Cease all motor functions: there are spoilers through Westworld season 2, episode 6 past this point.
How many Westworlds do we have to keep track of? That’s the alarm bell that went off in my head when Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) stepped off the train and into the smoothly running code version of Sweetwater hiding the devastation of the real Westworld from the Cradle’s computer. We’ve got Looking For Funding Westworld, 30 Years Ago Westworld, Present Day Westworld, Two Weeks From Everywhere Westworld, Sneaky Bernard Westworld, Rotting James Delos Westworld, and, now, Lawnmower Man Ford Westworld where everything is hunky dory.
In the Westworld most open to our eyes, things are far from okay. In fact, “Phase Space” may be the episode that shoves the series from despair to nihilism. After all that braying from The Man in Black (Ed Harris) equating “real stakes” to mortality, he and the other main characters are dipping dangerously into new realms of meaninglessness.
The key for him was his conversation with his daughter Emily Grace (Katja Herbers) at the campfire, where she gave him the choice between leaving this fake world behind to forge a new relationship with her or to continue riding from generic video game quest to generic video game quest as a stubborn man-child. He chose.
Convincing himself that Ford’s test means more than his flesh and blood, The Man in Black picked hollowness, mistaking it for enlightenment.
To be blunt: what does it matter?
What does it matter if The Man in Black makes it back out? After gaining the thing he’s wanted the most, his time in Westworld is a series of reaching checkpoints, Ford taunting him from a robo-child, and not a single emotional anchor in sight. Maybe, as Emily feared, he’s too far gone. Cutting out before daybreak to ride into oblivion.
In plugging into the next layer of Westworld, Bernard has stumbled upon meaninglessness. There are only so many synthetic worlds you can program before everything loses significance. Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) winking return answered a mystery in the third-most interesting wayand brought it all full circle. He was inside the control unit that’s now inside the Cradle telling the park that the system is running on all cylinders. Even with the bullets and swords working on humans, death isn’t permanent in this place.
The promise of perfecting the tech that brought Delos back solidifies that even further. How much longer until we see a hybrid of one of the main, dead characters?
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) also accidentally created meaningless in her life, but that wasn’t clear until Teddy took charge with a profound coldness. She’s had to trick her most loyal follower into loyalty, which places her in the same soulless realm as all the modern humans looking for meaning in the violence of the park. The callousness she’s doomed herself to through control isn’t as useful when pointed inward to her own kind. But she succumbed to the corrupting lure of absolute power, and nihilism followed suit. What does it matter if she gains the whole, real world but loses her love?
And Teddy’s going to kill her, right? He’s got a ten gallon chip on his shoulder now and enough malice to pull the trigger.
But as the first season was Dolores’ story, this season is Maeve’s (Thandie Newton). We should all be free to choose our own path, even if it leads to death, and her near-single focus has finally dropped her on her old front porch and a big bundle of nihilism holding a pair of dolls. Even though we knew it would go this way (she hasn’t been in the role of the homesteader for a long time), I wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to hit. Newton has owned this season, and this was a shining achievement for her. Which we had just enough time to appreciate before running from danger again.
Just as with anything else in Westworld, the threat of getting an arrow through your head provides the meaning when emotions get weaponized. Maeve’s daughter (Jasmyn Rae) was the one thing Maeve wanted, and she didn’t even know who Maeve was. She already had a mother. The role was filled. For a second it seemed like Maeve was going to have complete, terrifying freedom to create a new role for herself, but she chose the old role by grabbing her not-daughter’s hand to lead her away from the attacking Ghost Nation warriors (and leaving Maeve’s programmed mom to…die?).
Again, “Phase Space” was drenched in meaninglessness. All the things the characters wanted were illusions. Some chose to keep chasing them, others figured out ways to imbue them with new meaning, and some have yet to fully realize the ghosts they’re chasing.
For Dolores and her crew, let’s hope that they’ll find something real once they get to the real world. It turns out this season is going to be larger than we initially thought.
- Was Ford speaking through the Ghost Nation warrior who told Maeve they were on the same path? Or was she right to rebuke him? Or neither?
- What is Dolores’ plan to conquer the real world? We saw the giant earth movers a few episodes ago, but what could she use them for? To bury the park? Will her limited knowledge of the real world actually count for much?
- Will Bernard be scalpless the rest of the season?