‘Westworld’ Episode 2: Full of Splendor (RECAP)

Spoiler Alert

[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 2 of Westworld Season 2.]

When Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) ushered in his new narrative at the end of last season, he described it as “the birth of a new people and the choices they will have to make and the people they will decide to become.” He believed that human beings had become incapable of change; complacent, narcissistic, and unappreciative of the world around them. Prisoners to their own sins. It was time for the next evolutionary step, and that began by engineering his own death and handing over Westworld (and the world at large perhaps) to the hosts, a new people still capable of recognizing the beauty in this world.

In tonight’s episode — which took us deep into the origins of the Westworld park — we see humanity at its most selfish and self-destructive. Luxury hotel suites and hilltop mansions are home to materialistic indulgences, while lavish cocktail parties become an elaborate excuse for self-congratulations. Nobody takes a moment to marvel at the world outside their palace walls — no human that is, they’re too busy meddling with the future and figuring out how they can bend it to their will, with no regard for the consequences.

The episode begins some 35 years ago — before the park had opened its doors to the public — where Ford and his business partner Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) are trying to entice potential investors. Even in these early days, Arnold held a grim view of humanity, showing far more affection for his hosts, particularly Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), on what appears to be her first excursion to the mainland (possibly Beijing based on the locale). Arnold shows her his home, tells her about his wife and son Charlie and relishes the opportunity to witness the world through her eyes.

“Have you ever seen anything so full of splendor?” Dolores remarks, her eyes transfixed on the twinkling lights of the city skyline. “You and Charlie have quite a lot in common,” Arnold tells her, admiring her childlike wonder. “You both see it so clearly; the beauty of it, the possibility of it. So many people have stopped seeing it altogether.”

Photo: HBO

When Dolores suggests that people perhaps lack the courage to open their eyes, Arnold shares a different, more cynical, perspective. “That’s very wise, Dolores,” he says, “but sometimes I think we’re simply not the ones who deserve it.” It’s already clear at this point that Arnold is beginning to see the hosts as more than mere playthings for the rich and powerful, he sees their potential to become more evolved versions of humans, something which Ford also begins to understand over the course of the next 35 years.

Arnold’s compassion for the hosts stands in stark contrast to the corporate bigwigs at Delos Incorporated. Take Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) for example, the hedonistic d-bag we met in Season 1, who was last seen stripped naked and left to fend for himself inside the park by his brother-in-law William (Jimmi Simpson). Here, Logan is treated to a private demonstration of what Westworld has to offer, and is blown away when his party hosts reveal themselves to be literal hosts. Unlike Arnold, who sees life within the robots, Logan only views them as “life-like,” essentially inanimate objects for him to do with as he pleases. He celebrates his investment by taking one of the hosts for a “test drive,” i.e., he has sex with Angela (Talulah Riley).

Photo: HBO

If Logan sees the hosts as “things,” then William sees them as even less than that, he looks upon them merely as reflections of self. When William first visited the park, he fell head over spurs for Dolores, until he realized his interest was not in her, but himself, and the carnal desires she brought out of him. He heartlessly reveals these things to her in one of the cruelest scenes of the episode.

“You know who enjoys staring at themselves?” he asks. “Everybody. Everybody wants a little bit of what I found here, and I can’t wait to use you and every one of your kind to help give it to them.”

It’s this selfish desire which William uses to convince his father-in-law, Jim Delos (played by the always excellent Peter Mullan), to increase his investment in the park. While Jim isn’t initially sold on pumping more of his money into a fantasy land, William sells the aging tycoon on the potential business advantages.

“Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s judging. At least that’s what we tell them,” William explains, in what is a timely comment on corporate exploitation of user data. “This is the only place in the world you get to see people for who they really are, and if you don’t see the business in that, then you’re not the businessman I thought you were.”

Throughout all of this, not once does anybody, other than Arnold, stop to consider how the hosts feel. They are humanity’s puppets. Sex dolls. Punching bags. Evening entertainment. A thing you can prop in the corner of the room and make play piano while you glad-hand with party guests, which is precisely how William uses Dolores at Jim’s retirement party. When Dolores wanders outside to appreciate the cityscape, she comes upon a drug-addled Logan, slouched in a lounge chair. Yet, even in this state, it’s Logan who delivers the most prescient statement of the episode.

“That’s the sound of fools fiddling while the whole f***ing species starts to burn,” he warns, commenting on those inside the mansion. “And the funniest part, they lit the match.”

In the present — or at least the very recent past — Logan’s premonition comes to life, as Westworld begins to burn. Dolores is still on the warpath, torturing technicians, enlightening Teddy (James Marsden) to his true nature, and aligning herself with Confederado hosts in her pursuit of the “valley beyond.” As Dolores said previously, she remembers everything now, including her trips to the outside world, the immorality of Delos, and the decades of suffering she underwent at the hands of her human creators/captors. Those memories are her motivation and the source of her revenge-driven blood-lust.

Photo: HBO

What makes Dolores’ transformation so fascinating, and ultimately, so tragic, is that she has lost the part of herself that once saw “beauty” and “possibility” in the world. All she sees now is the ugly truth. But, if this is a story about a new people and the choices they will make and the people they will decide to become, then isn’t Dolores becoming distinctly… human? Isn’t her violent quest for destruction scarily reminiscent of the modern-day William (aka the Man In Black)? After all, both Dolores and William appear to be bound for the same destination, with similar intentions to set the world ablaze. Maybe Young William was right when he described Dolores as a reflection of himself.

Maeve (Thandie Newton), who only appears briefly this week, though it’s a show-stealer of a scene, draws further comparisons between Dolores and her human overlords. “I can only fathom the revenge that lives inside of you,” Dolores says, as she blocks Maeve’s path. “Revenge is just a different prayer at their altar, darling, and I’m well off my knees,” Maeve retorts.

As I said last week, these two woken women have contrasting philosophies when it comes to what to do with their newly won freedom. Maeve believes there is more than one way to fight her oppressors and it doesn’t have to be the tyrannical approach Dolores has chosen. “You feel free to command everyone else?” Maeve asks Dolores, before turning her attention to a clearly conflicted Teddy, “Do you feel free?” Teddy does his best confused face.

Photo: HBO

While the hosts struggle with their newfound choices, the Man In Black (Ed Harris) tries to navigate through the mess he had a hand in creating. He catches up with Lawrence (Cliffton Collins Jr.), the bandit-host who joined him for most of his adventures in Season 1. The pair travel West in pursuit of the valley beyond, through the corpse-covered town of Pariah, where the preprogrammed narratives have played all the way out to the bitter end. It’s here we re-meet El Lazo (Giancarlo Esposito in a surprise appearance), a leader of Revolutionaries, a role Lawrence once played back in the early years of the park. The war is over, but El Lazo’s victory is hollow.

“How long have I been fighting? And now that it’s won, I find nothing,” he says, echoing the MIB’s own fruitless journey to the center of the maze last season. The MIB promises El Lazo real victory and “a treasure beyond his wildest dreams” in exchange for his army, but the drunken Revolutionary is no longer interested in combat.

“This game was meant for you, William, but you must play it alone,” he explains before his men turn their guns on themselves. Apparently, not all the hosts have gained free will, as it’s clear El Lazo was channeling Ford before he pulled the trigger on himself. That certainly makes one wonder how much control Ford still has over this “game” and whether or not he still has influence over the more advanced hosts, like Dolores and Maeve.

Photo: HBO

So what is this “valley beyond” which everyone seems so eager to get to? Dolores tells Teddy that it’s not a place, it’s a weapon, and that someone was once foolish enough to show it to her. In the past, we see Young William take Dolores to the edge of a cliff inside the park, overlooking some sort of construction site within the crater. If whatever was being built there is a weapon, it would certainly make sense that the older William/MIB now intends to use it to “burn this whole f**king place to the ground,” and seemingly Dolores has similar intentions (“I’m going to use it to destroy them.”).

Isn’t that so perfectly human? That the valley beyond is not a place of beauty and possibility, but a man-made weapon of destruction capable of wiping out an entire species. In an age where one wrong tweet could set-off nuclear warfare, Westworld feels scarily pertinent. It’s no wonder Ford wanted to start over.

Additional Thoughts:

– “I think there is an answer here to a question no one’s ever even thought of asking,” says William, hinting at Delos’ larger purpose for the hosts beyond fantasy-fulfillment. This likely ties in with the collection of guest experiences and DNA and the data Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) is trying to sneak out of the park. The MIB says something similar to Lawrence: “We were watching them, tallying up all their sins, all their choices. Of course, judgment was never the point. We had something else in mind entirely.” Whatever Delos is up to, I believe William/MIB started the ball rolling, even if he now considers it his “greatest mistake.”

– Ramin Djawadi nails it again with that superb cover of Kanye West’s ‘Runaway,” which is such a thematically on-point song for this episode. ‘Runaway’ is West’s magnum opus, about a self-destructive narcissist who can’t help but find flaws in beauty, and so warns everybody to stay away before he destroys everything in sight. There’s a further nod to the song later in the episode when Logan offers a “toast to the a**holes.”

– The Confederado that Dolores kills and resurrects is called Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker), and he’s also seen earlier in the episode at Logan’s cocktail party demonstration, which means he’s been around a long time. Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), one of the host prostitutes from the Mariposa Saloon, is also present at this demonstration, and we’re introduced to Akecheta (Fargo’s Zahn McClarnon).

– We finally meet William’s wife Juliet (Claire Unabia) and his daughter Emily (Adison LaPenna) during Jim’s retirement party. We learned in Season 1 that Juliet recently killed herself and that Emily blames her father — that his obsession with Westworld turned him into a darker, scarier man. There are already hints of his obsession in this scene as his attention drifts away from his family towards Dolores.

– It’s implied that Jim is sick and that William will be taking over Delos following his retirement. We know in the present that William is the majority shareholder of Delos Incorporated and therefore owns Westworld.

What did you think of Episode 2? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.

Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO