Westworld: ‘Akane no Mai’ Review

Westworld has ventured into new territory with last night’s ‘Akane no Mai’, as a group of characters have found themselves in another area of the vast theme park, Shogun World.  The episode expanded the world’s mythology and offered new insights into the awakening being experienced by the park’s hosts, namely Dolores and Maeve.

The opening of the episode deepened the mystery that began the season as the team from Delos attempt to learn more about what occurred in the park prior to their arrival.  Though no answers are provided as of yet, the information revealed opens up many questions, and leaves viewers trying to look for connections in the past.  It’s a shame that the present-day storyline was only in this episode briefly, but what occurs in that short scene seems to have larger implications for the season’s endgame.

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Shogun World was a wonderful detour from the usual setting of Westworld and its inner workings.  It allowed viewers to enter a new part of the park and further explore one of fictions most interesting theme parks that doesn’t include dinosaurs.  The fight scenes and swordplay made for an exhilarating viewing experience and a new form of violence.  We’ve seen some great gun fights – and they were great – but sometimes it’s necessary to shake things up a bit.  Hopefully the second season spends a little more time in Shogun world before moving on.  ‘Akane no Mai’ leaves this reviewer excited for future visits to the other parts of Delos’ cash cow.

The setting, including the appropriated cultural elements of the time period, meshes well with Maeve’s storyline of self-discovery.  It can lack nuance at times, but over-all a clever move on the writers’ part.  This is best shown by Maeve’s grand declaration in the episode’s ending sequence, which brings a certain cringe factor to an otherwise exemplary conclusion.

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Writing multiple story arcs for hundreds of characters in a short time-span is difficult, and Lee’s solution to said problem holds numerous implications.  The meta-commentary about satisfying people’s expectations and desires using a mass produced and creatively lazy approach was both funny as well as frightening.  That truth is horrifying in terms of what the future of entertainment mediums – such as television – hold, but it’s presented in a series incredibly amusing scene.

Another important implication of this revelation is what it means for the hosts, who are meeting near exact duplicates of themselves.  In a quest for understanding of self, meeting other entities who think and act exactly like them can be… complicated.  It’s an interesting curve ball thrown in by the show’s writers as they continue to explore artificial intelligence and what it means to be a self-aware being.

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Dolores and Maeve are walking down the same path, one provided for them by their awakening and newly gained self-awareness.  Both seem to value their freedom and want to provide it to other hosts, but only one seems to truly understand what the concept means.  Maeve decides that true freedom is a choice that people – including hosts – should have for themselves.  They can’t be told what to do or forced to feel free, whereas Dolores seems to be no better than the humans who created the hosts and run the park.  She is willing to take away the freedom of others, treat them like machines, if it suits her own ends.  Dolores may enjoy her own freedom, but she doesn’t respect the autonomy of other beings if they stand in her way.  It’s an interesting comparison, and makes one consider how similar to humans Dolores is, and what that tells us about human nature.

Westworld continues to show why it’s one of the most though provoking and innovative series on television, and despite some hick-ups presents and thoughtful and thrilling hour of entertainment.

Rating: 8.5/10

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