Saturday, June 22, 2024

Reunions Disappoint on Westworld

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Episode 2 of the second season of Westworld, “Reunion” eases the audience into what will most likely be the structure of the season, flashbacks and all, but fails to say something on its own. While the premiere episode felt slightly lacking for me, this episode was increasingly better and entertaining, but still not hitting the same marks that Season 1 always nailed. Overall, these two episodes have left me wanting for more depth and nuance rather than the surface level introspection I feel we’re getting and I’m hoping that’s mostly doing to it functioning as a set up for expanding the world this season rather than the sad fact that I might have fallen in love with a prologue to a story that doesn’t interest me on its own. And, if I dare say it, there was a moment where I gritted my teeth because I felt a flicker of Thrones vibes.

This episode covers roughly three timelines. One is the present, one is in the past around 35 years ago when Ford and Arnold’s park started going under and they were reaching out to investors. The third being around 30 years ago, following William’s first experience in the park that played out in Season 1.

Finding Investors

The episode opens with Arnold showing Dolores a glimpse of the ‘real world’ or ‘his’ world for the first time. She’s sitting at a hotel room window, staring out at a cityscape of lights in the night. It’s virtually the complete opposite of everything she has ever known and she’s in awe. Arnold says not many people can see the wonder left in this world and she replies, “ A strange new light can be just as frightening as the dark.” I hope this is a sign that Dolores and the other hosts won’t take as easy as they have been to their newfound consciousness. Knowledge is powerful, but it’s also scary and they have a whole world of new knowledge to unravel. 

Ford chides Arnold for playing favorites with Dolores, to get ready for their investment event. Before attending, Arnold shows Dolores a house he’s building for his wife and son to come live with him closer to the park. She expresses interest in meeting his son, whom Arnold says she has a lot in common with and we clearly see her taking the place of a surrogate child in his eyes. Before they leave, she asks him to bring her there once again, a promise that most likely was broken due to Arnold’s untimely demise. I’m sure we’ll be seeing this location again when Dolores finally makes her way out of the park and into the world.

At the event meant to entice financial supporters, we see Logan. While it’s great to have Ben Barnes back for he delivers one of the most entertaining performances, I can’t help but ask what the point is in seeing all of these flashback scenes. They really don’t add much in terms of weight and emotion to the story and don’t highlight Dolores’ perspective/experience within it either. They feel like scenes better left for fans to imagine/speculate about rather than show, however entertaining they can be. I do have to say though this might have been my favorite scene of the episode, even if it didn’t necessarily add anything. Having the audience know so much more than Logan really worked. 

Logan is led around by Akecheta and Angela who are attempting to pitch his investing into the park. Logan seems skeptical at first until they reveal that everyone in the room is a host, including Angela. He’s in shock, insisting technology hasn’t even gotten this far yet, but Angela assures him that they have and that they are here for him, establishing the hedonistic and gluttonous structure of the park. Logan kisses Angela, clearly getting the picture of what this park can be, rather than what it should be.

William’s Plan

Flash forward a few years to post- William and Logan’s infamous trip to the park in Season 1. William is back and talking to his father-in-law James Delos who needs convincing to really take the plunge into Westworld, chastising Logan for his surface-level interest in the first place. William turns it around, telling him to not look at the hosts but at the guests. While they are there, they feel free to do anything they desire, something that they don’t allow to happen anywhere else and Delos would have a firsthand view of it. He is essentially suggesting capitalizing on the guests’ personal information for profit, something that sounds all too familiar with the Facebook situation right now. I would find it hilarious though if they are going this far just to data collect to better direct advertisements at you. James agrees to William’s proposal.

A little further down the line, James appears to be getting sick and they are throwing what is described as a retirement party for him, as William clearly steps up to the bat. At the party, he sees Dolores who is playing the piano for the event and is stopped in his tracks while with his wife and child. I would have loved to have seen the aftermath of William’s return to Julia post-first visit. It can’t have been pretty. His constant eye on Dolores is so incredibly voyeuristically off-putting, this clearly becoming the narrative of a man scorned in the worst way and it does make one wonder why we are ever getting anything from his perspective.

Dolores eventually makes her way outside, staring at the lights once again and finds Logan sitting on his own. Logan asks her “Do you wanna know what they’re really celebrating up there?” after shooting something up. “That, darling, is the sound of fools fiddling while the whole fucking species starts to burn. And the funniest fucking part? They lit the match.” Clearly, Logan is more self-aware than one might have initially thought, but ever since William flipped the switch last season, he’s started to become more and more the voice of reason amongst the group. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, watching all these people celebrate an investment in an outstanding scale of abuse that will end up bringing them down, the match watching on, but would have struck more powerful in the narrative if in this instance it had all been linear, as piecing it all together like this feels more forced and ham-fisted than effortlessly weaved.

Continuing William’s abhorrent obsession with Dolores, we see him talking to her in Analysis mode so she’s complete stripped bare. It’s a striking and horrific image, as he takes her in. He calls her less than a thing, just a reflection and nothing more, continuing by doing a villain-esque speech explaining motives to her.

“Everybody wants a little bit of what I found here, and I can’t wait to use you and every one of your kind to help give it to them. And now there’s something else. There’s something beyond that. I think there’s an answer here to a question no one has ever even dreamed of asking. Do you want to see?”

William’s character was interesting last season when there was a dichotomy there and his complexity existed to turn the character on his head and condemn his actions. However, when we get more and more of him and he becomes an uber-villainous figure, it starts to feel forced in there and pointless. We know William’s bad and we essentially know where he went after the park. To see so much of the in-between cheapens anything going on with Ed Harris and just doesn’t really interest me. As much as I love Jimmi Simpson, his William has turned into a black hat villain in a world of grey and it’s not as compelling next to his older counterpart Ed Harris (who to be frank also might have worn his welcome with the way they are using him this season).

Williams brings Dolores outside and shows her a massive sight he’s digging, most likely this being the “Valley Beyond” that they keep referring to.

Dolores Raises An Army

Back in the present day, Dolores confronts some Westworld workers who have apparently been blissfully unaware of the mass slaughter going on outside, which seems intensely impractical that they are so closed off. It is here that she reveals to Teddy the truth about their world and he is overwhelmed with fear, anger, and sadness. His first reaction is to throw one of the workers up against the wall and it’s clear that he’s finally beginning to understand why Dolores is doing what she’s doing, even if he perhaps still doesn’t agree with her methods.

After strong-arming the workers, Dolores finds out where Delos’ backup will amass and how many they will have to fight. Teddy reminds her they don’t even have close to anywhere those numbers (around 800 soldiers) but she comforts him, explaining they will get them. She needs an army.

Dolores has one of the workers revive a Confederado and delivers him as a gift to his men. They’re resistant to standing behind Dolores as commander until she, Teddy, and Angela shoot them all down, and then revive the leader to see what had happened. Really not feeling Dolores’ monologues this season. Convinced and terrified, they join forces. 

Dolores also crosses paths with Maeve in a slightly underwhelming meetup because it was so short. The two have incredibly different objectives. Maeve only wants her daughter, she’s not interested in revenge, whereas Dolores is soaked with the blood of it. Dolores wants her to support their fight but Maeve resists, wanting to fight for something else. Dolores lets her pass, clearly perturbed.

These two different ideals/ways of going about attaining their freedom and holding it are so incredibly interesting and the conflicts between those two understandings are even more so. This felt like it barely scratched the surface on it but hopefully, it’s only the beginning and once Maeve finds her daughter she will too have forward momentum to fight for their lives, even if it’s in a different way. The best part of this scene though was possibly Sizemore dressed in the most ridiculous farmboy outfit in the background, trying not to be found out.

After Dolores attains the Confederados, they ride out towards the place William took her to and stop to amass even greater numbers from their leader, Major Craddock. Dolores then explains their objective, “An old friend was foolish enough to show me long ago. It’s not a place. It’s a weapon. And I’m going to use it to destroy them,” speaking of the ‘Valley Beyond’ William revealed to her so many years ago. This might have been the moment that I sucked in my breath, terrified that there was a hint of Thrones’ mass nihilism in that line, but the hope is that Dolores’ thirst for revenge, while understandable, gets confronted and dealt with complexly as we see Teddy looking at what she’s become in fear. I trust the writers to never let it get to that place, but that’s definitely my ultimate fear. 

William’s Quest

Also in the present day, we find older William who is looking for his pal Lawrence. All of this stuff and his quest to play Ford’s last game and find the “door” didn’t really grab me this episode. I don’t think I care much about any of the William stuff anymore, but if he’s going to anchor the human perspective in the park, then at least let him interact with our main characters. Presumably, he’s going to, as he and Dolores are probably headed to the same place, but all of his stuff feels so disconnected at this point that it doesn’t hold the same weight it did before. The fact that he’s also back in a “game” possibly orchestrated by Ford once more seems both like too much of a retread and gives Ford too much of a powerful lingering presence in the events. I’ll be happy if that situation is not what it seems. 

William finds Lawrence, gets in another tight fight and you can see the joy radiating off of him when they win by the inch of a hair. He reveals to Lawrence what is going on and the Lawrence agrees to join up with him. He also repeats the notion of Delos watching what the guests are doing and tells Lawrence his plan to beat this game and then burn it all to the ground. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it or what it says anymore about William’s character/arc. It doesn’t feel as strong as a man so broken who thinks he needs to experience fear to live. That is an interesting concept because we’ve been told the hosts need to experience real suffering to find consciousness and maybe after William has lost his, it’s only real suffering that can bring it back.

The two head to Pariah and they find a new El Lazo is in charge. El Lazo tells William he cannot help him, delivering a message from Ford that while this game is for him, he must play it alone and all of his men, including him, shoot themselves down. William curses Ford and tells El Lazo that they must head to a place he created, the site of his “greatest mistake”. The Valley Beyond.

I liked this episode better than the premiere, but it didn’t excite me to the level of the first season. I never felt like it was saying something beyond what was being told to us and I think that therein lies my frustration with this season so far. The nuance feels lacking and I really hope it’s upward from here rather than a flatline because there are so many interesting places for them to take it. 

Images courtesy of HBO

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