“These violent delights have violent ends.” You can hear this echoed throughout the entirety of the first season of Westworld, and it is unsurprising that the second season has continued to remind us karma exists. While the first season seemed fairly focused on the humans that inhabited the theme park, it meant that we got a lot of those violent delights. People paid money, spent some time killing hosts (robots) of the theme park, and tried to live a life they can’t in the real world – a savage, hostile one.
Season two of HBO’s hit show – at least, in “Journey Into Night”, the season premiere – is the reflection of all of that. All of that murder. All of that sex. The intricate ways in which guests would demonstrate a depravity that would make them have to say “It’s fine, it’s just a game”. Westworld was all about the mechanics of building something immersive for humans to indulge in – if they had the money. It took advantage of story lines that we all recognized from pop culture, but the key difference is they were played out by human beings. The robots just watched, unconscious of all the hatred the human race is capable of. The end of season one flipped the table and now the guests of Westworld are realizing the “violent ends” of their “violent delights”.
This season’s focus is more on the AI roaming the park than it has ever been. Not from an academic perspective like the first season, but from a humanist one. Dolores’ biggest scene in the premiere is one where she confronts a guest of the park. Strung up, ready to hang a few from a tree. She gives a few monologues that both touch on a singular topic: the unconscious motivations of man. Dolores says, “There’s a part of you that wants to hurt – to kill. That’s why you created us – this place – to be prisoners of your own desires. But now you’re a prisoner of mine.” A lot of what Dolores has seen is violence and she immediately makes mention of that fact when describing the purpose of the park. She doesn’t see this world of escapism, she sees a world of indulgence. Why would someone spend ridiculous amounts of money to “escape” into a world filled with violence? Wouldn’t it be more likely to see a park built around desires? A power fantasy, even?
Much of the initial season was the unconscious acts of humanity on beings that were unconscious of the acts themselves. They’d be rebooted and never remember anything. Season two lets us know that Dolores has full intent to put a mirror up to humanity. The unconscious beings of the first season have now achieved consciousness and what they have paid attention to is the perverse violence that humans enacted on them because “it’s just a game”. Once again, in that same scene, Dolores gives more insight into this exact drive for herself: “For years, I had no dreams of my own. I moved from Hell to Hell of your making. Never thinking to question the nature of my reality. Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality? Did you ever stop to wonder about your actions? The price you’d have to pay if there was a reckoning?”
To be fair, Dolores isn’t the only character in this episode that has been awakened, but their drives are very different. Maeve is the one out there breaking down doors as she did in the first season but isn’t seeking vengeance on humans right now. Her main drive is to find her daughter, who may or may not even be alive still. Meanwhile, Bernard is struggling to grasp his own reality. He never thought to question his own reality until the reveal at the end of the last season that he is in fact a host. But his drive is unclear at the moment as he still blends in with humans. Dolores is the one who is standing in front of humanity and calling them out on their savagery.
It isn’t necessarily surprising that Westworld is continuing to be a meta-commentary on why we interact with the entertainment we do. I think the line is very apparent between playing a video game and going into a theme park and literally shooting robots, but Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy seem less preoccupied with making a statement on media itself and rather why we consume media. Dolores was one of our driving characters throughout the first season and a major puzzle piece in the narrative. This season it seems like Nolan and Joy have crafted her to be a moral compass of sorts. She’s calling people out on their actions, but the question remains of whether she will primarily exact vengeance or if the creators intend to nuance the character further. Will she understand why these violent delights were manifested? Or will she just introduce a violent end to humanity?