TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Nine “Vanishing Point”

“The Only Real World Is The One Outside These Borders…”

With the entirety of last week’s episode of Westworld beautifully dedicated to Zahn McClarnon’s Akecheta and the origin of the Ghost Nation, the penultimate episode of the show’s wonderful second season resorts back to the multi-layered narrative strands which the series is renowned for, exploring a deeper characterisation of a key central character whilst attempting to lay out the explosive turn of events which are guaranteed to kick off in the series finale next week. With William/The Man in Black taking centre stage for the majority of the episode, several interesting notions which had previously been glanced at in the past were granted much needed exploration, particularly in regards to the previously ambiguous event of William’s wife’s mysterious suicide and his own dedicated purpose to the world which he has created. With William’s wife, the offspring of James Delos and sister of Logan, presented as a troubled, conflicted alcoholic whose uncertainty of her own husband forces her into a feeling of prolonged anger and hate, William’s revelation of his natural place in Westworld and embracing of his inner darkness acts as the deciding turn for her death, a decision which undeniably still haunts both William and daughter Emily.

With Emily’s own uncertainty about her father resulting in her attempting to save him in both physical and spiritual senses, her own discovery of her father’s true nature also led to a shocking conclusion, one which not only conclusively presented William as being well and truly lost and swallowed up by his inner turmoil but one which begged the question of whether William himself is human or host, a question echoed by the repeated voice of Emily who stated “if you keep pretending, you’re not going to remember who you are.” With the backstory of William’s wife also highlighting once again Ford’s knowledge of the “project” within the “valley beyond”, now confirmed to be a radical exploration of cognition replication in order to change guests into hosts, his personal struggle of being forced out of his own creation led to the promise of “one more game” and perhaps the fundamental reasoning for Ford’s willingness to facilitate the host’s defection, but with Bernard attempting to rid himself of Ford’s control in order to save Elsie, there still remains questions regarding Ford’s ultimate park endgame. Concluding with a rather emotional death and the sense that particular characters, both human and host, seem to be close to the edge of complete and utter desolation, the penultimate episode of Westworld was yet another majestically crafted hour of science fiction which sets up a concluding chapter which will simply be unmissable.

Overall Score: 9/10


Film Review: Hereditary

“I Just Don’t Want To Put Any More Stress On My Family…”

Within the pantheon of modern-day horror cinema releases, only a few since the turn of the twenty first century have truly managed to encompass the sense of true terror that only the best examples of the genre always create, and with the overly worn out “cattle-prod” franchises still continuing to be admired by particular audiences who believe horror cinema simply relies on cheap jump scares, the rare chance a particular filmmaker comes along and offers something fresh to the genre is one that should always be admired and supported. Step forward director Ari Aster, a young American filmmaker whose debut feature, Hereditary, conforms to a style of horror cinema which is as tantalising to see explored within a mainstream setting as it is genuinely unsettling and and down-right evil, a film which wears its’ obvious inspirations on its’ sleeve but still manages to feel both unique and original, and one with a particular ominous and uncomfortable tone which for some, may seem just too much to handle. With superb performances from its’ central familial quartet, staggeringly unsettling imagery and set pieces which verge on the edge of full-throttle nightmare, Aster’s big-screen breakthrough is not only a perfectly constructed movie but a masterful example of the horror genre at its’ most inventive and gut-wrenching.

Beginning in a familiar, ghost story-esque setting, the death of the Graham family matriarch brings with it supernatural stirrings, unravelled secrets and a claustrophobic sense of death’s presence remaining within the confines of an Amytiville-inspired household, complete with creaky doors, unkempt attic’s and tree house which emits a seething, blood-red shadow whenever occupied. With Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) as Annie, the grieving mother of two whose skills as a miniaturist artist seem to help her cope with the sudden loss of her secretive mother, her newly found role as head of the family brings with it startling realisations about the previous pastimes of her mother as she finds solace in the hands of Ann Dowd’s Joan, a similarly grieving mother figure who attempts to aid Annie through her struggles. With the screenplay beginning with a contemplation on the effect of death and the psychological power it can evoke within the human spirit in a very Don’t Look Now thematic sensibility, the early ghostly imagery lays a solid foundation of skin-crawling creepiness which echoes the oddity of Personal Shopper and the horror-realism of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and with the first act fixed on developing the destructive nature of a family teetering on the edge of collapse, the cold and brooding tone of the first hour is well executed, even when at times the editing pace holds particular camera shots for just a few seconds too long.

After a powerful and stunningly played midway twist, one which leaves you in a gasping and spell-binding state of shock for pretty much the remainder of the movie, the increasing sense of dread which occurs as the direction of the action switches from ghostly chiller to full-on, teeth-rattling nightmare is simply unbearable at times in the best way horror-movie way possible, and with a staggeringly uncertain plot direction, the tension which transpires from a culmination of eerie soundtrack and imagery leaves you constantly on edge as you attempt to piece together and understand where the plot is ultimately heading. Whilst the movie does cave in at times to generic conventions which weaken its’ claim as “The Exorcist of the twentieth century”, particularly in its’ use of the tried and tested depiction of seances, the final act of Hereditary offers one of the most genuinely unnerving and oppressive works of cinema I have ever seen, and with a final twisty resolution which obviously picks at the likes of The Wicker Man and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Ari Aster’s stunning and deliciously twisted debut is a dark and twisted assault on the senses, a horror movie for genuine horror fans and a movie which features one of the most iconic leading genre performances by Toni Collette in years. Dread it, run from it, Hereditary still arrives and stamps its’ mark as the horror movie to experience this year.

Overall Score: 9/10

TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Eight “Kiksuya”

“Death Is A Passage From This Brutal World. You Don’t Deserve The Exit…”

With Westworld in the past consigned to a natural and intended cold-hearted sensibility which entwines its’ way though the show’s genetic makeup, one which seems to mirror the stark alien and unforgivable landscape in which it details, one of the main issues which many have picked up is a rare absence of heart or emphatic empathy for pretty much any of the leading characters, Bernard aside, where even the radical characterisation of Delores this year has resulted in a change of outlook on arguably Season One’s most heartbreaking character. Step forward Zahn McClarnon this week however, an actor famous for his scene-stealing leading role in Noah Hawley’s second season of Fargo alongside cameo performances in the likes of Bone Tomahawk, and “Kiksuya”, the eighth episode of this rapidly improving ten episode haul, is undoubtedly the most impressive and deliriously heartbreaking episode of not only this season, but the entire show thus far, one which utilises historical exposition to detail the history of the intriguing Ghost Nation and one which proves that under that tough level of skin, Westworld can produce moments of pure, unrivalled beauty.

With the whole episode dedicated to the life of McClarnon’s host, Akecheta, the excessively painted leader of the Ghost Nation whose intentions up to now have seemed questionable to say the least, his ability to recall the past lives in which he has both lived and died paints a glorious travel through time as we swiftly move from the early origins of the park to the present day, gorgeous cinematography in hand, and one which develops the once ambiguous season subtitle, “The Door”, as we learn of both Akecheta’s, and in a brilliant concluding twist, Maeve’s endgame in attempting to reach a world which they believe rightfully belongs to them. With a narrative through line which sees Julia Jones as Kohana, Akecheta’s beautiful love interest, the heart-wrenching coldness of the park is executed with extraordinary success, with Akecheta’s personal discovery of the park’s true foundations resulting in a tear-inducing set piece, one made all the better by yet another brilliant Ramin Djawadi musical twist which this time sees a top-note piano rendition of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”. With a heartfelt caressing of Westworld’s newest, and arguably, most interesting character this season, this week’s episode was a ravishing and visually stunning hour of larger-than-life television which halted the breaks on the action and took the time to delve deeper into a host POV which both balanced the pacing of the overall plot as well as adding to it with masterful results. This was HBO at its’ finest people.

Overall Score: 10/10

Film Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

“These Creatures Were Here Before Us. And If We’re Not Careful, They’re Going To Be Here After…”

With Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World managing to take an eye-watering amount of cash at both the worldwide and U.S domestic box office back in 2015, a sequel to the return to all things dinosaurs was rather unsurprising and expected giving the current cinematic climate, and with Fallen Kingdom adding to the already mind-blowing array of big-screen blockbusters within the past six months, 2018 seems to be the year to beat in terms of record breaking ticket sales. With Trevorrow taking a step back from directorial duties for the time being, with the American reduced to executive producer before returning to the director’s chair for the third Jurassic World instalment in 2021, The Orphanage and A Monster Calls director, J. A. Bayona takes control of a middle trilogy entry which remains high on gorgeous spectacle and charismatic characters, but one too which is aching for any meaningful level of substance, but with a flashy, beautifully designed catalogue of reincarnated dinosaurs and a riveting potential set-up for Jurassic World part three, Fallen Kingdom is a popcorn-induced exercise of cinematic box-ticking which becomes more rewarding the less you examine its’ rather obvious many faults.

With the movie sweeping towards you with a break-neck speed from the outset, the frenetic pacing of the piece provides quite obviously a film which may have benefited from being broken in two, with the first hour dedicated to a return to Isla Nubar, the titular home of the Jurassic Park franchise, for the basis of a rescue operation after the introduction of previously inactive volcano which is set on eradicating all life on the island, and the second hour a hammer-horror style exaggerated set-piece which sees the newly created Indoraptor wreak havoc within the confines of a mansion where the richest of the rich have come to exploit the now captured prehistoric beasts. With characterisation out the window and the emphasis instead on set pieces, Bayona’s movie attempts to juggle a wide range of interesting notions, ranging from animal rights to the strange inclusion of human cloning, amidst continuous destruction in order to both add something original and stay faithful to audiences who come to just see dinosaur mayhem on-screen, and whilst the end result is messy, the attempt can at least be applauded, particularly when some of the more downright horror inflicted elements of the movie work rather efficiently. With a handful of gorgeously executed shots, including the sight of a sole dinosaur being swollen up by the darkness of an on-shore volcano and the biggest survival downhill run seen in years, Bayona’s take on the Jurassic World franchise is admirable and engaging enough to paint over the creases, and with a tantalising premise hinted at during its’ conclusion, Fallen Kingdom is undoubtedly the middle act of a wider scheme which does its’ duties well enough to suit the generic movie-going audience eager for some explosive digital dinosaur action.

Overall Score: 7/10

TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Seven “Les Ecorches”

“The Passage From One World To The Next Requires Bold Steps Bernard…”

With the climax of last week’s episode teasing the return of Anthony Hopkins’ elegant and calculating Dr. Robert Ford, the question surrounding “Les Ecorches”, the seventh episode of the ever-improving second season of Westworld, was how big a part the character’s return would play in regards to answering the questions that seem to have all have arisen at the same time of his character’s infamous “death” in the debut season’s finale. With Bernard entering the dreamscape sensibility of the Cradle in order to make contact with Ford, his re-introduction this week alleviates a minor slither of ambiguity regarding the overall purpose of the park, with the notion of human survival seemingly the primary goal of the Westworld hierarchy, something of which was touched upon in previous episodes, particularly within “The Riddle of the Sphinx” in which the groundhog day effect of James Delos’ everlasting host seems much more crucial to the Westworld endgame in retrospect, and with Ford now still alive in conscious form rather than physical, his transfer into the mind of Bernard crafted up some rather creepy, spectre-esque imagery as Bernard was forced to murder against his will and fall in line towards the will of Ford and his calculating scheme of survival.

With the episode beginning with the secrets of Bernard being set free into the hands of Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, the ghost of Theresa Cullen loomed over Bernard as he was forced to face the truth surrounding his fundamental existence, and with the narrative chopping back and forth between time periods once again, the outcome of last week’s train bombing paid dividends with a long-awaited meeting between the two alpha females on each side of the pack. With Thompson’s Charlotte and Delores finally meeting head-to-head in the Westworld HQ compound, the former’s attempts at scrambling the mind of the now murderous host was swiftly eradicated, with Delores seemingly well aware of the bigger picture surrounding the park and the possibility of man’s wish of everlasting life, and with Charlotte close to experiencing the violent delights of the host’s capabilities, the interaction between the two was well executed and brilliantly tense. With action aplenty and numerous low-key character deaths, both human and host alike, “Les Ecorches” balanced action with meaningful exposition rather excellently, and with the return of Anthony Hopkins adding that extra slice of sinister charm that encompassed his character last season, this week’s episode of Westworld was an hour of absorbing and wholly entertaining science fiction spectacle.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

“I’ve Never Completely Freed Myself From The Suspicion That There Are Some Extremely Odd Things About This Mission…” 

With The Shining re-released into cinema chains across the country last year, the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful adaptation of Stephen King’s most iconic novel meant that audiences could experience the works of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time for potentially the first occasion upon the big screen, and with this year being fifty years since the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the chance to embrace one of the greatest and most influential science fiction movies of all time within the confines of all its’ cinematic glory is similarly too tantalising to pass by. Based upon Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story, “The Sentinel”, Kubrick’s undisputed masterpiece has been subject to tributes, parody and political analysis in regards to its’ potential leanings on the filming of the Moon landing ever since its’ first release, a questionable standpoint if ever there was one, and with groundbreaking special effects, a spine-tingling musical accompaniment and the subversive, auteur touch of Kubrickian’s perfectionist idealism, 2001 remains to this day an unmissable experience, one which captures the scope of endless cinematic possibility and one which emphasises the bold strokes of a master filmmaker at his most unparalleled and extravagant.

With the fanfare of Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” bellowing majestically against the backdrop of Earth’s reveal, a stellar introductory piece which rivals the opening scroll of Star Wars for most iconic science fiction prologue, the first act’s dedication to the discovery of both man’s ability to kill and the appearance of the ominous alien monolith is a staggering work of cinematic bravery, one which picks off those unable to handle the stagnated, silent aura of Kubrick’s storytelling and one which features the most ridiculous, yet brilliant, editing jump cut in which two instruments of death are swiftly compared, just with million of years in between. With on-screen speech not occurring until the twenty minute mark when the introduction of William Sylvester’s Dr. Heywood Floyd brings with it exposition which attempts to outline the ambiguous nature surrounding a supposed mass epidemic at a moon-based space station, the gorgeous special effects and cute, clever technical asides being presented to the backdrop of Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” is an outstanding cinematic partnership, with the set design and Oscar winning visual effects both remarkable and as beautiful today as it would have been half a century ago, and for younger audiences who have been treated to increasingly impressive special effects over the past few decades or so, the one real reservation of seeing the effects of 2001 on the big screen is the shame of not seeing it back in 1968 when its’ unprecedented spectacle would have been jaw-dropping.

As the movie moves into its third act and most impressive act, the trials and tribulations of the ill-fated Jupiter Mission is the centrepiece of the film’s real action, a tense build-up of muddled uncertainty and of course, the deadly “malfunctioning” of the iconic HAL-9000, the super computer whose flawless and perfect technical record is questioned by Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea’s Frank Poole and David Bowman, two on-board scientists unaware of the bigger picture surrounding their suspiciously ambiguous deep space mission. With Douglas Rain brilliantly supplying the voice for HAL, his creepy yet elegant monotone speech is the work of genius, one which captures perfectly the sense of something that may indeed feel human but is undoubtedly still a cold and very calculating machine, a factor evidenced by the relatively nonchalant way death is portrayed on-screen. With the final twenty minutes dedicated to Bowman’s journey through the Infinite, the famous surrealist “star-gate” sequence is absolutely bewildering and stunning to behold within the cinematic format, a vivid roller-coaster of beautiful imagery which transports the audience to science fiction heaven and beyond. With a concluding act which leaves all questions intact without clear answers or the chance for any form of meaningful resolution like the best science fiction movies are brave enough to do, 2001: A Space Odyssey deserves its’ chance to be witnessed on the big screen, and with it hard to believe such a movie has ticked over to the ripe old age of fifty, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kubrick’s masterpiece still as effective as ever in another fifty years’ time.

Overall Score: 10/10

Film Review: Revenge

“There Are Three Of Us And We’re Armed. What Are You Afraid Of…?”

With rape revenge movies holding precedent with the likes of infamous video nasties including Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, two 1970’s era releases which both ended up on the Director of Public Prosecution’s list for decade-long bans and subsequently ended up being re-made for a twentieth century audience for reasons still unknown to this day, French big-screen debutante, Coralie Fargeat, cuts her teeth with Revenge, a ridiculously hyper-violent but uproariously entertaining B-movie which sees Matilda Lutz (Rings) as Jennifer, an eye-catching and knowingly beautiful socialite who travels with Kevin Janssens’ millionaire playboy-type, Richard, to a rural, secluded property in the middle of golden sanded desert and is swiftly left for dead after being raped by one of Richard’s associates. Whilst the cliches and the straightforward nature of the central narrative is one not exactly harbouring on originality, Revenge succeeds in a wide range of fields elsewhere, with its’ ripe and tantalising stylish sensibility in particular an astonishingly brave and bold cinematic treat, and with strong performances and a staggering amount of seemingly endless levels of bloodshed, Fargeat’s big-screen debut is a joyous, if tough, cinematic debut.

With Julia Ducournau showing the world last year what can be achieved if given free reigns to commit to a particular first-time project, her own personal debut in the form of the excellent Raw does bear many similarities to Revenge, particularly in regards to its’ use of tone, style and B-movie violence, and whilst its’ hard to envisage any movie which contains the notion of sexual violence in any form as blackly comic, Fargeat’s direction of the events which unfold on-screen can’t help but be chuckled at in a completely over-the-top kind of fashion, particularly as the movie morphs from its’ strongly sadistic opening act to a second half which almost falls into the realm of absurdity and incomprehensibility. With bucket loads of blood, Tarantino-esque gun shot wounds and toe-curling personal first aid skills, Revenge doesn’t hold back on its’ well deserved 18 rating and whilst many may find the contradictory tone between the opening first act and the remaining hour or so slightly alienating, the sheer ripeness of the style in which the action plays out is staggeringly entertaining and jaw-dropping at times to behold. With a lurid, neon-dipped colour palette set against the backdrop of a searing golden-plain desert, the movie feels like a hybrid of Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon and Mad Max: Fury Road, and with a penchant for the latter’s unchained craziness riding through it like a hot poker, Fargeat’s debut is a wild, ultra-violent ride which will undoubtedly make even the most well-versed horror movie fan wriggle in their seat.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Six “Phase Space”

“We Each Deserve To Choose Our Fate. Even If That Fate Is Death…”

Arriving with a steadier, more productive narrative pacing than previous episodes so far this season, this week’s chapter of Westworld was undeniably the best entry within its’ second season so far, mixing superbly choreographed action set pieces with interesting core story developments and a surprising character return which ended the episode on the most thrilling cliffhanger yet, and whilst most of the action primarily occurred within the Shogunworld portion of the various narrative strands, each of the core character arcs did manage to be examined this week in a fashion which pushed the story further ahead in riotously entertaining fashion. With Maeve and co. wishing a fond farewell to the antics of Shogunworld for the time being, the episode at least managed to produce a swashbuckling samurai duel before returning to Maeve’s long lost home, where upon discovering the rules of Westworld at its’ coldest and cruellest, was seen to bear a similar path with that of the wildly unpredictable Ghost Nation.

Elsewhere, the fundamental changes implemented by Delores onto Teddy paid obvious dividends with a newly found murderous streak which even Delores seemed to find surprising, and with the first real productive attack on Westworld HQ, the endgame of Delores’ plan seems to be somewhat put in motion, but with an opening scene which detailed a test outlining the “fidelity” of Bernard’s host, this particular scene is yet another which hasn’t yet identified its’ place in the wandering time strands within Westworld‘s storytelling technique, outlining that there is still many more secrets to be let loose before anything can be taken as a certainty. Of course, the most interesting plot thread this week lands with Bernard and Elsie’s attempts to crack into the Cradle, a hybrid hive mind which seemingly acts as the home hub for everything within the park, including the mind of every single active host, defective or not defective, and with Bernard jacking himself into it in a The Matrix influenced sensibility in order to locate the source of a mysterious contact attempting to communicate with the Cradle, the episode ends with the ghostly reflection of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Ford and a cliffhanger which results in “Phase Space” being the most rewarding and deliciously entertaining hour to come out of Westworld season two so far.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

“Let Me Give You Some Advice. Assume Everyone Will Betray You And You Will Never Be Disappointed…”

Within the space of just one blockbusting cinematic month, audiences across the globe have been joyously rewarded with big release after big release, with Infinity War and Deadpool 2 both hotly anticipated franchise follow ups which have seemingly succeeded to staggering degrees in terms of both their critical appeal and eye-watering box office figures, particular in regards to the former which has managed to cement its’ place quite rightly into the top five highest grossing films of all time. Another week therefore brings with it yet another Disney backed big budget extravaganza in the form of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off in the ever expanding space opera franchise after 2016’s Rogue One and a movie which explores the early undertakings of Alden Ehrenreich’s (Hail, Caesar!) young, cocky and confident take on the titular space pilot. With high-profile production issues, including the firing of original director’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 and 22 Jump Street fame after “creative differences” and mumbling’s regarding Ehrenreich’s on-set acting ability, a strange rumour if ever there was one considering his superb performance in Hail, Caesar!, Solo seemed doomed to fail from the outset, and with fan expectation an all-time low for a cinematic release with the Star Wars branding after mixed responses to its’ fundamental existence, does Solo manage to fend off its’ many steely-eyed critics?

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the film does exactly just that, swapping the melancholic and controversially bold tones of Rogue One and The Last Jedi respectively for a more conventional science fiction romp, one stuffed full of exhilarating action set pieces, interesting new characters and a youth-infused charm thanks to the steady handed nature of its’ well-formed cast who have gripped tightly the chance to step into the shoes of iconic franchise personas. With Ron Howard taking over directorial duties halfway through the filming process and capturing a reported seventy percent of the finished article on his own say, for a man whose back catalogue varies from greatness (Rush, Frost/Nixon) to outright blandness (Inferno, In The Heart of the Sea), the “steady handed” approach of Howard’s film-making abilities isn’t exactly the first name to spring to mind when attempting to rebuild a reportedly sunken ship, but credit of course should be handed when its’ due and whilst its’ hard to gauge perhaps Howard’s stamp on the final product, Solo is undeniably well made and makes up for its’ somewhat straightforward hero narrative by having the most fun possible with its’ strong points, akin to say the more low-key Marvel releases such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange which play to a sense of familiarity but succeed due to the commitment showed by all involved.

With Ehrenreich easing into the inexperienced, swaggering nature of a hopeful Han Solo, the film begins by presenting the central relationship between Solo and Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) Qi’ra, a fellow low-born survivor who like Han himself, will do anything to survive the perilous world of slavers, gangsters and thieves which the film resides in. With Solo’s journey resulting in introductions to Woody Harrelson’s (Three Billboards) father figure, Tobias Beckett, Paul Bettany’s (Infinity War) scar-ridden criminal, Dryden Voss, and of course, Donald Glover’s (The Martian) charming interpretation of Lando Calrissian, the range of bright, fascinating characters allows the limited amount of time spent on deep, meaningful characterisation to be somewhat overlooked, with Howard at times more interested in a rapid, relentless editing pace which moves from one well designed planet to the the next without ever really having the chance to breathe. Whilst the relationship between Qi’ra and Solo is somewhat generic and functional, the real bromance of the piece is of course between Solo and Chewbacca, the furry, murderous Wookie who is as charming and fundamentally likeable as ever, and with the interactions between the cast effective and wickedly humorous, the Disney stamp which has made most of the entries in the MCU so great is vividly on show to see. With it meant to be the undisputed train wreck of the year, Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out to be anything but, a splendidly ludicrous popcorn fest which ties into the franchise’s space opera mantra with ease, a movie which will hopefully appease the fans left cold by The Last Jedi and one which proves that when in doubt, get the right guys in to get the job done.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Five “Akane No Mai”

“Welcome To Shogunworld…”

With the ever expanding Westworld universe opening audiences’ eyes to the possibility of a samurai-inspired section of the park two weeks ago, the tantalising prospect of seeing sword swaying hosts in action was completely disregarded last week after leaving keen observers such as myself without a resolution to the cliffhanger the previous week, but with no time wasted this week, the half way mark of the second season brought with it action aplenty, mysterious god-like powers and the introduction to Shogunworld, a hostile laden territory designed for those who found Westworld “too tame”. With the hosts seemingly similarly malfunctioning within a land consisting of ninjas, ronin warriors and beautiful geisha’s, the episode focuses on Maeve’s struggle to remove herself and her party away from a narrative which bears an aching similarity to her own, with parallels between both Westworld and Shogunworld not only limited to host story-lines but their own personal characteristics too, evidenced by an excellent familiar set-piece in which Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector gets to see his own brand of infamous and criminal escapades played out in front of him.

With the real talking point of the episode landing on Maeve’s sudden ability for total hosts control without the use of speech or movement at all, her newly found “witchcraft” paints a clear picture which points to her as the most powerful corrupted host within the park, particularly in regards to her eagerness to dismantle many of her fellow hosts as possible, and with a concluding dance routine which features undoubtedly the season’s most violently beautiful host kill thus far, the introduction of Akane, a host bearing more than one similarity to Maeve, creates a wonderfully murderous double act for the continuation of their respective journey. On the other side of the park, the build-up of Delores’ deception against Teddy after she declares him to not be fit for her new world due to his fundamental empathetic and caring nature, ran parallel’s with the “present day” in which we see Teddy’s deceased corpse after it was fished out of the water by the Delos recovery team, and with Delos more than eager to be re-acquainted with Delores’ father, the missing Peter Abernathy, the narrative gaps are still plain to see but still interesting enough to be constantly engaging. With sword fights, gruesome deaths and the exploration of a fresh, if familiar, new park, Westworld was on excellent form once again this week and continued the strong start to a first half of a season which continues to make audiences think above all else.

Overall Score: 8/10