'Westworld' Episode 6 Asks Us to Choose a Path (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 6 of Westworld Season 2.]
One of the reasons I enjoyed last week's Shogun World-centered episode was because of the tight narrative focus. Other than a couple of brief check-ins with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the story concentrated primarily on Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her coming to grips with her new voice (and new powers) in a fresh yet familiar setting. Yes, perhaps the detour into Shogun World was ultimately a stalling tactic - and given how that particular arc wrapped up in last night's episode, that certainly looks to be the case. But the time spent there allowed us to fully engage in Maeve's plight without the distractions of a thousand side-stories happening simultaneously.
"Phase Space" unfortunately suffers from a severe bout of story hopping which breaks the momentum of the more compelling characters and doesn't allow room for the great moments to breathe. And there are great moments in this episode. Dolores' storyline finally gets on track and arrives at a destination with a bang. The Man In Black (Ed Harris) and Emily (Katja Herbers) work through their family turmoil. There's a gut-punching twist as Maeve finds her daughter. And the episode ends with a fun, if not predictable, reunion. Sadly those flashes of brilliance are suffocated under the weight of a show which is trying to service too many characters and plot points, many of which feel unnecessary — I mean, come on, there are now more Delos d-bags to deal with?
Luckily those Delos goons should be dealt with in quick fashion if Dolores has anything to do with it. If any storyline could be accused of stalling then it's probably that of the rancher's daughter turned cold-blooded assassin. Every time it felt like Dolores' narrative was about to pick up the pace — her brief meetup with Maeve, her reunion with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) — the show put on the brakes and slowed back down. That left us with episode after episode of stony-faced monologues and dismissive glares — usually aimed at hapless sidekick Teddy (James Marsden).
Now that Dolores has "fixed" Teddy by turning him from the friendly neighborhood cowboy into a merciless killing machine it's finally time to put her words into action. Dolores and her merry band of misfits hijack the train — the one which brought guests and Teddy into Sweetwater time and time again. "The man who rode that train was built weak and born to fail," says Teddy, when Dolores questions if he's truly ready for the next phase of the journey. "You fixed him. Now forget about it." Unlike the confused and conflicted Teddy of the past, he now has a sense of purpose, even if that purpose is not one of his own choosing.
The team drives the runaway train at full speed along the tracks and hurtle into a tunnel which acts as an entrance to the Mesa Hub. There is an explosion as those inside the Delos headquarters are knocked off balance by the impact. We always knew Dolores would end up here because the time-jumping nature of Westworld means the show often reveals its cards before the trick is finished and we have previously seen the bloody aftermath of revolution in the Mesa Hub. That said, now she is finally here it means she can move on to the next part of her plan, whatever that may be, and hopefully, she can kill off some extraneous characters in the process.
Most of those superfluous characters are currently gathered at the Mesa Hub. There are countless indistinguishable Delos cronies, all wearing shades of black, whose primary function is to deliver exposition or act like one-dimensional a-holes so that we don't feel bad when Dolores' army eventually executes them. That includes the arrival of the QA security force, who parachute into the park after Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) informs them that their package (Peter Abernathy) is secure — and by secure, she means bolted to a chair with a power tool. The security team is headed by the mustachioed Coughlin (Timothy V. Murphy), another tough-talking macho-man who is not long for this world.
It's difficult to care about the fates of those characters, including Charlotte and out of his depth head-of-security Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), whose roles in this story have become perfunctory at best. Charlotte is either walking around giving out orders or typing on computer screens. There is very little emotional depth to her character. Stubbs has always felt like a spare part, and while he does show signs of compassion and regret about his role in this whole ordeal, it's not as if he is needed to explore those themes when there are others who serve the same purpose. What I'm saying is, I wouldn't mind if this pair met their demise very soon.
Two characters in the Mesa Hub that I do still give a damn about are Bernard and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) and that's because they're determined to find answers - and are pretty good at finding them. "If anyone can right this ship by sheer will, it's you," Bernard tells the persevering programmer. He's not wrong. Elsie quickly discovers that the Cradle has been blocking QA's attempts to regain control of the park's operating system. While the Cradle is merely meant to be backup for narratives, it has been interacting with the various systems and doing its own thing. “It’s like there’s something in here that’s improvising,” Elsie says, shocked at her discovery.
Bernard, once again having flashbacks of his Ford-designed mission, enters the Cradle and has Elsie strap him into the system. He's going on an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style trip through the park's past to try and figure out what Ford's true agenda is. It's here where I wish the episode was given more time to breathe. I feel like an episode dedicated almost entirely to Bernard and his disorganized memories could have really pushed the show into some interesting places. It didn't have to go full-on Legion with it, but the story could have taken a more creative direction on its way to the cliffhanger reveal.
Instead, Bernard rides the train back into Sweetwater. The park is functioning as normal, the hustle and bustle of the townsfolk, Dolores going through her usual routine, Teddy leaving the Mariposa saloon to look longingly at the woman who would eventually corrupt him. The only thing out of place is the presence of a greyhound dog. If you remember in season one we learned that Ford had a greyhound as a child and later created a host version in the park. This dog leads Bernard into the saloon and who should he find sitting at the piano? Why, of course, it's Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
It seemed inevitable that Ford would turn back up eventually, whether as a host or a ghost in the machine as it now may be. And while we only saw his face in a reflection and the credits did not list Sir Anthony Hopkins, I believe we will be seeing more of Westworld's puppetmaster. This didn't seem like computer trickery with old footage as used in earlier episodes. Despite seeing this reunion coming, I did get a kick out of hearing Ford's voice again and I look forward to his next conversation with Bernard, I just wish the episode had spent more time exploring Bernard's journey.
Bernard and Ford isn't the only reunion in "Phase Space." The Man In Black aka William has a heart-to-heart with his daughter in arguably the strongest scene of the episode. In a rare moment, William shows vulnerability, as tears fill his eyes after Emily apologizes for blaming him for her mother's death. Unlike her mother, Emily always understood the appeal of the park(s) and she reminisces about visiting as a child, though William's memories are hazy, he misremembers that she was scared of the elephants in The Raj — which was actually her mother.
It's those little details which give us an insight into their relationship and how it broke down over the years as the sweet younger William's obsession with the park turned him into the heartless MIB. Emily asks him to leave it all behind and come back home with her and for a moment it seems like William is going to comply. However, Emily wakes up the next morning to once again find herself abandoned by her father... or as she calls him, "Motherf**ker." For William, there is no turning back from the path he has found himself on.
Maeve's reunion with her daughter also has devastating consequences as she finally makes it to the homesteads and sees her little girl sitting on the porch playing with her dolls. But the heartwarming homecoming is shattered when the girl calls out for her "momma" and Maeve realizes that her "daughter" has been re-assigned a new mother. It's a cruel, dark twist to Maeve's quest but one which makes perfect sense, of course her daughter would be given a new mother, after all, they are still hosts following their coded narratives.
Before Maeve can fully digest the situation the Ghost Nation arrive which triggers flashbacks to her own bloody death at the hands of these mysterious warriors. Maeve grabs the girl and starts to run, effectively ripping her away from her mother who she leaves behind surrounded by the Ghost Nation. Meanwhile, Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) descend on the scene, firing bullets and arrows at the painted tribesmen, starting a war that may have been unnecessary.
Of all the stories which Westworld is trying to juggle right now, I find myself most invested in Maeve's and that's probably because it still deals with the themes I find most interesting. The idea of host consciousness and choice. That came to the forefront here as the loose ends were tied up in Shogun World. Rather than intervening with her mind control powers, Maeve allowed Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) to choose his own fate when he decided to duel with Captain Tanaka (Masayoshi Haneda).
“We each deserve to choose our fate. Even if that fate is death," she tells Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), who later echoes those words back when she decides to stay behind in Shogun World rather than join Maeve in building a new home elsewhere. “My daughter’s spirit is here, my faith belongs here. And the choice belongs to me. Because of you," Akane tells her Westworld counterpart. Unlike Dolores who forcibly changed Teddy in order to bend him to her will, Maeve still allows people to choose their own path, even if she has more power than anyone else to manipulate them to her benefit if she wanted to.
While this episode felt overly crammed with characters and separate storylines, it did move a few significant pieces into place and that should hopefully clear a path for a more streamlined narrative heading into the remaining four episodes.
- The episode opened in a familiar setting with Dolores and who we assumed was Arnold (Wright). It's the same conversation we've heard before, Arnold tells Dolores he's frightened of her, what she might become, the path she might take. He has a choice to make. "But I’m not sure if it’s my choice to make," he says. "No, he didn't say that," Dolores answers, the tone of her voice suddenly changing.
This is not happening in the past. This is now. “This is a test, one we’ve done countless times,” Dolores confesses. “What are you testing for?” asks a confused Bernard. “Fidelity.” It's the same thing young William told his father-in-law Jim Delos (Peter Mullan) back in the fantastic “The Riddle of the Sphinx" when testing his host-human hybrid experiment. Dolores has now gone full Man In Black.
- Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), the Ghost Nation leader, tells Maeve, "Come with us. We are meant for the same path." She yells back that his path leads to hell, but the thing is, we don't actually know much at all about the Ghost Nation and their motives. We know that they can't be controlled by voice commands and that they haven't been killing humans. Are they also looking for a way out of the park? A new home?
- Rather than fight the Ghost Nation, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) decides to phone for help for himself and fellow mortals Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum). Felix though decides to stay and help his host friends. While this season has mostly made good use of Sizemore as a comic foil for Maeve, Felix and Sylvester are yet more characters who feel completely unnecessary. The initial thrill of seeing them again has worn off and they serve no purpose to the story.
What did you think of Episode 6? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO