Nothing Is Real and Nothing Matters in ‘Westworld’ Episode 2 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Westworld Season 3 Episode 2, “The Winter Line.”]
There is a moment in this episode where Maeve (Thandie Newton) is surrounded by Nazi soldiers, and as she locks eyes with the barrel of a gun, facing her impending death, she says something that pretty much sums up my feelings towards Westworld. “None of it matters,” she states, “because none of it is real.”
A good work of fiction should draw you into its world to the point where you willingly suspend disbelief. It should make you emotionally invested in its characters and their journeys. If a character dies, for example, it should make you feel something, whether that’s pain, sadness, or even satisfaction. This can be achieved in a variety of ways — through believable characters, consistent storytelling, and, perhaps most importantly, actions that have consequences. But in Westworld, there are no consequences, because nothing is real.
The concept of human-replica hosts means that nobody in Westworld ever truly stays dead. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing — a show doesn’t need to kill off its characters to be impactful. However, there is A LOT of death in Westworld, and frequently, it uses those deaths for cheap shock value. Now, I get it when it comes to the hosts, who were basically engineered to be re-killable to fulfill the needs of the park visitors. Therefore, I’m not shocked, nor annoyed, that Maeve is still alive, or her befuddled beau Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). But bringing back dead human characters in host-form is somewhat of a cop-out. We’ve already seen host Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) conducting board meetings last episode, and now Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is back too!
Lee is, without a doubt, one of Westworld‘s most irritating characters, but he did receive a redemption arc in the second season. He put himself in the firing line to protect others. It was an honorable death. But here is again, cane in hand, hobbling around, making off-color jokes, and leering over Maeve. Yeah, he isn’t real, he’s just a coded illusion, along with Hector and everyone else in Maeve’s new storyline, but that doesn’t make his return play any better. It still lessens the emotional impact of his death because we know that no matter what, Lee will always exist in some shape or form. Like Maeve says, none of it matters, and while that nihilistic outlook fits the theme of Westworld, it does make it hard for a viewer to invest emotionally.
As for Maeve’s predicament itself, there is some intrigue here, especially towards the end of the episode. What I previously called “Nazi Germany World” turns out to be War World — a WWII-themed park where Nazi soldiers are rounding up Italian partisans. It’s a different look from the other parks we’ve seen previously, but it follows the same violent story beats. It appears that Maeve and Hector have been reprogrammed and transposed to War World to partake in a new narrative. Hector’s role is to save Maeve and sneak a map out of the country — a story that always ends in capture or death. But it quickly dawns on Maeve that Hector is no longer “woke,” as it were, and has no memory of their previous interactions, which means she is essentially on her own.
What follows is a familiar pattern of events. Maeve is killed, wakes up in the Mesa Hub, sees all the other dead hosts, and gets all stabby with a scalpel. She is very much still sentient and remains determined to reunite with her host daughter — who, if you remember last season, was uploaded to a sort of digital nirvana. In stumbles Lee to say that he can help Maeve find a door to this world, and so, she returns to War World and takes control of the narrative. However, Lee’s odd behavior — including his sudden romantic obsession with Maeve — tips her off that something isn’t quite right. None of this is real. Lee, Hector, War World, even the Mesa Hub, it’s all a computerized smokescreen made to keep Maeve trapped — her brain ball plugged into a giant USB port in a facility somewhere merely projecting a false reality.
There are a couple of lively sequences in all this, and Thandie Netwon continues to be a formidable presence. Maeve and Hector fleeing the Nazis in a vintage sports car, the reverse “I’m Spartacus!” trick that turns the soldiers against each other, and the Maintenance Drone heist, are all thrillingly visceral bits of action, particularly the Drone escape. But there’s also a lot of Westworld‘s worst habits. There’s all the technical jargon and talk of codes hidden within codes and lots of swiping through tablets, which is usually Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) trademark, but here Maeve goes on a button prodding frenzy as she tries to escape the matrix. Thankfully, however, it doesn’t appear the show is going to drag this story out.
By the end of the episode, Maeve is released from her USB daydream and awakens in the real world. Or, at least, what we’re led to believe is the real world. That’s if we trust Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), the French architect behind the mysterious “system.” He wants Maeve’s help to win a war against the emergence of “someone dangerous.” That someone, of course, is Dolores (Rachel Evan Wood), who we know wants to destroy the system (and humanity). “I want you to track her down and kill her,” he explains. But Maeve doesn’t care about his petty squabbles or the future of humanity. “I do no one’s bidding but my own,” she says as she grabs a knife and attempts to stab him. But he freezes her motor functions — the first person in a long time that has been able to control sentient Maeve.
The Maeve versus Dolores showdown was something teased a little last season as their sentience took them down very different paths. Dolores became embroiled in bitterness and developed a vengeful appetite for destruction. Maeve — while equally as dangerous and not afraid to spill blood — grew in heart and compassion, her goals focused on family and companionship rather than an all-out robot apocalypse. A battle between these two badass women is inevitable, and if this season is going to put the Maeve versus Dolores narrative front-and-center, then there is hope for Westworld yet.
Maeve is a wanted woman across continents, as Bernard returns to the abandoned Westworld park in search of the former Sweetwater madam. He, too, needs help in stopping Dolores, but it’s not Maeve who he finds amongst the Delos debris. Welcome back everybody’s favorite security guard, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who, as hinted at last season, is actually a host, wired by Robert Ford to protect the park. Stubbs isn’t in the best shape when Bernard finds him, having tried to kill himself by shooting the charge in his neck. He didn’t quite hit the spot and is left stuttering and spluttering until Bernard reboots him. And so, with Stubbs back on his feet, we begin the buddy comedy we never knew we needed.
I mean, it’s not exactly a laugh a minute, but there is an attempt at humor here, which is appreciated in what can be a very dour show. Stubbs’s brand of straight-faced sarcasm bounces well off the perpetually serious Bernard. “It’s an active floor; there’s going to be personnel; you can’t just swipe them away with your tablet,” Stubbs quips at one point. I know I joked last week about how Bernard will inevitably be reunited with his iPad upon returning to the park — little did I know a big part of his story in the second episode would involve rebuilding his tablet.
With Maeve’s brain ball missing, and Dolores the likely thief, Bernard sets about fixing his tablet so he can plug himself in to retrace his memories and check if Dolores put a corrupted code inside him. Again, a lot of this is brain-numbing tech mumbo-jumbo, but at least the monotony is broken up by Stubbs going all Jean-Claude Van Damme in the background. And thankfully, the Delos security team remains as inept as ever — there are at least six guys with guns that Stubbs chases off with an axe. We also get a sneak peek at the manufacturing lab for what I presume is Medieval World (or Game of Thrones World), as we see kings, queens, bards, and even a dragon, under construction.
As a side-note, I’m not sure why there is still staff working at the Mesa Hub following the massacre and subsequent park shutdown. Stubbs says it’s because some of the techs are still waiting to be laid off, but that sounds like a poor excuse to me — unless this reality is all a coded construct too, which wouldn’t surprise me, honestly.
While Bernard isn’t plugged into his tablet long enough to get the full scope of Dolores’s plans, he does find out she was looking up a specific group of park guests. One of those guests is Liam Dempsey Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.), the heir to the tech conglomerate Incite, who Dolores had been dating out in the real world. So Bernard and Stubbs (now reprogrammed to protect Bernard at all costs) set on a mission to track down Liam, which should intertwine their story arc with Dolores and Maeve’s in the near future. And bringing all these stories onto the same trajectory is promising — and far more preferable to the scattered timelines of the previous two seasons. The destination seems much clearer this time around, but the question is, will anything matter once we get there?
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO