Review: ‘Westworld’ hangs out at headquarters in ‘The Adversary’

11.06.16 9 months ago 114 Comments

HBO

A review of tonight's Westworld coming up just as soon as I imagine I'm an evil genius hiding a relay…

“I'd like to make some changes.” -Maeve

There's a remarkable scene midway through “The Adversary” where we get to see Delos headquarters through the eyes of Maeve, who has convinced Felix to let her see more than just the lab. At first, it's a horror show like the visit where she first became aware that there was more to her life than the park, as she sees more bloody robot corpses being hosed off by bored workers. But the higher up she goes, the more the things she sees begin to seem like miracles: people and animals and other forms of life being created artificially, but in a way so that, like Maeve herself, they're indistinguishable from the “real” thing. Yet this, too, is a nightmare, because we know to what use Delos is putting these miracles. They can almost casually create life, but all for the purpose of giving Westworld's guests realistic targets to hurt or have sex with (or, in the case of the man whom Maeve talks into sending her to the lab in the opening sequence, both).

The contrast between the achievement and its application feels like a metaphor for the very Delos-centric “The Adversary” as a whole. Westworld has all these amazing tools – a huge budget, an absurdly stacked cast, subject matter that raises deep questions about the meaning of life itself – at its disposal, yet it's using a lot of them in service of prosaic storylines.

Does anyone, at this stage, care about tensions between the different divisions in charge of running the park? About why Theresa is performing industrial espionage on her own company? Or, for that matter, about the status or true nature of her relationship with Bernard? Was anyone shocked that something bad happened to Elsie while she was investigating in a remote and creepy section of the park without any backup? (That's the kind of lazy story 24 would do late in seasons to fill time and prevent characters from passing useful info to each other.)

There's some intrigue in the matter of Arnold reaching out from beyond the grave – or, perhaps, from the center of the maze, which legend (as related by Teddy to the Man in Black) has it lives a man who has died many times – to manipulate the hosts. But both that and whatever Ford's agenda is with the new storyline are more mystery boxes than they are compelling character stories. Ford's every utterance is cryptic and mannered, which hides his motivations, but in the interim makes me impatient for his scenes to end so we can get back to someone else – and he's played by Sir Anthony Hopkins!

Fortunately, a good chunk of the episode had Maeve taking control of her situation, manipulating and outright blackmailing Felix and Sylvester into doing her bidding, up to giving her a Limitless-style intelligence upgrade. The great irony of the show – whether intentional in a 2001 way or not – is that by far the most well-rounded and interesting characters are the machines, and seeing Maeve grapple with the realization that even her independent spirit is something programmed into her by “real” people offered Thandie Newton one of several moments to shine tonight. Another: Maeve watching the theme park's teaser trailer, seeing her “dreams” of a daughter and another life on the prairie literally flashing in front of her.

That this tremendous loss that she only half-remembers has been repurposed into an advertisement for the park is one of the quintessential tragedies of the series, and when Maeve was strutting around HQ, “The Adversary” came to life. A lot of the hour, though, was focused on people and storylines that still feel underfed, often involving actors who seem wildly overqualified for what they've been asked to do so far.

Some other thoughts:

* The majority of this week's park time involves Teddy and the Man in Black trying to get around a group of Union soldiers who stand between them and Wyatt. As with most of the scenes set in the wilds of the park, it looks stunning; Teddy using a Gatling gun to mow down the soldiers wouldn't be out of place in a classic widescreen movie Western.

* HBO's publicity materials have long listed Tessa Thompson as a Westworld cast regular, so it was strange to make it through the first five episodes with nary a glimpse of her. Here, she finally arrives in the form of Delos executive Charlotte Hale, to whom Sizemore blabbed way too much at the pool bar.

* The swankiness of the Mesa bar, and the desire of people (including staffers like Sizemore and Elsie) to hang out there rather than go into the park, reminds me of a Caribbean cruise I once took, where we met a pair of suburban Pittsburgh moms who never got off at any of the island stops, because they were just happy to have pretty pool they could relax by, thousands of miles away from their families. I can also imagine that being a place spouses and kids enjoy hanging out in while one member of the family is off enjoying their killing and/or raping fantasies.

FAN THEORY CORNER

With William and Dolores getting the week off, it's mostly quiet over here in Fan Theory Corner, with one exception. Several people have suggested William's scenes can't be in the past because the robots look indistinguishable from newer ones like Maeve and Teddy. But as we see when Bernard gets a look at Ford's robotic “family,” the major difference between the original hosts and the new ones is only apparent when you open them up.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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