Thursday 24 May 2018

Westworld – I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Westworld: 2x05 Akane no Mai.

Maeve: I told you I’ve found a new voice. Now we use it. 
This episode is as good as this show gets, especially in the parts set in Shogun world. There are two great moments in this episode – one is, after Maeve and Co are taken deep into Shogun world, Armistice of all people realises that all of these characters are versions of themselves, that what is playing out in front of their eyes is an exact copy (or plagiarism) of what happened in Sweetwater when Hector rode into town. The scene is perfect, set to another variation of Paint it Black, and would be, if we compared it shot-by-shot, likely be a precise remake of what we have already seen. It’s great that Armistice is the first to call it, while she watches this world’s version of herself mesmerised, adoringly ,and more than a little turned on. It works in the moment as a hilarious revelation about what a lazy, derivative writer Lee was when he relied on the same storylines and characters across worlds, it obviously works as a cynical meta-comment on the nature of the show Westworld itself, which can get away with telling this story (that veers off course, into something much greater, soon after), but then it does more than that when the scene is mirrored in Teddy’s path this episode. 

And maybe we can get this out of the way first, since it’s the most dispiriting, horrifying part of this episode (and yes, more so than the death of the stand-in-daughter, which is terrible as well). The episode focuses on Teddy rather than Dolores, and it’s an interesting dance, especially because we know more than Teddy does (that Dolores watched him allow the Confederados leave, and is now testing him for weakness, for utility). In one of the best, small moments this episode has to offer Teddy watches in horror as zombie!Clementine, returned to Sweetwater, watches the new person who plays her role, and quietly mouths lines of her dialogue that used to be hers. He realises how horrifying it is to be a host, and how precious it is to be, for once, free to make his own decisions, rather than to be caught up in remnants of his past roles. The caveat to this being, as always, that Teddy has no way of knowing if he is free, and neither do we. Is his devotion to Dolores genuine? Is it his programming that makes him so true to her, or is it who he truly is? And what does that even mean, in the context of how the hosts work? 
Dolores is testing his character, and without his knowledge, attempting to figure out how he fits into the fight that is coming. It’s easily predictable how this will end for Teddy, because we know where he will end up (and we’ve already seen him, on a pile of bodies, in the lab in the beginning of the episode). None of it is going any good places, and yet, their dance is highly effective. Dolores takes him out to the pastures of where her and her daddy’s herd used to graze and tells the tale of how the cows caught blue tongue – a disease that was mentioned by Peter Abernathy, a few days ago. They tried to contain it, but then realised that it was the flies that spread it. Teddy never realises that he is being asked about his own fate, rather than that of some hypothetical cows. How would you have contained it, asks Dolores, and Teddy, being Teddy, responds that he would have protected the weakest and sickest among the herd with all his might. Dolores responds, deliberately, that her father chose to burn the weak and sick, and so protected the rest of the herd. We know that Teddy has failed a test, but it will take him a while to catch up. Inevitably, in Dolores’ world, in Wyatt’s world, there is no place for kind men who protect the weak and nurse the sick back to health. She will burn him the way that she’s burned everything else that she’s considered weak, because she wants her army to be ruthless. It’s the first time that I realised, in this episode, that Dolores is now the villain of this show, and that she is this because Maeve is a living example of how else this freedom that has been given can be lived. But then, on the other hand, Dolores is also a revolutionary who is well-aware of coming struggles, and the sacrifices necessary to obtain a more lasting freedom (but then, if this is the price of that freedom, is it truly worth it?). In any case, Teddy is toast, and now contains the role of the Major, who will find a new life after being exploded by Lawrence. 

So while Teddy is doomed to become what he fears the most, a zombie with a vague recollection of past roles, a machine carrying the ghosts of many past roles, none of them true, or true to who he is as a person, Maeve rides into a new adventure with her mind open. It’s the main difference between Dolores, who is on a set path, and Maeve, who is chasing a daughter who might be nothing more than a story in her mind, but is still capable of growing as a person. When faced with her counterpart in Shogun world, a geisha called Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), she slowly starts to develop empathy instead of insisting that they continue on their own journey. Akane is caught up in a vast struggle to protect her adopted daughter, Sakura, from the Shogun, who wishes to own her. It’s an interesting parallel to Maeve’s journey, which showcases how the freedom of the hosts, and the ability to make choices, has played out in Shogun world. I suppose there might exist a parallel world in which Maeve would have made the same sacrifices for Clementine, rather than the daughter that she remembered from a previous role. She recognises her own love for her daughter in how Akane feels about Sakura, and promises to help her rescue her. This personal growth – from someone who, by Lee, was programmed to solely care about herself, into someone who cares about this woman who was a stranger not too long ago – comes along with a new ability that proves very handy in a world that is so quick to take her voice away from her. After learning how to speak Japanese (an ability buried deep in all of their codes, Lee provides helpfully), Maeve also realises that she can use her voice – her mind’s voice – to control other hosts. She doesn’t need to voice her commands anymore to tell them what to do; it’s enough to think about it hard enough. 
Maeve: Some things are too precious to lose, even to be free.  
Her decision to support Akane is in part based on her realisation that Akane, like her, now has a choice, and that she chose to leave the limitations of both her role and the world. She has Lee with her to confirm that this is what Akane is doing, because Lee is perpetually annoyed by the fact that the hosts whose story he wrote are now capable to break the limited abilities of their creator. 
Freedom is all that Dolores cares about, and she is taking so much, destroying so much, to defend it. She is burning people, deleting their entire existence, solely to make them better equipped to fight this struggle towards freedom. Maeve is fundamentally different from her, because she knows what it means to care about other people so much that you’d be willing to give up parts of that freedom. She was almost out of Westworld, almost on the train, when she turned back to find her daughter. She sees that same willingness to sacrifice her freedom in Akane, who will lose everything in the end but also get her sweet revenge. I don’t think that there are any happy endings to be found here, but at the very least, Maeve is becoming truly, awesomely and absolutely herself. 

Random notes: 

The episode actually starts in the “now”, with the guy who is heading Delos’ rescue effort being told that a third of the bodies that they recovered from the sea have been completely, entirely wiped, and that all of the back-ups have been destroyed. He suspiciously glances at Bernard, whose story he is starting to doubt (also, as an aside – they all still haven’t figured out that Bernard is a host, right? And where on earth is Elsie?)

Armistice is SO MUCH into herself. It goes both ways, too. 

A really quirky aside, it’s fun to watch Hector be endlessly suspicious of his Shogun world counterpart here. 

Dolores is readying the train to go find her father, Peter Abernathy, for unknown reasons, except maybe she realised that he must be important because everyone else is after him? It’s hard to believe that at this stage Dolores really cares about anything except her radical quest for freedom. 

Poor Teddy.

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