HBO’s ambitious sci-fi Western ‘Westworld’ returns for a second season to both dazzle and confound viewers. Now that we know some of the show’s secrets from last year, will the story be easier to follow this time?
I doubt anyone will be shocked if I say that the answer is “yes and no.” First off, know that the show picks up with the same narrative as last year. After the finale, there had been some speculation that Season 2 might take place at a different robot park. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though the premiere drops several hints that similar robot uprisings have happened at other Delos parks.
We learned late last season that some of the storylines took place in different timelines decades apart from others. To the best of my ability to discern, the season premiere is set mainly or entirely after the massacre at Escalante (to clarify: the latest massacre at Escalante, in which the “host” robots attacked the Delos board gala). However, the episode still does a fair amount of time-jumping. In particular, we follow Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in two timelines that are presented parallel to one another. One starts during the massacre and the other is set several days later.
In fact, it’s the later time period we experience first. Bernard wakes up on a beach, where he’s found by Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), the park’s security director who disappeared late last season after being attacked by a group of Indians. How he survived that encounter is not elaborated. Stubbs is surrounded by a squad of soldiers, and Bernard sees waves more landing on the beach from a ship offshore. Stubbs is apparently unaware of the revelation that Bernard is a robot and announces him as the man in charge of the park. As they walk to a base camp, Bernard witnesses numerous host robots, many of them innocent, being lined up and executed. During their conversation, it’s explained (to viewers) for the first time that Westworld is located on an island.
Stubbs introduces Bernard to a man named Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) who’s leading the military operation, which he describes a search-and-rescue mission for any surviving Delos board members. Strand has one of his tech operators cut open an Indian’s head and retrieve its CPU. Replaying its last memories on a computer, they watch Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) shoot it.
Next, we flash back to the night of the massacre. Bernard hides in a barn with several members of the Delos board, including Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). He’s disconcerted when the others panic and murder an innocent stable boy. They escape the slaughter and make their way toward the nearest operations outpost a few miles away.
The next day, most of the group are caught in a trap and executed, but Bernard grabs Charlotte and pulls her away. Charlotte then takes charge and leads them to another hidden outpost that even Bernard doesn’t know about. Inside is a secret lab where creepy drone hosts (with no skin or faces) perform some sort of scientific experiments. Bernard is unnerved by this, and all Charlotte will tell him is that she can’t read him in, as if whatever’s happening there is beyond his pay grade. She logs into a computer and sends someone a message asking for immediate extraction. The request is rejected with the response, “Awaiting package.” She won’t give Bernard many details, but explains that her mission in coming to the park was to retrieve a host and deliver it to an external party. This is obviously tied to her data smuggling scheme last season.
Charlotte needs Bernard to help her locate the missing host, Peter Abernathy (Dolores’ father). To do that, he has to hack into something called the “host mesh network,” which is how the robots communicate and exchange data with one another. While doing this, Bernard’s hands start shaking and he becomes woozy. While Charlotte is preoccupied, he surreptitiously runs a diagnostic program that tells him he has a “critical corruption” and only 0.72 hours until termination. To delay this (or at least stave off visible symptoms), Bernard injects himself with a white liquid extracted from another robot.
We then return to the later timeline. With Bernard in tow, Stubbs and the military squad make their way to Escalante and find the town filled with corpses, including Dr. Ford’s. They continue on and come across a Bengal tiger on a beach, apparently washed up from another park. Tracking signals that point to a cluster of hosts nearby, they discover a huge lake not on any of the survey maps. They’re all puzzled by this. More troubling, the water is choked with hundreds of host corpses. Among them is the body of Teddy (James Marsden). Feeling a revelation, Bernard announces that he’s responsible for this, that he killed them all.
No longer a timid rancher’s daughter, Dolores relishes the new personality she has evolved into and believes she’s finally coming into her own. She spends much of the episode hunting and killing people in tuxedoes and dresses. Teddy is concerned about her tendencies toward violence. (I’d say that this storyline must take place before Bernard finds Teddy dead, but resurrection is so common on this show I really can’t say for certain.)
Dolores tells Teddy that she can see the past, present, and future all clearly, and understands that there’s a world beyond the one they know. She intends to leave the park and take the whole world. The girl has ambitions.
The Man in Black
After surviving the board massacre, William (Ed Harris) changes out of his tuxedo and puts back on his Man in Black outfit and hat, then finds his horse. He’s actually excited about what happened, because it means that the park finally has the real stakes he always wanted.
In a field, William runs into the boy we learned was a representation of young Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The boy speaks with adult Ford’s voice and delivers William a message saying, “Now you’re in my game.” Unlike the previous game he interfered in, this one is actually meant for him. The object is to find a door. At the end of the message, William shoots the boy.
Just like the park, the Westworld control center is filled with dead bodies, but the majority of these are real humans. Having turned around from her attempt to leave, Maeve (Thandie Newton) returns with full security clearance. She runs into the writer, Lee, who begs her to spare him and to help him get out. When he notices that she’s carrying an outdated map of the park, he offers to help her get a new one. She explains that she intends to find her daughter. Even though he doesn’t understand why she’s so attached to an old storyline that was supposed to be wiped from her memory, Lee agrees to help, recognizing that she’s his best shot at survival.
When Maeve and Lee get caught in the crossfire between a squad of soldiers and the hosts running amok through the building, Maeve demonstrates that she can now control any hosts around her.
Later, Maeve finds Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) all shot up but still functioning. He’s surprised to see her return, and pledges himself to her. Maeve patches up his wounds and orders Lee to change his clothes. They’re going back into the park.
With the way last season ended, I was a little concerned about how the show would continue the storyline. After the robots achieved consciousness and revolted, where could the story go that wouldn’t merely repeat the last season or feel like more of the same? Fortunately, the premiere suggests that the show’s creators have some intriguing ideas for expanding the scope of this narrative. At least so far, the storytelling also seems a little less obtuse without sacrificing its complexity. That’s a good thing, though it’s really too early in the season to gauge how things will play out.