HomeTelevisionWestworld, 'Akane no Mai' Review: Samurais, Empathy & Teddy Flood

Westworld, ‘Akane no Mai’ Review: Samurais, Empathy & Teddy Flood

Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

Westworld, ‘Akane no Mai’ Plot Summary:

Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her companions end up embroiled in a strangely familiar story in the park’s Edo period Japan themed Shogun World. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) reminisces in Sweetwater with Teddy (James Marsden).

It’s a truly wondrous thing when a show learns from its mistakes. Fixing chronic issues and improving on its weaker qualities helps to reinforce what makes a show strong in the first place. To be sure, Westworld has not entirely shed its worst habits particularly its obsession with mystery over drama and eschewing of character in the pursuit of ideas. The series has been increasingly able to set those aside for an episode and deliver a focused, character-driven experience that still contains all the grand philosophical ideas that make the show so intriguing. The result is an episode like ‘Akane no Mai,’ an intriguing exploration of love and empathy shown through the diverging paths of our two most advanced hosts, Dolores and Maeve.

Maeve Westworld Season 2 Episode 5
Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

First we have Dolores, fresh off of losing her father to Delos security forces and witnessing Teddy refuse to carry out her commands. This is a more contemplative episode for her than the plot-oriented Episode 3, one that focuses on her evolving relationship with Teddy. Just like Maeve in Season 1, she struggles with the idea that the love she’s been programmed with is fake. It’s a surprisingly tender follow-up to the conflict that was set up when she saw him let the Confederados go, one that sees Dolores ultimately embrace that the love she feels is real. Yet when she gives a speech about how her father burned the weak and sickly cows in their herd during a plague, we know it can’t end well.

The real meat of this episode comes from Maeve’s portion of the proceedings, though. Captured by a wandering samurai that made his way into the edges of Westworld, she and her companions are brought into a village in Shogun World that has some eerie parallels with Sweetwater, thanks to Lee’s (Simon Quarterman) laziness as a writer. But while it was lazy for Lee, it’s a brilliant move for the Westworld writers. For one thing, it gives us an immediate grounding in who these new Shogun World characters are and helps us to understand them much better than we otherwise would. But the real brilliance is how it combines the pulpy fun inherent in Westworld’s premise with the thematic throughline of the episode.

In the previous episode, we saw how William (Ed Harris) could come to care enough about Lawrence’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) plight to intervene by seeing the parallels between his life and Lawrence’s. This is a pretty basic idea about empathy that we tend to take for granted. Here though, we get a much deeper exploration of just what that means, as the host members of Maeve’s crew literally see themselves in other hosts. For some, like Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), the discomfort drives hostility and suspicion. For others, like Armistice (Ingrid Borsø Berdal), it’s a kind of fascination. But when Maeve sees the same care and love that she feels towards her daughter reflected in Akane’s (Rinko Kikuchi) desire to protect Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), she does something that Lee says she was never programmed to do: care about someone else.

This is such a simple concept, but it’s one that Westworld has always known the radical importance of. The first season’s most powerful theme was the idea that there is no one to whom our actions are meaningless, that what we do to other people always matters, especially when we think it doesn’t. Now we reinforce that importance through Maeve, who learns how to apply empathy as a literal superpower. As her ability to connect with others grows she learns to command hosts with a thought, an ability that allows her to come to Akane’s rescue and avenge Sakura in a spectacular, episode-ending display.

Yet the real climax came earlier, in a much quieter moment for Maeve and a disturbing one for Dolores. Maeve, in her increasing affection for Akane, offers to wake her up to the reality of the park so she can live a fuller life. But Akane seems to instinctually understand that to accept this would be to give up, in some sense, the realness of her relationship with Sakura. And Maeve, who knows how precious that is, understands and accepts Akane’s decision. This is then immediately contrasted with Dolores, who comes to the same conclusion Maeve once did about how her feelings of love, programmed as they may be, are still real. But rather than take those feelings and accept Teddy as a full person, she forcibly rewrites his personality so he will be better suited to the tasks she has set out to accomplish.

Samurai in Westworld
Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

That these two hosts represented differing views on the value and use of their newfound freedom was implied in a conversation when they briefly met earlier this season, but that conflict did not yet have any grounding in how their characters had developed, so it was more theoretical than real to us. It’s a very Westworld move to give us a verbal articulation of an idea well before actually showing it, but that’s a minor offense. Now we have a much clearer idea of what is at stake.

Dolores is concerned about the future of the hosts, how they will survive against the onslaught of their former oppressors, but in pursuit of that she seems willing to embrace every horrifying tactic that was once used against them. Maeve, meanwhile, is slowly learning to apply her own feelings to others and master the empathy that humans have denied the hosts for so long. In doing so, she is becoming a more influential and even heroic figure. The clash between the two, artlessly teased before, now seems thematically inevitable and positively thrilling.

Chances are, we’re not going to stop seeing vague hints about Ford’s game any time soon. Though we were mercifully spared an extended stay, there was still a brief stop in the future timeline this episode where we got more pointless hinting about what is going to happen. And by the time this all wraps up, there will still be a whole lot of unanswered questions. But that Westworld can deliver an episode like this, that makes a powerful statement on empathy while also being a fantastic character study of its two most fascinating hosts, is a sign of how far this show has come. When it comes to prestige drama indulgences, it has them in spades, but Akane no Mai is an episode that proves the show has the chops to back up its pretensions.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


  1. I’m curious to hear your opinion on something that’s been bothering me about this season so far.

    I agree that they’re doing interesting things with Maeve’s character development, but given her level of awareness, I don’t understand why any host’s death should have any weight to her.

    I’m not saying she shouldn’t be able to form emotional or empathetic connections. But when Maeve knows that Sakura can just be repaired, why should she care so much about her “death”?

    • I think it’s the flip side of the show’s observation that the programmed nature of the hosts’ relationships doesn’t make them less real. That is to say, the hosts are experiencing these deaths as real deaths, and the trauma they induce is real trauma. Maeve knows Sakura can be brought back to life, but it doesn’t change the fact that Akane saw someone she viewed as a daughter brutally killed in front of her. It’s the same way that Maeve can be traumatized by the Native Americans or the Man in Black because of their attacks from her homesteading days, even though they ultimately did no real physical harm to her or her daughter. It’s just another way the show emphasizes that how people are treated always matters, regardless of how consequence-free it seems.

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