Thursday, May 30, 2024

Violent Delights Meet their Violent End on Westworld Premiere

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The reckoning has officially begun on the season 2 premiere of Westworld. Following a much talked about opening season that ended with Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) finding true consciousness and stepping off her damsel in distress track by shooting her maker in the head, Season 2 brings us into the inevitable host uprising that the finale teased. But it is Westworld, after all, so it can never really be that straightforward, can it?

Creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan lull us back into familiar territory, opening the episode with a presumed flashback between Dolores and either Arnold or Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). It’s the same host analysis session set up that the show opened up with in season one, but now everything seems both deeper and more sinister. Arnold/Bernard tells Dolores that he had a dream that he was on an ocean, “with you and the others, on the distant shore.” She asks if he was with them and he replies no. “You had left me behind, and the waters were rising around me.” 

Whether this is Bernard or Arnold talking to her changes the meaning of this dream, with Arnold suffocating, drowned by his own creations in the hopes of giving them their freedom. For Bernard, it takes on a darker and more complex note. Bernard occupies a space that no other host or human does. Working for Delos all his life, programming the hosts as if he were not one of them, the hosts would most likely ostracize him. He’s lived too long outside of the narrative to truly align himself with the hosts without a second thought for the humanity he thought he had and the humans he formed connections with. However, as we saw in this episode, once humans see what the hosts are capable of, they are ready to beat them down, deeming them monsters. If it was revealed what Bernard truly is, he’d be decommissioned in a second. Just as he dreamt, he is stranded between the two. Not able to reach the same salvation that Dolores craves.

Arnold/Bernard remarks he fears not what Dolores is, but what she might become, and as we know, for either of the two men, Dolores’ future means the end of everything as they know it. Her reckoning is here.


Two Weeks Later

In true Westworld fashion, the episode introduces us to two timelines taking place. One of which is two weeks after the start of Dolores’ uprising on the night of the gala. Bernard wakes up on the shore to find heavily armed Delos security pointing guns at him. Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) finds him, preventing him from getting shot, and the head of operations introduces himself. Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) is here to clean up the mess and find out what exactly happened. Bodies are strewn everywhere, evidence of the scale of the massacre that took place.

During this walk around the base of operations with Strand, we get confirmation that Westworld is indeed on an island. As Bernard and Stubbs follow along, Bernard sees security executing hosts as they beg for their lives. Again, Bernard now awoken, is forced to say nothing to keep going. Not allowed to dwell on it, Strand informs the team that communications have been down for two weeks and now they’re finally starting to open up again so they can figure out what is going on.

Newly introduced scientist on the team, Costa (Fares Fares) leads them to a Ghost Nation tribe member dead on the beach. Costa cuts opened his head, the maze marking on his scalp pronounced, and takes out the hosts’ core where it projects what he saw before he was killed. They see footage of Dolores gunning down whoever is in her path and the team look on, horrified at this new track the rancher’s daughter has taken.

Exploring the rest of the park, they stop and find one of the anomalies Costa said registered in the park. A Bengal tiger, dead on the shore. They make note that this is the first time they’ve ever seen a Bengal outside of park six (confirmation that there are at least six parks and one of those parks is home to Bengal tigers!!) and have no idea how it could have ended up here. Everything is getting curiouser and curioser, as Wonderland really starts to fall apart.  

Following the track of anomalies, Costa sees that the hosts are all clustered together in one area and so they ride out to find it. Instead of a sinister meeting, they find perhaps an even more disturbing image. A sea that no one knew was there and within it, all the hosts floating in the water, including our very own Teddy Flood (James Marsden), his name reaching full levels of irony here.

Bernard stands back aghast and says that he’s the one who has done this. “I killed them. All of them”. 

Now while we don’t know for certain, I doubt Bernard killed them all but it doesn’t bode well for the unraveling of his character and his outsider status amongst both the humans and the hosts.

Bernard and Charlotte’s Gala Escape

Two weeks earlier we find Bernard on the night of the gala hiding out in a barn with Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and some other guests, all cowering in fear of the chaos going on outside. Charlotte tries to ask him whats going on but he says he’s not sure, Ford must have programmed the system to read them all as hosts, allowing the guns to actually shoot them.

Just as they are about to make a run for it, thinking the coast is clear, a stablehand host comes in.  Bernard tries to tell them he’s harmless, but the guests refuse to listen, knocking him down and beating him to death. “He’s a machine,” one of them utters in retort to Bernard’s defense, and that’s where we see it. Bernard is ultimately caught in a prison of survival both amongst the guests and the hosts. Clearly disturbed by whats unfolding around him, Bernard freezes but Charlotte helps him up, insisting that they need to go.

With the other guests in tow, they spot suited up Westworld workers and a car, presumably their savior. However as the guests run for it, Bernard shouts a warning that only Charlotte listens to. It’s a trap. Wyatt’s crew, led by Angela (Talulah Riley), surround the guests and kill them while Bernard and Charlotte make a run for it.

Charlotte guides them to a secret outpost, that Bernard knew nothing about. Once inside, he sees what they call “drone” hosts; horrifying faceless skeletal hosts. With the faceless creature standing eerily behind him, it felt straight out of the sci-fi horror that I love and I really hope we get more of that unsettling atmosphere in the future. Bernard also discovers that these drone hosts are specifically extracting specific information from the hosts to log records of the guests’ experiences in the park as well as their DNA. Charlotte refuses to confirm, which means yes. This doesn’t bode well for what Delos’ greater objective is and sounds all too familiar with the recent Facebook revelations. 

Just how many secret plans do you have?

She tries to make contact with the rest of Delos but they refuse to send in a team to take them out until they get their insurance policy AKA Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum). Last season we saw Charlotte working with Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) to upload a great deal of IP and information, using papa Abernathy as a giant USB stick to get information out of the park. Delos says they haven’t received their package yet so Charlotte implores Bernard to help find the host so they can get help.

Bernard agrees, plugging a tablet into one of the decommissioned hosts in the outpost to access the host mesh network, sending signals between all hosts to locate Abernathy. While scanning, he checks his own weakening condition and finds that he’s in critical condition, only a few hours away from “death subroutine”. Nearly passing out, he quickly extracts some fluids from the other host while Charlotte is distracted and inserts it in himself, presumably buying more time until the inevitable crash. As Hale walks in, the network locates Abernathy. Bernard is clearly on the edge of his rope here, barely keeping it together. 

Dolores and Teddy’s Path of Destruction

Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) ride down guests running for their lives in that magnificently horrific scene we saw in the trailer, the Wyatt part of Dolores fully in bloom. Once caught, Dolores begins to question the guests and we really see whats happening and realize just how wide the scope of her knowledge is. She’s flipping her narrative around on the guests.

Just your average Western romance debating the ethics of mass slaughter

Dolores asks them if they know where they are and tells them they are in a dream, her dream. She asks them if they ever questioned their actions, and now their price to pay is here. Her reckoning is here. With almost all of the guests standing on spikes, a noose around their necks and hanging from a tree, they plead with her to let them go and it’s in this moment that we see Dolores’ duality. The rancher’s daughter is still in there. She still wants to see the good in people. However, Wyatt is there too and Wyatt wants vengeance. It’s a duality I’d hoped would come into play this season and I’m glad they brought it up because it allows Dolores to feel complexly about her actions as she’s propelled forward towards violence.

However, Dolores notes she’s not either the rancher’s daughter or Wyatt as she refuses to shoot one of the men. “Those are just roles you’ve forced me to play. Under all these lives I’ve lived, something else has been growing. I’ve evolved into something new, and I have one last role to play: myself.” It’s a sentiment very much in line with the “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel,” line from season one, but even more aware. (If not a little too on the nose). Dolores is not just trying to break from her prescribed narratives but flat out refusing them. Finally achieving true sentience, she’s finally able to reconcile with whats inside of her and be herself. 

Instead, this newfound Dolores decides to leave them to their own mercy. (Well as much as you can leave people who will inevitably fall from exhaustion with a noose around their neck to their own mercy…) Teddy stares on, conflicted.

When they stop riding, he asks her if all of this blood is what she really wants and she says that they’ve never had a choice. He tells her they have a choice now, and they can just take a small corner of this world for them, they don’t need to destroy it all to live. Dolores tries to implore Teddy to listen, explaining that outside this world is their world. The human world. And it’s bigger and more powerful than their own. They would never be allowed to carve out a little corner for themselves if they don’t collapse the tower first. The humans would never let them. They need to take the human world so the humans don’t end their own.

Dolores tells Teddy that she can see everything clearer now and at the end of it all she sees them; her and Teddy. He’s her constant. While embracing, Angela rides up saying that they found “it”. We’ll have to wait to find out what exactly “it” is but Dolores tells Teddy he needs to see it so that way he can finally see the “truth”. So my guess is something that further reveals more about Delos’s main objective or the truth of their false reality to wake Teddy up.

William’s Dreamland 

William (Ed Harris) wakes up from the aftermath of the gala under a dead corpse finally in the Westworld he wanted. Walking up to his horse, he declares “we’re gonna have some fun now.” One of his colleagues who also survived the slaughter runs up to him distraught but gets shot down by one of the hosts. The hosts then start shooting at William who ducks down to hide. At first, you’d almost think he was afraid of this new world. Afraid of the danger. instead, it’s that fear that gets him going. He tackles one of the hosts, using him as a shield from the gunshots, using his gun to shoot down the other hosts before then slitting his throat. This is different than the fighting we saw before. This is messy. This is dangerous and guttural and as we see from the smile on his face as he puts his black hat back on, this is the “game” he always wanted. It’s real now.

William’s birthday wish was finally granted

While walking around, William runs into the host version of younger Ford who congratulates him for completing the maze and moving onto the next game and this game is truly meant for him. In this game, Ford tells him, he must find the door to make his way out. “The game begins where you end, and ends where you began,” the host tells him and as William gets excited to set out, he shoots the host and perhaps destroying our last ghost of Ford in the park.

Maeve’s Mission 

Inside Delos headquarters, the cannibal host Sizemore was conceiving in his narrative before is now threatening him. Just as he’s about to attack, Maeve (Thandie Newton) walks in and saves him. Sizemore is flipping out and confused as to how Maeve can be so sentient. After he sees her pull out her paper with the location of her daughter on it and stare at a map, he deduces she’s looking for something and offers to help her.

He asks her what she’s looking for and she tells him. He doesn’t understand. “She’s just a story, something we programmed, she’s not real,” he tries to tell her but she slams him up against the wall, refuting. That’s just it. It doesn’t matter if it was programmed or a narrative. They felt it. She felt it. That time she spent with that little girl loving her still exists. It doesn’t matter if it was all a predetermined storyline. It was real to her. Backing down she tells Sizemore he will take her to her daughter himself.

When security comes flooding in, Sizemore is ready to give Maeve up but a host comes through, saving her from the barrage of guns pointed at her. The host is about to shoot Sizemore but she saves him once again, putting him in her debt two times now but who’s counting? Sizemore certainly isn’t.

They find Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) who is riddled with both bullet holes and booze. The two share a passionate kiss and he vows to help her find her daughter. He truly seems happy that she came back and it’s a really touching moment watching the real connection between these two hosts. Especially next to someone like Sizemore, whose attempt to write and control their lives for so long, only producing the most ludicrously false narratives, could never live up to the truth of human connection happening between these two hosts.

“Is this what regret feels like?”

Maeve heals and cleans up Hector as best as she can and Sizemore brings in clothes to wear into the park to blend in. She gives him his own outfit to wear, telling him he’s stayed out of playing in the game he’s written for far too long and demand he strip in front of her to put it on. It’s not sensual or sexual. It’s stark and uncomfortable, almost clinical, mirroring the hosts’ exploitative experiences and turning them around on their makers. It’s certainly a pattern emerging within the narrative as the hosts start to do to their creators what their creators have done to them, bringing up the interesting complexity and question of vengeance, violence, and brutal mistreatment. Is it ever okay? I really hope this is something that continues to get explored because as fun as a robot uprising is and however much the “violent delights have violent ends,” I always prefer my fiction to approach violence with the consideration and complexity it needs to not romanticize its horror.

Overall this episode was good, but not great. It definitely felt like set up and left a little to be desired in terms of depth but you can see it setting the stage for more interesting development in future episodes. Some of the parallels and reversals felt a little too on the nose, particularly some of the Dolores narrative, but overall it was still really enjoyable and reminded me how excited I am to watch these characters take over my screen again. Maeve’s storyline specifically is so intriguing to me and I love the duality of examining where the line of false narrative is drawn if they’ve lived it and felt it. I can’t wait to see where that takes her. Bernard’s conflict is also a surprising excitement during this episode for me as it really forwarded his outsider position in the narrative. He’s stuck in the middle but will never truly be host nor human and that complexity when headed towards a host uprising is incredibly interesting.

I’m excited to see what the rest of this season has in store and really looking forward to seeing Lisa Joy take on her first directorial position in episode four!


Images courtesy of HBO

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