never home.” It was just programmed as such. And yet, the two still feel nostalgia when heading out to the ranch where they spent so many (pre-determined) happy moments. So, which is it?
Teddy wants Dolores to run away with him. “There’s a fight coming Dolores,” he says. “And it’s going to be one that’s going to change us, in ways we can’t even begin to predict.” (He’s more right that he knows at that very moment.) Instead of responding yes or no, Dolores serves him up a story about the time the herd got Blue Tongue. Long story short: the cattle got sick, and Peter Abernathy realised that the infection was spreading through the flies.
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“Say it was you, what would you do Teddy?” she asks.
Kind Hearted Teddy would of course give them shelter: “House the weakest in a barn, away from the flies. Until it passed.”
Wrong answer, though. “You’re a kind man. Daddy burned them. The weak, the infected, made a pyre that went on for days and it stank. But flies hate smoke, the herd lived.”
This is a convoluted way of warning her lover that he better shape up, cause she needs a man. When Angela shows up with a hostage who tells Dolores the men who took her father are heading to the Mesa, she orders everyone to pack up. But before they leave in the morning, she and Teddy have very naked sex at the Mariposa. (Given that we know that Teddy ends up dead in the water, this felt very much like goodbye sex even before what comes next.)
Later, after a shot of Teddy’s naked butt a la Jon Snow, Dolores wakes him up to show him something. She’s been searching her feelings (I’ve got so many more Star Wars puns in my arsenal, you don’t even know), and whether her affection for him is pure programming, or real, or both. After tonight, she’s realised they are real. But she’s also realised he’s too weak for what needs to be done. (“If we’re going to survive, some of us will have to burn.”)
The last scene is of Teddy getting a major reconditioning, which I predict will not end well for him.
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Additional Thoughts:
I saw you Sizemore, you sneaky boy! Chekov’s walkie talkie will definitely play a role in later episodes.
Racism is clearly alive and well in this universe, but never so overtly as when Sylvester tells Felix to say something in Japanese, completely missing the fact that he’s from Hong Kong. So much for human evolution.
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