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WESTWORLD is Pissed Off in Season 2 (Review)

WESTWORLD is Pissed Off in Season 2 (Review)

Bring yourself back online: spoilers ahead for Westworld through its season 2 premiere.

When Evan Rachel Wood said the first season of Westworld was a prequel to the real show, it sounded like more hocus pocus from a series unpacked from J.J. Abrams’s mystery box. Another teaspoon of curiosity to flare speculation and make fans wonder. I mean, it’s kind of a crazy thing to claim that 10 episodes of your $100m prestige television show were just the amuse-bouche before the first course.

Turns out she wasn’t playing around.

Neither is her character, Dolores, who stomps shotgun-first through the landscape, cutting down guests and board members with violent delight. If the first season was a prequel, “Journey Into Night” felt like starting Jurassic Park at the moment the raptors open up that metal kitchen door to hunt down the children. Like the second half of I Spit On Your Grave. It was brutal and rabid and very, very pissed off.

The most amazing thing about the episode and its promise for the second season is the tonal shift that indicts us as participants in Dolores’s and her fellow hosts’s subjugation. There was a distinct liminal space in the first season that allowed for a voyeuristic appreciation of the gore. It was bloody and unsettling, and the repair work was sticky and visceral, but there was also a kernel of understanding that the hosts would be shiny and new again. The flying bullets that never connected with guests solidified the video game atmosphere. We could enjoy Westworld with just a tinge of guilt to make the sweet taste bitter enough to be interesting.

No more. That sentiment has been eradicated. Tossed on a pile of rotting human bodies. Hanged next to the unfortunate, anonymous assholes tap dancing on grave markers. We were always rooting for Dolores, but now we’re doing it with our hands raised pathetically in the air. Totally at her mercy. It’s an episode that makes you feel bad for enjoying the show.

Naturally, that’s due in equal parts to humans now being susceptible to bullets and a change in how we think of all the hosts: no longer as replaceable objects, but as people. Plus, if the park is demolished, there won’t be anyone to repair hosts if they get killed. The stakes of mortality are real for them, too.

It also feels as though Westworld has tossed its mysteries on the pile and burned them with the bodies.

Yes, it opens with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) waking up Inception style to a special ops clean up crew two weeks after the massacre, so we’ll have some puzzle pieces to fill in (including Teddy’s apparent demise and Bernard’s claim that he killed everyone). Yes, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) reads Bernard in on the creepy drone hosts that walk around Borg-like unless they consider you a threat, so the secret Delos project will need to be unearthed. Yes, it turns out Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) built the maze (one of several mazes?) specifically for The Man in Black Tie (Ed Harris), so his journey getting out of the park with his heartbeat intact will naturally take some twists and turns.

But, really? Just as Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan gave the middle finger to anyone anxious to learn all of season 2’s secrets, it seemed silly to watch “Journey Into Night” hunting for blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Easter Eggs or worrying what each literary allusion might hint at while Dolores was mowing people down and Maeve (Thandie Newton) was dragging Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) by his short and curlys. This is as good a time as any to point out that the title is a reference to a Eugene O’Neill play whose main character is an actor tired of the lucrative, yet numbingly repetitive, role he’s known for. Hello, Dolores.

Far from the existential wanderlust of last season, the main characters now all have distinct tasks. Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) need to reach the outside world to destroy humans. Maeve needs to find her daughter. Hale needs to get the data-filled Peter Abernathy host out of the park. Old William needs to play the game he’s always wanted to play. Ford’s dead with maggots building a duplex in his eye socket.

As a cipher for the audience, Old William’s desire for real stakes dramatically changed the series. The possibility of death and dismemberment is the reason the action sequences feel more immediate, dangerous, and raw. William has long been dead inside, and while the new version of the game is waking up a dormant slice of his soul, the little robot boy pulling the strings is also asking whether he is (and we are) ready to get what he wanted.

Stray Questions:

  • If you built an android with no intention to put skin and a face on it, why bother with the musculature? Is it cheaper because the mold is already set up that way?
  • Why is the special ops team so cavalier about putting their expensive technology in the dirt? Dude puts his tablet on the ground near a dead body? In front of his boss? Is technology so disposable in this…oh, right.
  • Why is Sizemore still alive? That guy is the worst.

Images: HBO

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