The second episode of ‘Westworld’ clarifies a couple of things I found confusing in the premiere. At least, it seems to. With a show like this, it’s far too early to know what to trust just yet.
Some readers chastised me last week for writing that the Man in Black (Ed Harris) was a robot, not human. We saw him take what looked like bullet hits without flinching. Combined with Harris’ emotionless, frankly robotic performance, I made an assumption. Perhaps I was wrong. Dialogue and other clues this week suggest that he’s a guest at the park. I still wouldn’t put it past the show to drop a plot twist later that he’s been a rogue robot all along.
Although it doesn’t go into much detail, the second episode also tosses out a brief offhand line of dialogue that the guns in the park can only hurt robots, not humans. Outside of the show, series creator Jonathan Nolan gave an interview stating that the guns are loaded with so-called “simunitions” that hit guests with less impact than a BB gun. I could easily nitpick that this is highly inconsistent with the depiction of gunfire in the show, which is shown hitting targets from a distance, blasting through wooden walls and furniture, and knocking robots backwards with considerable force. I’d also imagine that a shotgun would cause significant harm even loaded with simunition buckshot. However, I’ll choose to suspend my disbelief on this point for the time being.
Episode 2 opens with a pair of new visitors arriving via a high speed luxury train at the Westworld visitor center, where they’re separated and outfitted for their stay in the park. William (Jimmi Simpson from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’) appears to be a nervous and mild-mannered fellow. He turns down a seduction attempt by the sexy concierge robot who helps get him ready and explains the rules of the park, and he ultimately chooses a “white hat” Western persona. His work colleague Logan (Ben Barnes from ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’) is far more obnoxious. He has been to the park before and gleefully chooses a black hat. The two men don’t seem to have much in common. Logan is eager to introduce William to the debauchery of the Wild West and make him cut loose, forcibly if necessary.
Programmer Elsie (Shannon Woodward) wants to pull Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) from service, because she’s concerned that the glitch that affected her character’s father could be contagious to other robots he interacted with. Elsie is overruled in this and Dolores remains active in the park.
Something certainly is wrong with Dolores, however. She has flashes of traumatic memories from past storyline events that should have been wiped from her memory. The final words her father whispered to her continue to rattle around in her head: “These violent delights have violent ends.” She repeats these to brothel madam Maeve (Thandie Newton), who begins exhibiting similar issues.
Head programmer Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) pulls Dolores aside for a private conversation. He says that he’s fascinated that her brain works differently than the other robots. He instructs her to keep their meeting a secret and delete it from her Event Log. She confirms this, but something tells me she didn’t actually do it. Bernard may also have a hidden agenda. We learn later that he’s having an affair with the park administrator, Theresa, and that they’re working together on a secretive “launch” that we don’t get any details about yet.
Late one night, a voice in Dolores’ head tells her to go outside and dig a hole next to the tree in her yard. She finds a pistol buried there.
By the end of the episode, Dolores goes through her routine as she always does. This time, instead of Teddy picking up the can she drops, park guest William does.
Maeve’s flashbacks affect her ability to do her job. When some of the park’s storyline writers notice that her numbers are down and she hasn’t enticed many customers to use the brothel’s services, they bump up her aggression setting. This makes her a little too intimidating and scares off guests, so the writers try to recall and retire her – retasking the whore named Clementine to take over as madam. When Elsie takes a look at her, however, she adjusts Maeve’s programming and puts her back in service, whereupon she seems to be working better until a drunk at the bar shoots and kills Teddy (James Marsden) for kicks right in front of her. Maeve is traumatized by this.
Even though she’s not supposed to be able to, Maeve dreams about past storylines in which she had a daughter, and her family was murdered in a violent Indian attack. In the nightmare, one of the Indians suddenly turns into the Man in Black, and Maeve’s attempts to shoot him have no effect.
Maeve wakes up in a surgery suite where two “doctors” (I don’t know what else to call them – engineers, maybe?) have sliced open her stomach and are working on her. Confused and terrified, she grabs a scalpel and threatens the doctors, then escapes the room and runs through the facility, witnessing all sorts of inexplicable horrors – including piles of bodies being stripped and hosed down. Among them, she spots Teddy. The doctors eventually overtake and sedate her, and haul her away before anyone notices and they get in trouble for not putting her in Sleep mode like they were supposed to.
The Man in Black
The Man in Black interrupts the hanging of a Mexican outlaw named Lawrence (Clifton Collins, Jr.). He single-handedly kills the sheriff and an entire posse, then drags Lawrence away and brings him to a cantina, where he sits him down and demands to know where the entrance to “the maze” is. He says that he wants to find the deepest levels of this game.
Lawrence claims not to know what he’s talking about. When the Man in Black threatens his wife and daughter, a group of Lawrence’s ruffian “cousins” surround him. The Man in Black kills them all.
In the park’s control center, some of the writers notice the disruption that the Man in Black is causing, but are instructed to leave him alone, because he’s allowed to have whatever he wants. Presumably, this means that he’s a big spender V.I.P. return guest.
After the Man in Black kills Lawrence’s wife, the man’s young daughter suddenly breaks character and tells the Man in Black that the maze is not meant for him, but discloses the location of its entrance anyway. The Man in Black indicates that once he goes in, he doesn’t plan to come back out again.
Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) enters the remote outskirts of the park on his own. In the middle of empty desert, he encounters a young boy who claims that his parents brought him on vacation and are ignoring him. Ford invites the boy to take a walk with him. The boy is amazed by the seemingly magical control Ford has over a rattlesnake. If we assume at first that the boy belongs to a park guest, that assumption is broken later when Ford dismisses the boy like one of his creations.
Lee Sizemore, the parks’ narrative director, gives a presentation for his latest storyline, “Odyssey on Red River,” which will be filled with tons of violence and titillation. To Sizemore’s dismay, Ford nixes the entire plan. He says that guests don’t come back to the park for superficial thrills like that. They return for the subtle details that capture their imaginations.
Ford tells Bernard that he’s privately been working on a new, original storyline of his own. He brings Bernard out to the desert and shows him what looks to be a church in the distance. Is Ford planning to introduce religion to his artificial creations?
At least so far, ‘Westworld’ is something of a slow burn. The second episode builds off the ideas presented in the first while slowly unveiling new layers.
Some of the questions I had about the pilot episode still haven’t been addressed. Mainly, I remain confused about the timeline. Do all of the robots reset their storylines every day, or just Dolores and Teddy? In either case, I really don’t understand how that would work for park guests who stay for weeks at a time. It would make much more sense if robots were pulled out of service in cycles and were rotated back in, say, a couple weeks or a month later. Maybe this will be answered in a future episode, but maybe not.
Beyond some niggling concerns like that, I largely remain intrigued. I hope this show leads somewhere interesting and isn’t just an elaborate tease.