Westworld's latest episode is sheer nerd nirvana
*Spoilers for Westworld season 2, episode 5*
Cowboys vs Samurai.
If those three words alone aren't enough to get the child in you excited, I don't know what will.
This week, Westworld finally delivers on the promise it teased way back in the season one finale, and brings Maeve's band of merry followers - and us, the viewing audience - into the weird and wonderful surroundings of the Japanese-themed Shogun World.
The result is nothing short of nerd nirvana.
Elements of geeky indulgence abound. Myriad pop culture influences are churned up and spliced together (hello feudal Japanese rendition of Paint It Black). The whole thing is a love letter to the stylised image we have of a particular time and place.
There are Geishas with deadly hair-pins. A power-drunk, dastardly Shogun. And, naturally, a night-time assault by ninjas ("S*** - Ninjas! F***ing hell!").
No expense was spared on the Shogun's warrior army (Photo: HBO/Sky)
And yes, we get to see people who have lived all their lives as 'cowboys', taking on hosts who are programmed to act like the classic version of the skilled, blade-wielding samurai. Given the tradition of Western movies remaking Samurai films, and the themes those two genres often share, this interplay feels surprisingly fitting.
In a fun fourth-wall breaking moment, it's noted that Shogun World is designed for those who find Westworld too tame.
"We based this park on Japan's Edo period," says Lee. "For the true aficionado of artful gore."
Hello to Hiroyuki Sanada
With this in mind, the delirious mash-up of Kurosawa, anime and any number of Hollywood screen takes on the Shogunate era is clearly self-aware. But to any TV or film fan who loves this kind of thing, it's irresistible.
Against the backdrop of cherry blossom trees, cushioned sliding-door interiors and vast regal courtyards, the sight of Thandie Newton's Maeve donning a Kimono and wielding a sword is thrilling. The satirical edge around Westworld's time-travelling cultural tourism is in full flow too.
Fortunately, there's a dose of gravitas to go with all this excess.
Hiroyuki Sanada is both a cult genre actor - and a well-respected dramatic performer too (Photo: HBO/Sky)
The superb Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada is wonderfully charismatic and striking as the rogueish Shogun World equivalent of Hector - only with a suitably more noble backstory to match the quintessential wandering warrior archetype.
Sanada will be familiar to genre fans from his work in the original version of spine-tingling horror Ring, and the cult sci-fi movie Sunshine, as well as his myriad appearances in notable mainstream movies. But he is also one of his home nation's most renowned and respected performers.
His presence here is a genuine treat.
A proper buddy adventure
On a sheer production level, the ambition to venture into such a range of new sets, props, costumes and environments is commendable, and having much of a major US TV episode's dialogue conveyed in a foreign language with subtitles, equally so.
Maeve finds empathy and common ground with her own Shogun World double, helping her wreak bloody vengeance. The eventual final rampage where she is able to command the Shogun's warriors to commit mass murder-suicide is an enthralling power fantasy; her strut through the carnage around her stupendous.
"I told you, I found a new voice. Now we use it."
Maeve's Shogun World alter-ego (Photo: HBO/Sky)
The interplay between Maeve, Lee, Hector, Armistice, Felix and Sylvester is still a winning element too, thick with sharp gags and wry exchanges. It really does feel like a proper buddy adventure at times.
In some ways, this might be Westworld's daftest episode yet. But it is almost certainly its most fun.
Given the other hinted-at parks, just think what further delirious crossovers could be lying in wait...
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.
[Main photo: HBO/Sky]