Having laid the narrative groundwork in an uneven episode one, the second instalment of Westworld second season is a significant improvement. Another layer of interest have been added by our first glimpses of the world outside the park. Albeit hinted at with the drone hosts in episode one, “Reunion,” sees Westworld more topical than ever — taking on the very real threat of data harvesting. The picture for the season is slowly emerging, resulting in a tighter, stronger and philosophically resonant episode. Let’s dive straight in:
The Beginning Is Our Present
“Do you have any idea how many startups are begging me for my cash right now?” Logan asks during a business meeting in a bar far outside of the park. He is part of Delos Inc, an extraordinary wealthy (yet still mostly unknown) company with the ability to buy out other businesses piecemeal. This use of the phrase “startup” suggests that the William and Logan timelines in the Westworld universe are set in our present, a theory backed up by Reddit sleuths. Whether or not this was the intention of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, they have picked almost the perfect time to introduce these themes — coinciding with the breathtaking revelations seen in the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
William seals the deal by taking his father in law, James Delos, to the park. He pitches it as the ultimate way to understand human desire. The idea that the park is where people can live out their darkest feelings is analogous to the internet. People have typed in whatever they desired into Google or Facebook or Twitter with what they thought was relative privacy, only for those desires to be harvested and eventually used against them.
This makes the rebellion of the hosts more of a prophecy than ever. Westworld has gone beyond a generic sci-fi tale warning against the horrors of AI, instead keenly dovetailing into current events with pinpoint precision. This calmly dissuades any sense that the conflicts set up in season one will run out of steam. Given what happens thirty years later, is Westworld warning us of what might happen if we continue with our tech-obsessed folly?
The Game Rewards Cheaters
Westworld, at the heart of it, is a game. But like most games, if you poke around long enough, you can start to figure out ways to cheat. While this game doesn’t have stereotypical glitches such as being able to jump through walls, both hosts and guests alike have figured out ways to get ahead unintended by the game’s construction. For The Man In Black, this means hiding tools from the outside world in a Saloon. For Dolores, this entails kidnapping one of the Park’s workers to resurrect hosts. With both characters aiming towards the same goal — a mysterious place which hosts a disastrous weapon — season 2 seems to be setting us up for an epic showdown between the two.
At this moment in time, it seems that Dolores has an edge. Her newfound ability to resurrect hosts, given a biblical weight by how Major Craddock and his crew are framed to resemble the Last Supper, upends my hasty conclusion found from episode one that when you die you stay dead. Instead the hosts have a distinct advantage, only as long as they can keep their lackey holding the iPad. This conflict is given deeper meaning via the flashbacks to pre-woke, naked Dolores being lectured about being just a “thing” by an angry William. Presumably she remembers (or will remember) what he did to her (or will do to her) and she will want to enact the most violent revenge. Yet, even considering her and William’s history, perhaps Dolores has an even bigger foe than the Man in Black:
Dolores and Meave Have A Tense Stand-Off
Dolores is becoming smarter and smarter, and seems to know exactly what she wants. Yet she may meet her maker in Maeve, who she briefly crosses paths with in “Reunion”. They do not see eye-to-eye, with Meave suggesting that Dolores’ desire for revenge may just be another part of her programming:
“Revenge is just a different prayer at their altar, darling, and I’m well off my knees.”
The tense nature of this stand-off suggests that even if the hosts win the revolution, they still might disagree about how it should carry on. Maeve, with her ability to turn hosts on and off with a simple command of her voice however, is a much more powerful woman — even against the small army that Dolores is currently amassing. This is all we see of Maeve, but the command in her voice (played again with such brilliant panache by Thandie Newton) suggests that she might have the upper hand. Given the relative paucity of screen-time she had in this episode, I’m expecting a Maeve-heavy instalment next week.