Each week William Lee and Nina Metz recap and discuss the second season of “Westworld,” which airs Sundays on HBO.
Note: Spoilers ahead
We pick up in the aftermath of Season 1, as the park’s robots continue to exact bloody revenge on their human tormentors.
1. The hosts have taken control
Will Lee: “Westworld” raised eyebrows in its first season for the sexual depravity and violence that the human park inhabitants showed toward the android hosts, and it looks like this season will be about their vengeance. With Dolores and Maeve’s emergence as robot liberators — played by Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton — we can expect a cat-and-mouse game as they hunt down the park’s human customers. No human character from Season 1 is safe.
Nina Metz: I wonder what factors will complicate that vengeance. This is a show dense with plot tricks, the ground forever shifting beneath our feet even as the Most Ominous Score Ever does much of the emotional work. Dolores and Maeve are operating separately and seemingly unaware of one another’s efforts, but both have entirely freed themselves from the tyranny of their programmed storylines — the guileless rancher’s daughter and the seen-it-all brothel proprietress, respectively — and vengeance will have to give way to other drives, right? We know Maeve is intent on finding her daughter, if the girl still even exists. By the way, if the hosts are no longer trapped in their story loops, will Westworld’s robot children mature and grow up — if not physically than psychologically? Or will they remain forever suspended in a state of childhood?
2. The Man in Black/William is on a separate journey
NM: We are all William in a sense — “Westworld” exists for our entertainment and our puzzlement. But the Man in Black remains one of the show’s more opaque characters and — much as I like Ed Harris — I wish we knew more about what he’s thinking. Presumably the show will tease out more specifics about his transformation from love-struck William to the man before us now, but really I’m still curious about what he’s even doing in the park to begin with. Is he just a bored rich guy looking for an adrenaline rush like all the others he scorned in Season 1? Or is there something deeper going on? At any rate, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be part of this robot-human war that’s a-brewing. He’s still playing his own game — only this time, it sounds like a game of escaping from the park. (Speaking of getting out, that’s “Get Out” co-star Betty Gabriel as part of the human paramilitary team that has belatedly arrived in Westworld to quell the uprising.)
WL: I think last season's reveal about William/Man in Black was to show us that, as a young man, he was against brutality until Westworld showed him how cathartic violence could be. Since then, he's searched for higher meaning and may find his higher purpose killing hosts in this new anything-goes version of the park. But you're correct — William is going to need all sorts of back story to make his story arc compelling. Where can he go now after an entire season of playing a deadly, mysterious gunslinger?
3. It looks like Bernard took part in the uprising
WL: As the rampage gears up, Bernard is in a curious position — will any of the humans scrambling to react around him realize he is actually his robot double?
NM: It’s unclear how many timelines the episode covered, right? When Bernard wakes up in the surf, the owlish (and seemingly gentle) programmer is as disoriented as we are — and that’s one of the great assets of having Jeffrey Wright in your cast, because he can get across so much with just a look. But consider those memory flashes early in the episode; it seems he was a part of this slaughter, no? He tells Dolores about a dream — or "dream" — where she abandons him, and what he’s describing is that image we eventually see of all those android bodies in the water. Who killed them? I did, Bernard realizes. Maybe when all is said and done, he and Dolores find they’re on opposite ends of an existential divide.
WL: Well, it wouldn’t be an episode of “Westworld” without the usual headache of wondering when in time you are. Watching Bernard retrace his steps after the massacre and find clues with Charlotte, you can’t help but wonder if the writers are messing with us in yet another attempt to keep the audience off-kilter. It’s small wonder why every episode requires two or three rewatch sessions to hammer out what you know and what you think you know.
4. The show really likes its tropes
NM: This week it was especially noticeable in the dialogue. There’s a meta moment when Maeve lobs a threat and then hilariously comments on the hackiness of her words — she’s repeating a line of dialogue that was written for her as a host. But then moments later she utters precisely the sort of cliched dialogue she was just zinging. It’s when she talks about finding her daughter and her paramour asks, where is she? “Out there, somewhere,” Maeve says as they turn to gaze at the vista and the music swells. “Where you go, I follow,” he replies. Talk about your trope-apalooza!
WL: Any TV series that works out-of-sequence will rely on tropes — not to mention a ton of subtle clues — to give watchers a false sense of security they know what’s going on. I’ll confess that part of the fun of reading recaps like these is seeing how spot-on (or off) the reviewers are. Like “Lost” and “Legion,” “Westworld” is abstract TV — sneaking in as many obvious and subtle Easter eggs as possible. Is Bernard the well-meaning automaton he pretends to be, or are his malfunctions signaling something much more sinister? HBO should start making “Westworld” CliffsNotes.
5. Visual of the week
NM: The gore and violence are ever-present and I can’t even begin to unpack my thoughts about the scalping of an android so obviously styled as an indigenous character. The show is doing this kind of provocation intentionally — it’s a choice by showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy that both comments on historical atrocities while also replicating them in graphic detail, which I tend to find emotionally disingenuous.
But for me, the visual of the week is when Dolores addresses the three people she has hanging by a noose, alive only because they are precariously balanced on what look to be cross-shaped grave markers. They’re still in their evening dress from the gala and the lone female is having an especially tough time balancing thanks to her stiletto heels and all I could think was: This show has a way of punishing women for simply being women, whether host or human.
WL: For me, the piles of bodies strewn throughout the complex was hard to shake as the most striking image. And the optics of scalping a Native American certainly wasn’t lost on me. For all the chaos happening and for all of Dolores’ killing, she has more than a couple of monologues to express her newly developed consciousness. I also can’t help but feel a connection between the robot uprising and the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter culture wars going on in the real world. The robots, who had been used by humans, are now on the attack, and the humans are struggling to adjust. There seems to be some truth in that for real life movements as well.