Everything so Full of Splendor in this Week’s Episode of ‘Westworld’
Welcome to our weekly recap of HBO’s Westworld. Many of us on staff here at MNN are fans of the show, so we’ll be sharing our thoughts as the series moves through it’s second season. We’re a little late to the party and are jumping in on the second episode, “Reunion”, so this first edition may touch on the previous episode as well. Hopefully, you won’t mind. That said, we’re gonna get into some wild, wild spoiler territory, so if you haven’t caught this episode yet, I’ll urge you to do so before you proceed!
“Down-the-rabbit-hole” is a not uncommon – and often overused – sentiment when the plot of a story in any medium becomes so brilliantly complicated the audience literally has no idea what is going to happen next. As said, this term gets tossed around a lot, it’s genesis being from Alice In Wonderland and it’s reintroduction into the lexicon of pop culture I’d attribute to The Matrix. If there ever was a television show that deserved it’s stamp of wonderful uncertainty – I’d argue that Westworld has earned it a hundred times over. The writing, the production, and the cast are a symphony of unreliable narrative and misdirection, leaving audiences to ponder even the slightest detail of a font in the background or the color of a character’s outfit. Where shows like Lost made it up as they went along – creating a ticking-time bomb of plot-holes no team of writers could solve – Westworld delivers each twist in the maze of it’s ever expanding story with Swiss-watch precision. Where it’s first season gave us some sense of foundation we might know what’s behind the curtain of this world, the first two episodes of this season have probably blown up a lot of notions the audience had about this artificial world. And, we are only two episodes into this season.
Just to give a quick rundown on episode one, it’s been apparent since season one that time is fluid in this story. Here we see the hosts, at what I presume to be the end of their uprising on this contained island of a nightmare playground for rich humans to come live out their wildest fantasies and darkest desires. Bernard, who has yet to realize he’s among the design of those perished in the waves, seems to question where his alliance lies. If his mind truly is an echo of host co-inventor Arnold Weber, the existential dilemma must be excruciating. We jump between the Delos reconnaissance team arriving on this beach and the events the beginning of the events that put these bodies there.
Maeve is on a tear through the facilities and has really come into her own as far as awareness goes. Dolores is on one of her own. They are both aware of the bondage they’ve experienced for decades – and for the guests of Westword, mercy is the only thing left they can hope to experience. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’ve watched the first episode, because I’d like to devote this mostly to the depths this season’s second episode took us to. If you’re looking for a good memory refresher, the fine folks over at io9 wrote a great review of season two’s debut episode.
The episode opens with a dynamic we’ve become accustomed to: Jeffrey Wright’s voice speaking to a waking Dolores. As soon as the camera pulls back, we realize it’s much different this time. Jeffrey Wright is not Bernard, who we’re accustomed to see speaking to Dolores in this state, he’s Arnold. They are not in the basement of some bunker, but in a high-rise overlooking some metropolis of the near future. Dolores is aghast with wonder at the sea of lights – in a dream with a view of “stars scattered across the ground”. The dialogue of this episode, even at it’s darkest points, is just exquisite, thanks to the delivery of the talented cast and the excellent script by Carly Wray and Jonathan Nolan. I honestly could have listened to an audiobook version of this episode and been just as pleased.
Dolores is in the real world, brought out of whatever lab Arnold was constructing her in to present to investors. A younger Robert Ford actually makes a brief background appearance, seeming much more concerned about getting Dolores in front of potential investors than anything else. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from the man Anthony Hopkins portrayed in the first season of the show – the young entrepreneur before he became the eccentric, sort-of idealist. There’s noticeable tension between Ford and Arnold in this brief interaction. They briefly squabble like parents over what their child will wear to a formal event – though Arnold’s concern is genuinely paternal, Ford’s is not. Arnold is concerned Dolores is not ready for her big “coming out”, so he decides to take her on a walk, possibly to test her.
They move through a small corner of the city to a site where Arnold is building his home. Dolores seems astonished Arnold could build a home that seems to sit amongst the towers of the cityscape. The home is far from finished, and Arnold mentions his wife and his son, Charlie. We know from the first season that Charlie passed away and this was a memory that haunted Bernard. Charlie is still alive here, but the tenderness and regard in Arnold’s voice suggest there is something he’s withholding from Dolores. Still, he says Charlie is excited to meet her, so that got me thinking that perhaps Dolores was made in someone else’s image. This scene seems very important, so I’m putting a bookmark in it and I have a feeling we’ll be coming back to it at some point. Their respite from Ford’s rushing is brief, as Dolores trips up and repeats herself in a glitchy way, Arnold’s disappointment realizing she’s not quite what he hoped she had become. What is that, exactly? We shall see, as Arnold promises her he’ll bring her back to the real world someday.
We jump to a scene that looks like it’s set in about the same time period. King shithead Logan, heir apparent to the Delos Corporation, is doing what he does best: getting loaded and making arrangements for his next sexual escapade. I honestly forgot about Logan completely, but as soon as that mug appeared on my iPad, every nasty thing he did and said from season one came rushing back. The Logan we meet here is Logan before the first season, and we can see there won’t be much personal growth before he saddles up. Logan is approached by a couple. It’s Angela and Akecheta. Angela is a host we’ve seen go from leading guest’s intake sessions to gunning them down by Dolores’ side.
The couple propose a demonstration of a new technology. I presume they’ve been sent there by Arnold and Ford – and this is probably the scenario Arnold was trying to protect Dolores from. This brief interaction is very interesting to me, as Logan mentions virtual reality has basically dominated the tech sector and everyone has something to sell. To quote Silicon Valley, Logan’s regard to VR is almost like it’s the “new internet”. The couple lead Logan to another room, filled with other people, and Logan mistakenly assumes it’s some sort of mixer for investors. He’s assured their demonstration has begun and figures he’s to guess which person in the room is artificial. Turns out they all are.
We jump further ahead to where we last saw William (the Ed Harris/Man in Black), who is giving his future father-in-law, James Delos, a tour of Westworld. There’s a stark difference between the young, naive William who came into his own by sticking his hog-tied, brother-in-law-to-be on a bareback horse and informing him he’d be taking the reigns of the family business. There’s more than confidence in William – he’s simply sinister in every breath he takes. Father-in-law seems to think the park is just some sort of farce, maybe a glorified Disneyland and doesn’t see the use in pouring part of his fortune in it. William counters with the fact that Westworld could be a map to the desires – both good and terrible – of every human being that steps foot in the park. It’s like Google and Facebook on steroids, and if their services were tangible and as private as could be. It’s more than user data-mining – it’s a true look into their souls. This is not the first evocation of God, and we are starting to walk down the path that will lead us to what Westworld actually is and what the Delos family intend to do with it.
Older William knows exactly what they are to do with it, but he’s not telling, and it’s very clear one thing Robert Ford left behind is a game for William. I was over the moon to Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul make a cameo delivering Ford’s post-humous message that the game he left for William is only for him. Older William can’t resist, but he states in another scene that he is ready for the end of Westworld and whatever it was designed to be. The endgame for William is upon us.
Dolores and Maeve meet for the first time since the hosts have been liberated. I don’t know why I expected their first encounter to be the beginning of some sort of union – as it was anything but. Maeve is on a singular and much more intimate journey – to find her daughter. Dolores is determined to end Westworld and lead the hosts to a revolution in the real world. These two interests are nowhere near the point of intersection, though I suspect they will be eventually. There’s tension, as Teddy is ready to defend Dolores, even though he’s more lost than anyone else in all of this. They exchange a few words and seem to be in agreement about the guests mistreatment of their people, but they will not be forming a grand alliance to take on the guests and whatever reinforcements may be headed to defend them. That will almost certainly come later, but for now there is an understanding between Dolores and Maeve that for the first time they are free and they should each choose their own path. Thandie Newton shines in this scene. She’s really dug in as Maeve and each time she appears onscreen she certainly shifts the focus to whatever Maeve has to say.
Dolores has other prospects of an alliance – and it’s with a much more unsavory crow: the Confederados. You remember them from season one – renegade Confederate soldiers that have moved west from a war they lost to loot and plunder. Dolores appears at their hideout in the midst of meal time. She informs them of the truth – that they are all just actors in a simulation for the amusement of their masters. They don’t believe her, so she has them killed, and has the technician she kidnapped reanimate the leader. A convincing demonstration and a huge step for Dolores. She’s gone from killing a fly in the first episode of the series to playing God in the early part of the second season. Dolores is determined to show her people that they were made in their creator’s image, but the creator is not a benevolent one. The creator is one that will kick them around for their own amusement and sick desires – and Dolores will be their savior.
We go back to the real world and Dolores is now playing the piano at what appears to be a retirement party for the patriarch Delos. James mentions his failing health and we assume William is taking over the Delos Corporation. We get a glimpse of William’s wife and daughter, and he’s noticeably taken aback when he sees Dolores playing the piano. It’s not William who Dolores interacts with in this scene that should be noted though – it’s Logan. Logan’s got some fairly obvious addiction issues, as he is strung out on what I assume is an opioid of the future, with gnarly track marks peppering the veins of his arm. He’s defeated and confides in Dolores that whatever the Delos Corporation is doing will be the beginning of the end of the world. What’s he referring to? The cataloguing of guest’s wildest and darkest inclinations? The hosts they are creating? You don’t have to throw a stone very far in this day and age to find someone who will give you an apocryphal earful about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Perhaps Logan is speculating about the worst case scenario, but something tells me Logan is certain about his prediction. One thing seems likely to me: Logan’s story this season is certain to be a turbulent one.
The episode concludes with Dolores promising to lead her followers to a weapon of some sorts she was shown. Whatever it is, she’s certain it will be the decider in the inevitable conflict with the humans she knows are headed their way. Every guest so far has warned her about having no idea what she’s up against. They have a point, but they also don’t know what Dolores has up her sleeve. We flashback to young William mocking her as a mechanism and toy, but then taking her to the same canyon where she stood in the previous scene.
“Have you ever seen something anything so full of splendor?” young William says.
I have to say this episode had my full attention and I didn’t want it to end. I’m quite pleased we are getting to know the Delos family a bit better and getting a glimpse of the real world. I kind of glossed over Teddy’s role in this episode, but he had a big milestone as well. On a Westworld technician’s tablet, Dolores showed some tough love and forced Teddy to see his corpse in the infinite states of death it had been in throughout his service to the park. I still think Teddy is something of a wildcard in Dolores’ goal of establishing the hosts’ freedom, as he doesn’t seem to share the bloodlust and vengeance of his leader. Evan Rachel Wood – like Thandie Newton – owns the character of Dolores. The depth and brilliance of her performances just keep getting better and I can’t wait to see where this all goes. Westworld continues to be one hell of a ride!