‘Westworld’ Episode 5 Takes Us to Shogun World (RECAP)

Spoiler Alert

[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 5 of Westworld Season 2.]

Coming after what many consider to be the strongest episode of the series so far, “Akane No Mai” continues building momentum and expanding the universe in Westworld‘s sophomore season, and is arguably the most fun the show has ever been. And when I say fun, I mean FUN! Ninja fights. Dancing geishas. Sumarai battles. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve truly arrived in Shogun World.

The highly-teased park took center stage in this episode as Maeve (Thandie Newton) and the gang found themselves in the land of katanas and kimonos. Based on Japan’s Edo period, which took place between 1603 and 1868 when the country was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Shogun World is for guests who find Westworld too tame, according to dirtbag head-of-narrative Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman). “The true aficionado of artful gore.”

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Artful gore is a brilliant way to describe this delightfully violent episode, which pays homage to legendary Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. The obvious similarities between Westworld and Shogun World directly reference the relationship between American Westerns and Japanese Samurai cinema. As Kurosawa was influenced by John Wayne-era Westerns, in turn, his Samurai movies influenced the Spaghetti Westerns of the ’60s with their increase in brutality and romanticized lone-wolf anti-heroes.

There is a tongue-in-cheek playfulness to those parallels as Maeve and her Westworld companions walk through a town eerily familiar to Sweetwater, backed by a gatton-version of “Paint It Black” by Rolling Stones. It’s almost a step-by-step recreation of the Westworld welcome wagon from the pilot episode – down to the metal workers and street kids placing an insect on a bald guy’s head. In place of the Mariposa Saloon stands the Mariposa Geisha House and outside two familiar bandits wreak havoc, except instead of rifles and shotguns the weapons of choice include kanabos and bow and arrows.

Photo: HBO

“It’s us,” Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) remarks upon seeing her and Hector’s (Rodrigo Santoro) Japanese “doppel-bots” Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) and Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). “Alright, fine, I may have cribbed a little from Westworld,” Sizemore admits. “You try writing 300 stories in three weeks.” It’s a humorous remix of one of Westworld‘s most memorable sequences from the first season and welcome light-relief in a show that can sometimes lose itself in self-seriousness. I particularly enjoyed Hector’s distrust of his Japanese counterpart (“Say the word and I’ll skin him like a rabbit.”) and Armistice’s childlike fascination with her dragon-tattooed analog.

The central connection of the episode though is between Maeve and Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), the Geisha House proprietress, called the okāsan (which is the Japanese word for “mother”). Much like Maeve, Akane is tenacious and protective of her girls, particularly Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), a young girl she saved from abuse and starvation. When Shogun ninjas kidnap Sakura – after Akane goes off-narrative and refuses to hand her over (and stabs a messenger in the eye with a hairpin for good measure) – she sets about on a Maeve-like quest to rescue the child she helped raise.

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“From the looks of it we have a lot in common,” says Maeve, in a needlessly on the nose line. This is a frequent problem I find with the dialogue in Westworld. It sometimes feels like the show is spoonfeeding its audience in case they don’t pick up on the subtleties. The stare down between Maeve and Akane told us everything we needed to know. There was no added emphasis needed. Sizemore’s commentary was equally frustrating in this regard, continually reminding us that the hosts were acting against commands. “That isn’t supposed to happen,” “Shogun’s army never comes into town,” etc. That said, I can almost forgive all of that for the hilarity of the line “S**t! Ninjas!” And the fact the majority of the dialogue was in Japanese was also a nice touch.

The climax of the Shogun World sequence is a beautifully bloodthirsty brawl which delivers on the promise of artful gore. After posing as the envoy of the Chinese empire, Maeve and Akane bluff their way into an audience with the Shogun but are quickly exposed when he brings out Sakura. He even cuts off his guards ears so that Maeve’s voice commands can’t control them – not that that stops her, as we’ll soon see. The Shogun stabs Sakura in the stomach and then forces Akane to dance for him (to an amazing remix of Wu Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M”), which she obliges, just long enough to get close to him. Once in position, she whips a dagger from her hair and viciously cuts the Shogun from cheek to cheek, leaving his head flapping open like the top of a Pez dispenser.

Photo: HBO

“You are a true mother,” Maeve tells Akane, before using her new mind control powers to turn the Shogun soldiers against each other. There is a stunning slow-motion shot of blood spurting in the background as the camera focuses on a close-up of Maeve’s face. “I’ve found a new voice. And now we use it,” she says, signaling further destruction is on the way.

A small part of me wonders if Maeve is becoming too powerful. We already knew her woken-state gave her control over the other hosts. When she first arrived in Shogun World she realized that her voice commands didn’t work in English, but after some prompting by Sizemore, she tapped into her foreign language mode, a skill that all hosts have buried somewhere in their code. That’s already incredibly powerful. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, when one of the ninjas had his hand over her mouth, she realized she was able to make him impale himself on a knife just by thinking it. And by the end of the episode, she was puppeteering entire armies with her telekinetic-like powers. How can anyone compete with that?

The intrigue here, of course, is whether or not Maeve is actually in control. As we’ve seen over the first four episodes, particularly last week, Ford still has his fingerprints all over the DNA of this game. Who else have we seen who was able to direct a whole army of men to shoot themselves without uttering a word? Giancarlo Esposito’s El Lazo, who was apparently channeling Ford during his interaction with the Man In Black (Ed Harris). The hosts always used to hear Arnold’s voice, pushing them to the center of the maze in his attempt to get them to reach free will. But since the events of the season one finale, Maeve and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) have talked about hearing a new voice, and we (and they) assumed it meant their own. But could the new voice they’re hearing be Ford’s? Is everything that is happening still his game?

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Over in Westworld, Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) return to the now desolate town of Sweetwater. Gone is the hustle and bustle and staged robberies meant to entice and entertain the park’s guests. In its wake lay dead bodies, malfunctioning hosts and a broken down train. Dolores orders her crew to fix the train, as she plans to use it to travel to the Mesa Hub, where she believes Delos have taken her father. But a busted locomotive is not the only thing she’s come to Sweetwater to fix.

Dolores has had her eye on “kind man” Teddy for a while now, especially ever since he refused to put a bullet into Major Craddock’s skull, and eventually, she was going to have to make a choice. She takes him out to the pastures where the pair reminisces about simpler times. Teddy still believes they are free to walk away from the impending fight that will irreversibly change them and find a place out there for themselves in the beauty of Westworld. Dolores has other plans.

Photo: HBO

“Did I ever tell you about the year we almost lost the herd?” she asks, recalling a time when bluetongue infected her cattle due to flies. “How do you stop a sickness like that? One with wings? What would you do, Teddy?” It’s a question posed innocently enough, but one which is actually a test. “I’d give them shelter,” he replies. “House the weakest in a barn, out of the air, away from the flies. Until it passed.” When Dolores gently touches Teddy’s cheek you can sense genuine affection, a love that is true and not just a story, as Dolores later points out. But no love can mask that the answer was wrong.

“Daddy burned them, the weak, the infected,” says Dolores. “He made a pyre that went on for days, and it stank, but flies hate smoke. The herd lived.” Teddy doesn’t yet realize it, but he’s the weak, infected cow of this story and Dolores needs to put him down. “If we’re going to survive, some of us will have to burn,” she tells Teddy before ordering her men to hold him down. “Where we’re about to go is no place for a man like you.” She then has her enslaved technician change Teddy’s settings, increasing him to maximum aggression and hostility. The technician warns her that changes this extreme without a full reset could be permanently damaging. “To grow, we all need to suffer,” a tearful Dolores says.

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That final line once again brings us back to Ford. That was his theory behind host sentience. Time + suffering = free will. He described it as the vital component Arnold was missing from his maze experiment. It’s another point in favor of the theory that the hosts are now hearing Ford’s voice. Dolores, more than anyone, is acting in a way very reminiscent of Ford, exhibiting traits of megalomania and a ruthlessness in her approach to getting what she wants.

And what is it that Dolores wants? Freedom. But is she willing to hurt and change the ones she loves for that? It would seem so. I don’t doubt that she cares for Teddy – and I think sleeping with him was so she could have one last real moment with the true Teddy – but she is clearly prepared to sacrifice that relationship for what she deems a greater good. Contrast that to Maeve who earlier in the episode tells Akane: “Some things are too precious to lose, even to be free.” Much like I talked about last week in regards to William, who now lives with the regret of his past mistakes, Dolores seems to be heading down a similar dark path. It’s only a matter of time before she puts on the black hat.

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Additional Thoughts

– At the start of the episode, we have a brief check-in with Beach Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in the present, who is still with the Delos clean-up crew, now surveying the destruction in the Mesa Lab (which suggests Dolores and co eventually make it there). Here, tech expert Antoine Costa (Fares Fares) makes an unsettling discovery. A third of the host control units don’t have any data – not wiped, but never held data to begin with – and that their back-ups have been destroyed. Are these dummy hosts? Let me hear your theories.

– During the journey to meet the Shogun, Sizemore stops to take a leak and stealthily swipes a satellite phone from one of the strung up Delos bodies. It’s surely only a matter of time before Sizemore ends up screwing Maeve over. After all, he’s still arguing the hosts are nothing more than code.

What did you think of Episode 5? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.

Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO