Each week, we will attempt to unpack the latest episode of the HBO series Westworld, a show about an amusement park populated by lifelike robots that’s also about… other stuff.
Alan: Brian, we thought the premiere was going relatively easy on us by offering two timelines: the immediate aftermath of the robot uprising, and a period not too far into the future where Karl and his team have rescued Bernard and Stubbs. (Remember Stubbs?) “Reunion” adds at least one additional one, and possibly several, by going out of the park and into the past to check in with Arnold (who gives Dolores a glimpse of what the real world looks like), Logan (who’s dazzled by his first glimpse of Ford and Arnold’s tech) and the young William (who has more complicated plans for the park that we can discuss shortly), plus the man who gives his name to all of this in Jim Delos. The Arnold and Logan scenes take place relatively close together, as Arnold decides that Dolores isn’t ready to be the point woman for the sales pitch and has Angela do it instead, but the later scenes with William and the Delos family could be taking many months or even years later.
Are you ready to start playing What Timeline Is It, Anyway? for another season? And does it feel more or less headache-inducing this time, given that the show seems to be dealing these particular cards face-up?
Brian: Yeah, I’ll say this: The many, many timelines this season feel easier to digest because the show is being upfront about it all. Mostly. Probably. I guess we can’t really be too sure. A dinosaur could burst into the frame and eat Teddy in the next episode and reveal that the whole thing takes place before the meteor wiped them all out. Who knows?
The nice thing here is that last season played out more like a puzzle, as we’ve discussed. You had to look at one thing at this angle to notice it took place in one timeline and another thing at another angle to figure it out it was in a different one. This time the show seems to be using the timelines to tell one full story. From Logan at the robot party to William selling Papa Devos on the park to the retirement/coronation and then blammo back to Dolores and her henchmen splattering Confederados on the hunt for some giant weapon. I’m digging it so far, in large part because I’m not hopelessly lost. Baby steps!
Alan: I’m on the same page. I’m sure there’s plenty of trickeration to come, but the less the show keeps hidden from the audience, the easier it is to pay attention to the character arcs and the thematic questions (primarily raised here by Logan, of all people) about what exactly defines life, and what happens when we start creating our own.
The rise of William
Alan: So, is Westworld just the Facebook of the future?
It’s not entirely a lucky coincidence that young William’s vision for the park so perfectly overlaps with all the recent headlines in our world about online privacy and the way social media companies buy and sell our data. These concerns had been out there in the world long before Westworld was even announced in a TV show. But they’ve become so front and center in recent weeks that, as William outlined his plans to use the park to monitor the guests, it became hard not to look at him as a ginger Zuckerberg, no?
Brian: I had not, until this season, considered the Westworld park to be an anarchy-fueled Wild West version of Facebook. I suppose that’s on me. I should have seen it coming. But between William’s speech to his father-in-law at the park and the thing last week with Charlotte and Bernard in the secret bunker (where guest experiences and DNA are being uploaded into the Delos system) and the thing with the missing package (malfunctioning Abernathy with tons of code loaded onto him), it’s becoming clear that the whole debaucherous playground aspect of the park is just a front for a massive uninhibited data collection of people with money to burn. I’m honestly not sure which part is more disquieting. Let’s call it a tie.
The other big deal here is the glimpse into William’s past and how he came to control a company started by his powerful father-in-law and featuring a lady robot that he kind of fell in love with who is very much not his father-in-law’s daughter or, if we’re being technical about it all here, his wife. It’s also another step in the character’s transformation, which we saw a little in season one. He really roasted Mr. Delos’s beans pretty good out there. Just once I’d like to talk to a billionaire with such disrespect and contempt that he laughs and compliments me on my gusto.
Alan: The show has to keep bridging the gap between the William who first came to the park and the guy Ed Harris is playing, and this was a strong, if unsettling, step in that direction, while also making the show feel much more timely than before, no matter how far in the future it’s taking place.
Run away as fast as you can
Brian: Right, so here’s the thing. In the flashback scene where Logan meets with the executives of the robot program, when they’re at the restaurant, before the cocktail party “everyone is a robot” okie-doke, the opening piano notes of “Runaway” by Kanye West play in the background. (Kanye is in the news this week for other reasons, too. Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?) “Runaway” is a song about a man warning a girl that he’s with that he’s bad news and she should leave even though it’ll devastate him, with a chorus that includes a toast to “the assholes” and “the jerkoffs” and ends with him saying “baby, I got a plan, run away as fast as you can.”
We bring this up because later in the episode, at the retirement/coronation party, where Logan is talking to Dolores by the pool while drinking whiskey and doing what I’m going to assume is some sort of Future Heroin, he more or less lays out the issues with artificial intelligence and forecasts the exact kind of doom we’re seeing in the other timeline, thus implying he should have taken the musical accompaniment’s advice and run away back when he had the chance.
Also, he literally offers a toast to assholes. I think I nailed this. I did a symbolism.
Alan: Did you hear that Kanye was in the news this week, Brian?
A meeting of the minds… er, circuit boards?
Brian: There were a bunch of notable meetups this week, from William and Lawrence to William and El Lazo (more on that in a second) to Dolores and her new undead army (more on this, too), but my favorite moment was Dolores and Maeve bumping into each other with their respective henchmen/lovers getting all trigger happy. They’re the two most powerful robots in the park but they have such different objectives. Dolores wants to take the park and then the world using a mysterious weapon while Maeve just kind of wants to find her fake robot daughter and start a family with her very handsome blood-soaked safecracker boy toy.
One assumes they’ll cross paths again because one assumes the show would not take its two most interesting all-knowing robot revolutionaries and send them off to opposites ends of the park forever so Maeve can hang laundry in peace while Dolores blows up the White House with a laser or whatever.
Alan: It felt a bit like one of those Game of Thrones moments where two characters in wildly divergent storylines cross paths for a scene before their paths diverge again, possibly forever. These two are not only the most powerful robots in the park, they’re now arguably the series’ two most important characters, who have responded to their newfound self-awareness in different ways: Dolores wants to burn down the world the humans made, while Maeve just wants to protect her loved ones (Hector and her daughter) and then get the hell out. I’m sympathetic to both philosophies, given all that’s happened, but Maeve is the one who seems more in control of herself at this point, while Dolores is still wrestling down pieces of her many different personae while leaving a much bigger body count in her wake. I doubt this will be their last encounter, but it was nice to see them together for a bit before they resumed their respective missions.