In Shogun World, ‘Westworld’s’ Female Characters Must Suffer to Be Strong

Episode five of Westworld picks up from episode three’s cliffhanger where a mysterious man wielding a katana charges at Maeve. Enter Shogun World–this is the park where guests come when they find Westworld too tame, a concept which emphasizes guests’ desire for a stereotypically “exotic” experience. In an entertaining and cinematic episode, writer Dan Dietz and director Craig Zobel play with the nostalgia of Westerns and samurai films. While it featured stellar performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Thandie Newton, this episode shows how Westworld continues to subject its female characters to trauma to prove their strength.

When Maeve and company enter Shogun World, writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) reveals that, in an effort to write as many stories as possible, he took their Westworld storylines and gave them a stereotypical Japanese twist to make it “new.” It is fascinating to watch these “doppelbots” recognize each other, particularly Maeve and the geisha, Akane (Kikuchi). They’re both sex workers, seen as pieces of meat to hosts and guests alike; they want to protect their own (Maeve and her daughter, Akane and Sakura, a young geisha); they both must suffer to grow.  

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Maeve discovers she can now mentally control other hosts. But, this new ability only comes after being beaten and choked by a ninja. As she gasps her last breaths and her eyes roll back into her head, Maeve realizes she can stop her assailant, even when she can no longer speak. Her suffering to gain this new ability is only one example in this episode of female characters needing to experience trauma to prove their strength.

At one point Sizemore yells, “Why should we care about a literal sex robot,” which encapsulates my problems with the show. While the writers try to make audiences care about these “sex robots,” they want us to care only after watching them continuously suffer. Sakura is literally branded, and Akane watches her die, as these characters are subjected to violence and trauma in the name of “character development.” Yes, Westworld is a violent show, but I’m tired of violence towards women being used as a plot device.

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Sizemore’s character seems to be the comic relief in a show that has never relied on such a device. Every few minutes he exclaims, “Wait that wasn’t supposed to happen,” as if to help orient the audience. But instead of being helpful, he just seems clueless and comical. Sizemore continues to feel out of place, existing to only quickly fill in context.

Meanwhile, back in Westworld, Dolores soliloquizes to Teddy about what needs to be done to ensure the success of their mission. When she realizes Teddy is too sweet for what they must do, she decides to take his fate into her own hands. Like Maeve being able to control hosts with mental commands, Dolores reprograms Teddy to fit her needs. Both women are learning to manipulate others for what they deem the greater good. Dolores even says, “To grow, we all need to suffer,” as she watches the Teddy she “fell in love with” become someone new. Dolores and Maeve’s parallel narratives show how they both are grappling with what it means to be in control.

The narrative of each episode continues to get better. The stories feel like they are tightening up, with the last two episodes only following two storylines instead of four or five. But despite these narrative fixes, I can’t help but still feel frustrated. While the violence towards women was used to show how cruel humans can be, it’s becoming tiresome. It isn’t about making a point anymore, it’s about brutalizing these characters to create empathy.   

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