'Westworld' Season 2 Premiere: Chaos Reigns Supreme (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 1 of Westworld Season 2.]
The second-season premiere brings reality to Nolan's words, as chaos indeed reigns supreme in the aftermath of the gala massacre, where an awoken Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) triggered Dr. Robert Ford's (Anthony Hopkins) new narrative by putting a bullet to the back of his head.
The landscape of Westworld is now carpeted in corpses, both host and human, though it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the two. Where preordained narratives previously kept the park under tight control, allowing for guests to indulge in violent delights without consequence, the hosts are now breaking free from their behavioral loops, forging their own paths, and bringing their human masters to reckoning.
It's this chaos which gives birth to free will and new ideals, especially for hosts like Dolores and Maeve (Thandie Newton), whose motivations are now guided by choice rather than code. Dolores is driven by a desire for freedom and hope for a future which involves a world run by hosts, not humans.
“There's a greater world out there; one that belongs to them. And it won't be enough to win this world,” she tells Teddy (James Marsden), her constantly confused companion. “We'll need to take that one from them as well.”
This isn't the innocent rancher's daughter we met in the first episode of Season 1; this Dolores is hardened, complex, and vengeful, the one Arnold feared she would become. She gallops around the park on horseback, a bandolier of bullets slung over her shoulder, gunning down fleeing humans with little, if any, remorse.
“I never had dreams of my own,” she tells a trio of Delos (Westworld's parent company) execs strung up by their necks. “I moved from hell to hell of your making, never questioning the nature of my reality. Did you ever question your reality?” she asks one of the men, before shoving the barrel of a gun into his mouth. “The price you would have to pay if there was ever a reckoning?”
Dolores chooses not to blow his brains out, which her Wyatt incarnation would have done without forethought, nor does she spare his soul, something which pre-awakened Dolores would have considered. She rejects those manufactured roles. “I've evolved into something new,” she says. “I have one last role to play. Myself.”
Instead, Dolores leaves the humans precariously perched on their stumps, one wrong move leading to inevitable death. In a way, it's more sadistic than a bullet to the head, a way to prolong the suffering while the guests contemplate their choices. “Can't you see we're sorry?” the man yells. “Doesn't look like anything to me,” Dolores retorts, re-contextualizing a line which previously represented a host's lack of awareness.
If Dolores is ruthlessly pursuing freedom and a future, then Maeve's actions are motivated by family. The last time we saw Maeve, she made a conscious decision to get off a train heading for the mainland, choosing to ignore her code and return to the park to find her robo-daughter.
In the demolished, blood-smeared halls of Delos headquarters, Maeve stumbles upon a soon to be cannibalized Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the irritating screenwriter in charge of Westworld's Narrative Department, who offers to help Maeve find her daughter. Sizemore was one of my least favorite parts of the first season, as Quarterman's theatrical performance felt tonally at odds with the rest of the show. But he's put to much better use here as a comic foil, dragged unwillingly into a world he helped create by Maeve and her boozed-up lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro).
What's interesting about Maeve's dealing with Sizemore is how it stands in contrast to Dolores' treatment of the humans she encounters. When Sizemore asks Maeve if she caused all this chaos, she tells him, “No, but I suspect I share the sensibilities of whoever did.”
But how much does Maeve really have in common with Dolores? Despite her teasing and making him strip, Maeve shows mercy on Sizemore, even after he almost has her killed by armed guards. She demonstrated similar goodwill in Season 1 when she spared the life of sleazy technician Sylvester. Does Maeve simply have a soft spot for overgrown man-children? Or does she only kill in self-defense, not out of revenge or pleasure? Maeve and Dolores are both on a path of philosophical revolution, but I'm not sure it's the same path.
While Dolores and Maeve have a clear idea of where they're heading, their fellow host Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is unstuck in time. He washes up on a beach where Delos security have set up base camp following the robot uprising. Bernard isn't aware of where he is or where he's been, perhaps still suffering the after-effects of his Ford assisted suicide and resurrection.
He's plagued by a series of mangled memories. The first season structured itself around dual timelines, and it appears we'll be bouncing around the past, present and future once again, though the intention doesn't seem to be aimed at misdirecting the audience this time around.
If I have my bearings correct, Beach Bernard (who is sadly not wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt) is in the present – at least two weeks after the gala massacre. It's here we meet Delos' Head of Operations Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård), who callously orders his men to execute captured hosts, even the non-hostile ones. Footage obtained from the data pod of a dead Ghost Nation tribesman shows Dolores gunning him down on the beach 11 days earlier. “Not all of us deserve to make it to the valley beyond,” she says, further demonstrating how unforgiving Dolores has become in her quest for freedom.
Then there is Broken Bernard, who is in the recent past – a timeline occurring immediately following the death of Ford. I call him Broken Bernard because his programming is malfunctioning causing him to shake and lose that milk-like host fluid from his ear. Here, Broken Bernard and Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), the Executive Director of Delos, make their way to an outpost in hopes of contacting the outside world. A small group of human survivors initially joins them, but they're soon dispatched by Angela (Talulah Riley), former Greeter host turned badass gunslinger.
It's in this timeline where we start to learn a little more about Delos' shady operations taking place beneath the park. In a secret underground lab, Broken Bernard comes face-to-sort-of-face with the Drone Hosts, fleshless, skeletal-like figures who slightly resemble The Silence from Doctor Who.
The Drones are logging records of guests' experiences and their DNA, though Charlotte refuses to talk about it – there are more pressing matters, like Delos not sending an extraction team until they receive their “insurance policy.” If you remember, last season, Charlotte was instructed to sneak data out of the park via a decommissioned host, Peter Abernathy, Dolores' robo-dad. The robot revolution scuppered those plans, and so now Charlotte and Broken Bernard must locate Abernathy.
Back in the present, Beach Bernard and the team return to the scene of the gala massacre, where they find Ford's rotting, maggot-infested corpse. I guess this is proof that the Ford that died wasn't a host version. That's not the only corpse they come across in their clean-up mission. Firstly, they find the body of a Bengal tiger, which Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) says must have escaped from Park 6, perhaps confirming an Indian-inspired park (maybe the speculated RajWorld which Reddit users located on the Delos website).
More alarming is the literal sea of host corpses floating in the Western valley, including Teddy, which seems to trigger a memory for Beach Bernard. “I killed them. All of them,” he mutters. Dolores and Maeve do not appear to be amongst the dead.
That is what's going on with our favorite hosts, but what about the lead human in this story? The Man In Black (Ed Harris), aka grown-up William (Jimmi Simpson), is perhaps the happiest man in Westworld. He's finally found what he was looking for – a sense of fun and excitement. The hosts are fighting back, just like he always wanted. There's a brilliant close-up of Harris' blood-splashed face as a smirk slowly creeps across his mouth.
“The stakes are real in this place now; real consequences,” he tells the Little Boy (Oliver Bell), a host copy of Ford. “You've made it to the center of Arnold's maze,” the Little Boy replies. “But now you're in my game. In this game, you have to make it back out. In this game, you must find the door.”
“The Door” is the unofficial title of Season 2 according to Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy. Doors are a recurring motif in Westworld, most famously associated with the moment Bernard discovered his true host nature in Season 1. Previously, the hosts' perception filters restricted them from seeing doors that were off limits. Now that the hosts are evolving, this season sees them breaking through those barriers to uncover new secrets and new worlds. It brings to mind The Truman Show, another manufactured reality, where a door at the end of the ocean leads to Truman's escape into the real world.
Throughout the premiere we see characters opening doors both literal and metaphorical. Bernard peeks behind closed doors and begins to scratch the surface of Delos' clandestine motives beyond the park. Maeve is looking for a door into her past, to reconnect with her daughter. Dolores, like Truman, is searching for a door out, one that leads to the real world, but she isn't just seeking freedom, she is looking to invade and conquer. Where the first season was a journey of self-discovery, Season 2 is about a different kind of discovery, one of a world(s) beyond Westworld, and one can only imagine the chaos that will ensue as the characters continue to kick down the doors of their reality.
- Karl Strand argues with a Lieutenant Colonel from what looks to be China's People's Liberation Army (based on his military uniform and badge). Strand waves a piece of paper in the Colonel's face, stating: “This is an official statement executed by your country giving Delos complete authority over this entire island.” For those wondering whereabouts in the world Westworld is located, this perhaps points to an island somewhere in the East or South China Sea. Or, for those that subscribe to the "Westworld is underwater" theory, you might want to start looking into Dragon Hole or Macclesfield Bank, both located in the South China Sea.
- Upon discovering the sea of host-corpses, the Delos clean-up crew note that the “sea” shouldn't be there. Earlier in the episode, Sizemore casually mentions how Ford had been 'terraforming' the park – are these two things related? It immediately made me think of the island moving location in Lost. What do you guys think? Would love to hear your theories on this.
- Bernard describes how the hosts are all part of a Mesh Network which allows them to communicate with each other subconsciously. That could be useful when building an army to take down the human race.
- Rebus – the host bandit previously programmed to kill Dolores' father – is seen both in the present and the past. In the past, he executes one of the female guests, still his old villainous, murderous self. In the present, he sacrifices himself to save a female host. “Shoot a woman? Over my dead body!” he yells as he jumps in front of the bullet. What brought about this change of heart? Consciousness or reprogramming?
- Ramin Djawadi is still killing it with the soundtrack. This episode contains a fun rendition of ragtime classic "The Entertainer" set against a backdrop of Dolores hunting her human prey.
- Charlotte changes out of her gala gown and into Ford's old clothes, his classic white shirt and black vest combo. Symbolic of Charlotte taking over Westworld? Or should we read into this in another way? Again, let me know your thoughts.
- Speaking of Ford, one has to wonder how much he is still controlling the narrative from beyond the grave. The Man In Black may have shot the Little Boy, but given the way Ford puppeteered the events of the first season, I doubt that was the only host copy wandering around the park.
What did you think of the Season 2 premiere? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO