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.   

‘Westworld’ Episode 4 Tackles What it Takes to be Immortal

Co-creator Lisa Joy directed her first episode of Westworld, and it’s probably the best of this season so far. Joy creates an episode that is creepy and beautiful to look at, something the show has desperately needed. She also provides answers to some pretty big questions, namely, what is going on in that lab beneath the park? Well, it’s all about creating host clones of humans.

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Delos’s record player. Screenshot from HBO

The episode opens with a long pan across a crisp white apartment while “Play with Fire” by The Rolling Stones drifts off a record player. As the camera pans across the apartment, it stops on James Delos (Peter Mullan) who seems to be going through his typical morning routine. Then we discover he is actually in an observation period, according to young William (Jimmi Simpson). We return to this scene two more times, slowly learning that this isn’t the real Delos. Instead, Delos’s mind has been transferred into a host’s body in an attempt to achieve immortality. But, this process is not so easy.

Continue reading “‘Westworld’ Episode 4 Tackles What it Takes to be Immortal”

Episode Three of ‘Westworld’ Begs the Question: Who Let the Tiger Out?

We aren’t in the wild west anymore, folks. Episode three of ‘Westworld,’ ‘Virtù e Fortuna,’ has finally confirmed the existence of not one, but two new theme parks: the Raj (British-occupied colonial India) and Shogun World (samurais). Dissent is spreading to the other parks and the hosts have taken control; plus, there are rogue tigers chasing guests.

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Episode three opens in the Raj, where guests sip tea and plan their hunting expeditions, while Indian men serve them. It’s a place for the rich to live out their Victorian fantasies of experiencing the exotic, while still in the comfort of a luxurious resort. In this resort, two strangers meet, engage in some interesting foreplay, then go off into the jungle together to hunt tigers. But subsequently are hunted by a host who declares, “these violent delights have violent ends” as he pulls the trigger. The man is shot and the woman escapes, only to run into the jungle and encounter a tiger.

Then, in a scene that is distinctly J.J. Abrams, a tiger knocks this mysterious woman off a cliff. Don’t worry, she survives somehow. She seems to have a part to play in all of this, but within a narrative so full of characters and storylines already, it’s hard to be excited about someone new.  

While tigers are attacking guests, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has started a war. She sacrifices her new Confederado allies, armed with Civil War-era muskets, to the heavily armed human park security. In an uninspired battle where the massacre of hosts doesn’t seem much different from previous episodes, Dolores asserts herself as superior to other hosts–hosts that have not yet been awakened. She declares, “These men are just children. They don’t know any better. They need to be led.” She has become self-important and rather than feel inspired or moved by her monologues, I found myself bored.

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A character who finally had a shining moment was Teddy, played by James Marsden. So far this season he has been as memorable as a piece of plain white toast. But in this episode, Teddy’s discomfort with Dolores’ violence is no longer just a puppy-eyed grimace. This time, he disobeys Dolores and releases a group of hosts instead of executing them. There may be a glimmer of hope for that piece of white toast after all.

As Dolores continues to act poetic about her new role in this world and her grand plans, I find myself wishing for more scenes with Maeve. There are no dramatic monologues or too-sincere declarations, there is only her daughter. Maeve is smart, strategic, calculating, but also loving. She holds Hector’s (Rodrigo Santoro) hand, much to the surprise of their human hostage and park writer, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quartermain). That violates the narratives which were written for them; they are breaking the rules. Hector is supposed to be linked to the host, Isabella, not Maeve.

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But despite breaking some rules, Hector still echoes back cheesy romantic lines that Sizemore has written for him. Are these hosts really freethinking? If not, what happens when they truly break free from these narratives?

We also learn that Sizemore wrote Hector and Isabella after a breakup. Specifically, he wrote a narrative where Isabella, who represents his ex-girlfriend, is killed off as a perverse form of revenge. Sizemore’s anecdote illustrates the show’s problem with excessive violence towards women as a form of unwarranted punishment. Yes, ‘Westworld’ is violent and seems to spare no one, but there is a particular focus on trauma and violence towards women.

Episode three ultimately introduces plenty of new parks and new characters, but few answers. The storylines continue to multiply and branch off with no end in sight. As the story continues to expand beyond the scope of Westworld, it’s starting to become too big to contain. The season may only be three episodes in, but I’m exhausted thinking about what the rest of the season could bring.

Review: In ‘Westworld’ Season 2, Robot Women Will Inherit the Earth

As ‘Westworld’ season two begins, and the first notes of Ramin Djawadi’s score are played, we see the credit sequence. Still familiar, but some things have changed. Instead of seeing two hosts having sex, there is a mother holding her baby; instead of machines creating a horse, a bison is smashing through glass; instead of an eye being created, it is being destroyed. This is no longer a show about pleasure and fantasy–it’s about death and rebirth. The senseless slaughter of hosts at the hands of humanity seemed without consequence. But now, it’s time to pay in blood.

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Thandie Newton as Maeve in ‘Westworld’ © 2018 HBO

*Spoilers ahead* Continue reading “Review: In ‘Westworld’ Season 2, Robot Women Will Inherit the Earth”