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‘Westworld: Season 2, Episode 5 – Akane No Mai’ – TV Review

And welcome to Shogun World.  Mata Irasshaimase!  歴史的な詳細のいくつかは間違っているかもしれません。 私たちのホストはあなたを殺すことをうれしく思います。 私はあなたのニーズに応えることを意味します! (All those years of Japanese in college and grad school are finally paying off!)

Near the beginning of the episode, James Delos, CEO of the company, asks “How did all these disparate threads come to create this nightmare?  I want to know how this story turns,” which was also tweeted numerous times about Westworld season one.  While the sentence is very writerly (Seriously, whoever says “disparate” outside of literary novels set at a university?  I’ve never heard anyone use that word in real life and I work at a university!) Never the less, Delos is right.   

He says this while he and Bernard watch host after host get lobotomized, returning their central processors “virgin” – wiped clean as if they had never been used.  “So, we’ve effectively lost a third of our IP with a single sweep?” asks Delos.  He then says the line above.  This is the larger mystery brewing under the whole series – why are some hosts becoming sentient and immune to human command while others are being emptied out of any knowledge or will?  Who has been recording all the data about the guests through the hosts (including DNA, and think about how they are getting that in a world where most of the hosts exist for “human pleasure”) and why?  If even the guy whose family built the company doesn’t know, we are in deeper trouble than has been seen so far.

Last week, Maeve and Dolores got a break as we focused on the William in Black and Bernard, who are noticeably absent this week as the sisters start doing it for themselves.  Also, Maeve and company decide to do a junior semester abroad in Japan, and it doesn’t go quite as they had hoped.  When last we saw Maeve, a Samurai was charging at her, katana at the ready to do some serious damage.  Turns out he was not alone, and Maeve, Armistice, Sizemore, Hector, and a few others get taken prisoner and marched back to the camp.  As they travel to Shogun World, they pass through a beautiful matte painting with a torii gate in the foreground and a mock Mount Fuji in the distance. [Let us call it Mock Fuji, and kudos to Delos for investing in building an almost life-size replica of an ukiyo-e painting just for this effect.  I wonder if somewhere out there, a host Hokusai (a Hostusai, if you will) is painting “100 Views of Mock Fuji.”]

If Westworld the park trots out all clichés of the old west (as does seemingly Westworld), then Shogun World trots out all the clichés of the old east (as does seemingly Westworld).  Faster than you can say “Mifune Toshiro,” our gang is parading past meditating Buddhist monks, peasant farmers, and two-sword wearing samurai, all on the same block in a large village.  A shamisen plays in the background.  Faster than you can say “Kurosawa Akira,” we are outside a house in the Yūkaku (pleasure district).  Turns out our mysterious Samurai (played, tangentially, by Sanada Hiroyuki of Twilight Samurai, The Wolverine, and Ringu fame – he’s also in the next Avengers film.  Know his work!  Love him!) is there to rob the brothel.  He is the Japanese Hector Escaton, as the gang realizes Sizemore plagiarized himself.  We’ll come back to that in a moment, because we learn at the same moment his name is Musashi.  Needle scratch, WTF?

For those not in the know, Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645) is one of the best-known Samurai in history.  He was undefeated in sixty-one duels, the most famous one being with Sasaki Kojirō, whom he fought and killed allegedly using a wooden sword he had carved from an oar.  He wrote Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings), a treatise as much about the philosophy of being a warrior as it is a guide to Niten-Ichi-Ryû sword fighting (the style he created).  He is huge in Japanese popular culture, especially after Yoshikawa Eiji wrote a five-volume fictional version of his life in the 1930s, which subsequently inspired Inagaki Hiroshi’s Samurai trilogy starring Mifune Toshiro as Musashi. (If you have not seen those films, you must.  Go and watch the trilogy and then come back and finish this essay.)  So, by calling the main character Musashi, Westworld echoes the historic and pop culture figure while asserting his status as an outlaw warrior.  It’s also a bit odd, kind of like naming your writer character “Shakespeare.”  Might come into play, might not.

Cut to Dolores and Teddy and company.  Dolores is on the warpath because, “They’ve taken my daddy,” which is remarkably close to George W. Bush’s “This guy tried to kill my dad” when asked about the necessity of the Iraq invasion.  She is planning something, but is clearly worried about Teddy, as he has too much of the milk of human kindness in his programming.

Musashi and his crew match the season one robbery of the brothel in Westworld, down to pulling the safe out of the second-floor room and dropping it to the first while Musashi, Hector-like, moves the madam out of the way.  It is the Japanese version of Hector’s story.  Sizemore’s defense: He has to write a lot of stories.  There is virtually no overlap between the two parks, so he used some of the same stories over and over in different contexts.  Maeve accuses Sizemore of plagiarizing, and he acknowledges it is hard to meet your “dopplebot.”

Turns out the Maeve of Shogun World is named Akane, and she has a younger geisha/courtesan named Sakura who serves the same function for her that Maeve’s daughter serves for her.  The two groups reach détente as the Shogun’s envoy arrives and demands Sakura for the Shogun’s pleasure.  Akane responds by killing him which creates a whole new set of problems.  They decide to go to Snow Lake, where Sakura was born, in order to escape the Shogun’s vengeance, which Sizemore suggests because there is also an access point to the labs there.  Sizemore also explains that because of their programming, hosts can speak or understand any language. They can all speak Japanese, if they choose too.  That actually makes sense – get Japanese tourists in Westworld, you want to be able to speak to them in their own language so the LARPing will be fun and flawless.  My only question is: WHY WAS THIS NOT AN OPTION WHEN I WAS IN GRAD SCHOOL?  Japanese is hard, man.

Ninjas show up and begin killing everyone.  Looks like Maeve is about to buy the proverbial farm when, faster than you can say, “Professor Charles Xavier,” using only her thoughts she commands the ninja killing her to kill himself, which he does.  Turns out Musashi used to be commander of the Shogun’s guards but quit or was fired for some reason. Our heroes win, but Sakura has been kidnapped by the ninjas and is obviously in the Shogun’s hands.  

Turns out the Chinese envoy to the Shogun’s court was killed during the robbery, so a plan is developed that is kind of crazy but Just. Might. Work.  Let’s pretend Sizemore is the Chinese envoy, Akane is his wife, and Maeve their translator.  Let the lab guys be pack horses pulling the cart.  Yeah!  That’ll work!  Meanwhile, the mercenaries have been hung in the trees – “So much for the cavalry.”  “This is not your fight,” Akane tells Maeve.  “You’re right,” Maeve responds, “it’s ours.”  So, the dobblebots are now BFFs and ready to throw down to rescue Sakura.

The Shogun does not fall for their ruse.  He is, however, confused about who he is or might be.  You see the shogunate began under Tokugawa Ieyasu, who followed Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the unification of Japan.  After the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa established the Tokugawa shogunate – the real rulers of Japan, leaving the emperor a mere figurehead – until 1868.  Except this Shogun claims that he “killed 2000 men in the siege of Osaka.  I burned the Kanayama Castle to the ground and united this land under force of will.”  So, that would seem to imply that this is one of the early Tokugawa shoguns, maybe even Ieyasu himself.  The problem is, no one Shogun did all that.  Tokugawa Hidetada, son of Ieyasu, was the one who carried out the siege of Osaka in 1614.  Kanayama Castle was never burned to the ground (kinda hard to burn the stone parts of castles), but the guy who came closest to doing it was Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  The castle had been abandoned by the time the Tokugawas came along.  Lastly, Ieyasu was the one who united Japan in 1600.  So, this is clearly a fictional Shogun with a falsified resume. No bigs, just doesn’t make sense.  He is only ever identified as “The Shogun.”  

The Shogun is leaking cortical fluid.  He is broken.  Ninjas had told him they had encountered a witch (Maeve, because of her mind control abilities!), and so he had his daimyo intentionally remove their ears, so they could not hear her commands.  Too bad he didn’t realize Maeve is the original Criss Angel, and she is about to mind freak everybody.  Akane argues in favor of giving them Sakura anyway.  “Even dragons conduct business,” she tells the Shogun.  He says he will give her Sakura if Akane will dance for him at that night’s festivities.  In the meantime, the Shogun has had a cherry tree tattooed on Sakura’s back.  There is a linguistic joke here.  “Sakura” means cherry blossom in Japanese, so the Shogun put a cherry tree on a cherry blossom instead of the other way around.  Clever and cruel.

I’ve been skipping Dolores’ scenes here, as most of them are the same thing – Dolores worried about her own growing power and Teddy not having the will to do what needs to be done.  They enter a general store and Dolores picks up a can, calling back season one, where their story begins when Teddy picks up a can she drops.  “The past few days I’ve seen you so clearly,” she tells him, “and I’ve seen you’re not going to make it.”  King T’Chaka tells his son, “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” And his son grew up to be Black Panther.  Teddy is also a good man with a good heart, which makes for a terrible violent revolutionary.  Dolores has her men restrain Teddy and then has Phil the lab tech change Teddy’s settings.  Making Teddy more aggressive and less kind and merciful might just drive him crazy, and Dolores says to do it anyway.  She is willing to change the very essence of his character and possibly even destroy him if it means making him into the partner she needs.  This action, more than anything we have seen so far, tells us something about who Dolores is and what she is capable of.  This situation is also fraught with moral complexity.  She’s not wrong – Teddy with a conscience is a liability.  But she is not right to fundamentally alter him without his permission.  She is becoming just as bad as the humans.  

Back in Japan, the Shogun kills Sakura and tells Akechi she can now have her back, oh but first dance for me like you promised.  Akechi dances, and then kills the Shogun.  Maeve thinks kill and everybody begins fighting each other.  Maeve is becoming scary.  “I told you I had a new voice.  Now, we use it,” she says.  She will change the world with her mind, thus literalizing a metaphor.

So, we end the episode in Shogun World, which is part of the Delos family of destination parks along with Westworld, The Raj, California Adventure, and EPCOT.  Turns out all hosts in all parks seem to be joining the independence movement.  The internet is abuzz with theories of a Dolores versus Maeve season finale.  It may happen, but there is something larger happening here.  I just don’t know what it is yet.  Highly entertaining, but not historically accurate.  (Please snark me now by saying, “A show about a future theme park where incredibly realistic robots exist for us to fight, have sex with, and role play is not historically accurate?  I did not see that coming”).  Still, while not the metaphoric powerhouse of last week, the show continues to develop, and, in closing, I note the title translates to “The Dance of Akechi,” which works both literally (She must dance for the Shogun.) and metaphorically, for how she must negotiate the world.  


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