Each week, Brian Grubb and Keith Phipps 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.
“I’m frightened of what you might become”
Keith Phipps: Brian, we’re back in Westworld, which is somehow still in existence after the first season’s near-apocalyptic finale. And it remains an intriguing, sometimes confusing, treacherously fascinating place to visit. I’ve only seen the first episode, but I suspect that the Bernard/Dolores conversation that opens the season two premiere does a lot of table-setting for the rest of the season. Does it take place in a dream? Some kind of robot collective unconsciousness? Do we know? We know that dreams aren’t real, because Bernard says so (even if he’s not being completely honest). So what is real? “That which is irreplaceable.”
What will that mean for season two? What’s irreplaceable? Specifically, what’s irreplaceable for our hosts, beings used to being rebooted and memory-wiped, of having everything in their lives replaced with the flick of a switch. Except the erasures, we’ve discovered, are never quite complete. Dolores can’t replace Teddy. Maeve can’t replace the child she had in a past existence Sizemore dismisses as not being worth her talents. Is the ultimate journey of the hosts one that takes them from being disposable to being as real as the humans who made them? If so, they’re off to a tough start this season. Witness the wholesale slaughter of hosts on the beach. If longtime Westworld visitors like our Man in Black have come to see the hosts as having some kind of lives of their own, to these new Delos arrivals, they’re just machines that need to be shut down. Grim stuff, right? Does it seem to you like this season could ultimately be darker than the first?
Brian Grubb: Well, considering the first season started with Dolores as a pleasant rancher’s daughter who was just goin’ into town for some supplies and this season started with her wearing an ammo belt across her chest like Rambo while riding a horse and hunting Delos board members with a shotgun, I’m gonna say… maybe! It’s definitely going to be different. I think that much is clear. Dolores is openly invoking her inner Wyatt and talking with Teddy about taking the real world from the humans, too, not just the park. She’s gone full supervillain. If she doesn’t drop a “we’re not so different” on Charlotte Hale by the end of the season, I’ll spit on the floor.
(Semi-related: That Teddy/Dolores discussion gave me serious Pinky and the Brain vibes. “What do you want to do today, Dolores?” Teddy, you sweet, handsome fool.)
The whole thing feels a little bit like a high-tech murderous Pinocchio situation. The hosts are striving for whatever degree of realness they can attain, from Maeve and her daughter to Dolores/Wyatt and her desire for revenge. Different endgames, one looking for the human-like embrace of family, one exploiting the human-like finality of death, but starting from a similar place. (Okay, both are killing people, yes, I saw Maeve mow down half a dozen people with an automatic weapon, leave me alone, I’m trying to make a point.) One imagines these two ideologies will bonk into each other at some point.
What’s going on with Bernard and Charlotte and that secret bunker/lab?
Brian: So two thoughts here:
One, and Lord knows I didn’t want to type the phrase “multiple timelines” ever again after season one broke me in half like a stale pretzel rod, we have a multiple timeline scenario on our hands. At least two. One in which Bernard and Charlotte are on the run from cowboy robot ambushes and in the secret Delos bunker, in the immediate aftermath of the robot revolution; another in which Bernard and the Delos types are examining various massacre scenes on various beaches. What we don’t know is how much time takes place between those two sets of events and where the things that are happening with the other characters are taking place, Maeve excluded, because again, gunning down all those guards in the freshly stormed facility.
The second thing is, like, what’s up with that bunker? They’re extracting guest experiences and DNA? For what? Do we have a Facebook situation on our hands here? And also, if Delos won’t send backup to save anyone until they receive “the package,” does that mean the package gets sent someone between the two timelines?
Look what you’re making me do, Westworld.
Keith: That Delos was up to something fishy — fishier than a murderpark filled with robosexcowboys — became increasingly clear by the end of season one, increasingly so after Charlotte’s arrival. So it makes sense that she’d continue to try to push that agenda even while chaos reigned around her. The question is what that agenda is, where it leads, and what it has to do with “The Package”? A further question: What is the significance of the package being Peter Abernathy, a.k.a. Dolores’ dad, a.ka. the rancher whose role we saw played by two different hosts last season after the first one melts down and gets replaced by a second? Also, come on Delos: You’re not going to rescue a bunch of employees and paying guests until you get that package? That’s cold. Also, how much do we want to read into the fact that Charlotte is nowhere to be found in the the later timeline?
Finally, I feel like we buried the lede here. Those drone hosts are terrifying, though I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong with them. Westworld has just casually introduced senseless, hulking, robot golems, and I’m sure they’ll continue to follow their programming for the rest of the season without incident.
“Congratulations, William. This game is meant for you.”
Keith: One of the season premiere’s most striking scenes involves the Man In Black — William to his friends — talking to the robot of the young Robert Ford, whose creepy computerized voice occasionally sounds a lot like Anthony Hopkins. In essence, Kid Ford seems to be trying to tell William that he didn’t so much beat the game as get to the next level. And now: “In this game, you have to make it back out. In this game, you must find the door. Congratulations William, this game is meant for you.” Only William isn’t really having it. After hearing, “Don’t worry. The game will find you,” William kills — maybe, who knows? — Kid Ford after deciding he doesn’t need the assistance of a creepy, formally attired youngster to carry on gaming. He might not be wrong but, that said, what is his goal now? Just getting out alive? That seems a little easy given that William’s first-season quest seemed to be nothing less than a search for the meaning of Westworld itself.
Brian: Fine, I’ll say it. I’m glad the robo-voiced Young Ford is dead. It was creeping me out. Between this show and Legion, there are entirely too many creepy robo-human voices on television these days. One fewer is a good start.
I do wonder how the William story will intersect with the others. If this is all part of the game, designed for him in stages by Arnold and Ford, then does that mean all the very real bloodshed taking place is on his hands? I don’t know. I’m gonna be pretty steamed if this season ends with a reveal where we learn everyone other than him — even the board members and employees — was secretly a robot and it’s all been a ruse for him to get some kicks.
Robots With Attitude
Keith: Westworld isn’t exactly famous for its humor, but I’m wondering if season two might turn that around a little. I mean, sure, the episode begins with the wholesale slaughter of hosts on a beach and ends with an image of dozens, maybe hundreds, of hosts floating dead in a previously unmapped sea. But it’s not without laughs, either. The pairing of Maeve — who’s fearless and can seemingly seize control of any room the moment she walks into it — and Sizemore — who’s craven and now forced to reckon with a world populated by characters previously confined to his scripts — is already paying off and I hope it lasts for awhile. Giving Maeve her exact opposite brings out how tough and scary she’s become. And driven. Where season one saw Maeve mostly in the process of trying to wake up and discover her true nature, she’s past that now and driven by a quest to find her daughter.
Contrast that with Dolores whose endgame is a little less clear, maybe even to herself. One of the best scenes in this episode finds Evan Rachel Wood channeling Dolores’ past personae — the rancher’s daughter, Wyatt — and suggesting that her current personality synthesizes all of the above into something new. But what does Dolores 2.0 want? She wants robots who stand up for themselves, sure, but it’s not clear how she’s going to get there. And she knows how it ends, with Teddy by her side. Only Teddy seems to be dead in the water as the episode ends, with Dolores nowhere in sight. So is she terribly wrong? Or is the story just not over yet?
Brian: Wait, was that Teddy in the water at the end? Let’s have a look…
Oh man. Poor Teddy.
Anyway, I said this when Alan and I discussed the show on our podcast (plz like and subscribe), but it’s nice that they gave Sizemore — a world class whiner — something to really, truly whine about this season. “Oh, you were upset about your story getting ridiculed? Well, now everyone’s dead and you’re basically the hostage of a terrifying superhuman madam and her terrifying blood-soaked safecracker boyfriend and they’re both armed to the teeth and laughing at your penis. Good luck, buddy!” He’s my favorite character on the show. I hope he survives and writes a bestseller about everything that happened and then I hope it’s revealed that he embellished his role in everything and he gets yelled at by Oprah on daytime television. Or whoever the Westworld equivalent of Oprah is. Robot Oprah? I will need to sleep on this.
Your points are all noteworthy. I am very much digging the Dolores and Maeve business so far, to the degree that I kind of don’t care right now about Bernard or William. Which is a shame, because William’s story seems to be what a lot of this is driving at and Jeffrey Wright is so freaking good at acting. So good. It’s like he’s doing a magic trick. It’s almost sorcery. (You said this in our Slack chat earlier, but I’m going to steal it now and pretend it was my idea: Jeffrey Wright is so good that he manages to look smart while also looking confused.) A big part of my enjoyment of the Dolores and Maeve stories is that I love action and, again, ammo belts and automatic weapons and such, but part is that it’s cool to see those two characters with almost full agency now. Even if they are using it to kill humans as part of a robot revolution.
I should be more conflicted about this.
Odds and ends
Brian: I’m sure we’ve missed or neglected a million things, but there are three more I definitely want to hit before we wrap this up:
NUMBER ONE: Big fan of the new tall and menacing Delos executive who looks almost exactly like “high-ranking executive of the diabolical parent company of a murdersex playground for the one percent” looked in my head before I saw him. Very much here for him and his weird Fury Road team of corporate mercenaries running around and finding rogue beach tigers and such.
NUMBER TWO: The curly-haired blond gunslinger in Dolores’ crew is Angela, the elegant host who greeted Young William at the park way back in the season one premiere
NUMBER THREE: “This’ll get gross.” Buddy, you ain’t lying.
Keith: I’ll just add that we now know that Westworld, and presumably other Delos parks, are on an island somewhere in the Pacific. Wouldn’t have been my guess, but OK. Also, dig the new opening credits, which update the old credits to, presumably, address the season’s dominant themes. I don’t think we’re seeing a mother and child featured so prominently for no particular reason.