×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Westworld’ Recap: Shogun’s Army Comes to Town

Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Akane No Mai,” the fifth episode of the second season of HBO’s “Westworld.”

“This is just the tip of Shogun world’s prick — an experience expressly designed for the guests who find Westworld too tame.”

Thus we are introduced, courtesy of Lee Sizemore, to the hotly anticipated Shogun World, first teased in the season 1 finale, then again about a million episodes ago. “Westworld” producers, sensitive to our cultural moment and to the potential trap they have set for themselves, have talked openly about their desire to create a respectful representation of Japan’s Edo period, whose people Lee so respectfully calls “the true aficionados of artful gore.” Sometimes this show is so culturally sensitive and socially aware you’re like, “Oh, gosh, ‘Westworld,’ wait right there while I go find you a Peabody Award. Don’t move.”

“Akane No Mai” is by turns a fun and frustrating episode, switching back and forth between the show’s two poles, but spending little time in between. As it should, it leans heavily into Maeve’s quest and the introduction of Shogun World, which had been subject of outsize fan chatter after Maeve and Felix briefly walked past a logo and a couple of guys fighting during the season 1 finale. It pays off, mostly.

But first a word about Lee Sizemore, who continues to make his case for being the Pete Campbell of “Westworld.” When Lee describes Shogun World to Maeve in such a juvenile way, it’s irritating — in part because Lee is also effectively introducing the viewer to Shogun World, and as a viewer it’s frustrating for this cool thing you’ve waited a long time for to be introduced thusly by a tiny toolbag like Lee.

However. Lee remains season 2’s most fully drawn character. He’s bad at his job. He is unearned privilege personified. He speaks at the wrong time, says the wrong thing, and is only alive because Maeve has a vague hunch that he can be useful (which he finally proves himself to be, a little). He will clearly betray fellow travelers at some point. He’s basically Smeagol in “The Lord of the Rings.” I can’t wait to watch Maeve shove him into the “Westworld” version of Mt. Doom, which is probably a molten cauldron of sentient white paraffin.

The only thing I find unbelievable about Lee is that he’s a writer, until I remember what writers are actually like. Then I am floored by his realness.

Anyway, Shogun World. Team Maeve quickly falls into the hand of Musashi and his crew — or as Sylvester so Sylvesterly puts it, “Captured by samurai cop killers. F— me.” Turns out Musashi’s crew is the analog to Hector’s Westworld gang, which team Maeve discovers as they watch a sword-fight version of the brothel heist play out in front of them, complete with a silly, period-appropriate rendition of “Paint It Black.” One of the many joys of the Maeve-quest storyline is the rapport being developed between Simon Quarterman as Lee and Thandie Newton as Maeve. When Maeve accuses Lee of self-plagiarism, Quarterman’s whine is pitch perfect. “You try writing 300 stories in two weeks!”

(Lee has so many good lines this week: “Shogun’s army never comes into town!” is one. “S—, ninjas!” is another.)

Where Shogun World delivers most is in its introduction of a bunch of characters worth rooting for — especially Musashi and Akane. And I’m not sure that this show has ever delivered an action-oriented arc as effective as the Maeve-quest story in “Akane No Mai,” which sees Maeve test her powers, find their limits, face a challenge, overcome it by pushing past the limits of her powers, win new allies, then face and defeat an even bigger challenge by pushing past them into full wizard territory.

Unfortunately, “Westworld” cannot just be about Maeve, for some reason. There is also Dolores, whose story feels more tedious with every passing week. The only thing going for Dolores at this point is her frustration with Teddy, which is easy for the viewer to identify with. But the idea that Dolores has real feelings for Teddy is a tough sell, one that “Akane No Mai” tries hard to make. Given that season 1 was all about selling the romance of William and Dolores, why should the romance of Teddy and Dolores feel authentic? If ever a relationship in this show felt like a function of programming, it is Teddy-Dolores.

Seeing Teddy’s iPad personality get inverted, however, was promising. After watching a season and a half of Teddy, I’m more than ready to watch a character who is the opposite of Teddy.

Some more thoughts:

• I have no idea what Gustaf Skarsgård was talking about at the top of the show, and I don’t care. Every time “Westworld” freezes in place so a someone can speak in allegory, I want to throw up my hands and watch “Cheers.” The Golden Age of TV’s major failing has been giving us stuff like this.

• Clementine has been a great slow-burn. Seeing her hover near her replacement host, murmuring along to the dialogue was tough and perfect. She’s going to go like a big narrative bomb at some point.

• Lee stealing that radio can only end badly for him.

Related Content: 

More TV

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett court

    Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Say He Was Victim of Police 'Spectacle'

    Jussie Smollett’s legal team issued a defiant statement on Thursday night, saying the “Empire” actor feels betrayed by the justice system and hinting at a political motive for his prosecution. Smollett was arrested early Thursday on a felony charge of filing a false police report. He was released after a court hearing on $100,000 bond, [...]

  • Carra Patterson Sarah Levy Paola Lazaro

    Fox Casts Four Leads in 'Patty's Auto' Pilot

    Fox has announced the casting of four lead characters for its multi-cam comedy pilot “Patty’s Auto,” including the eponymous Patty. Inspired by Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop with all female mechanics, the project centers on Patty, the intimidating owner of Patty’s Auto who will be played by “Straight Outta Compton” alumna [...]

  • Adam Pally Abby Elliott

    Adam Pally, Abby Elliott Join Cast of NBC Comedy Pilot 'Uninsured'

    NBC pilot “Uninsured” has cast four of its series regulars, with Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project,” “The President Show”) and Abby Elliott (“Saturday Night Live,” “Odd Mom Out”) playing the young married couple at the center of the show. Pally will play Dave, who is described as a “natural hype man with a good heart.” Elliott [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Appeared in Documentary on

    Jussie Smollett Recently Hosted Doc on Lynching, Filmmaker Talks 'Coincidence'

    In May 2018, Jussie Smollett appeared as the narrator and correspondent in an episode of the Epix documentary series “America Divided” that explored the subject of hate crimes, specifically lynching, in the state of Tennessee. Now that the “Empire” actor has been charged with filing a false police report and Chicago police are convinced he [...]

  • TV News Roundup: CBS All Access

    TV News Roundup: 'Twilight Zone' Reboot Drops First Full Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, CBS All Access has released the official trailer for the rebooted “Twilight Zone” and Sophia Bush will guest star on “Jane the Virgin.” CASTING “One Tree Hill” actress and Time’s Up activist Sophia Bush has been cast as a guest star on the fifth and final season of “Jane the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content