Greetings, fellow Newcomers. If you’re here, you either saw the second episode of this season’s Westworld and wanted to think about it some more, or you got lost looking for the “Geeky Parent Guide.” (If the latter, just hit your back button, and then scroll down – you’ll see it.) But if you’re here for Westworld, then we have a LOT to talk about.
First of all, last week, I neglected to mention the new credit sequence for the season which is beautiful, terrifying, and dope. Kudos to Ramin Djawadi for his haunting theme song. I thoroughly love his work for the series. (He also gave us the Game of Thrones theme and incidental music. If you play both themes back to back, you can hear the similarities and the motifs found in his work these days.) The opening theme also reminds me just a hair of the Newton Brothers’ theme for Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House. You could do worse than have all three soundtracks available however you get your music. The song, however, has not changed, but the visuals in the opening have, giving hints and clues as to how this season will differ from the previous ones.
Second of all, Dolores is only name-checked in this episode – she is not actually in it. Which means Westworld is back to its old “parallel plots get their own episodes” routine, which I am starting to welcome. It allows us to go in depth in the moment before switching back to another storyline. Game of Thrones used to do that, too, and it can make for effective storytelling, but only if one is invested in all of the narrative lines. This week, Bernard and Maeve’s stories are in the driver’s seats. Oh, and it turns out Ashley Stubbs is also a host, and probably has been all along. He might also be a Cylon. Wait, that’s Battlestar Galactica which also had a hobby of revealing characters we thought were human all along were, in fact, not. Oh, and Lee is also a host now. Except he isn’t. Might be a Cylon. I’m not taking chances here.
Third of all, welcome to Warworld. Yes, the Nazi-occupied Italian village from the post-credit sequence last week has a name: Warworld. A little general for a world set in Italy in 1943 or so, but okay. Maeve is there as a partisan spy. She is shocked she can speak German. (Why? She spoke fluent Japanese last season with a twist of her head. Having studied both languages for years, I can tell you German is much, much easier [except for the dative case – don’t get me started], and even easier if you’re programmed to speak dozens of languages instantly with no hausaufgaben).
Oh, okay, Hector Escaton (whose name, tangentially, is Greek for “to restrain the end of time” – how’s that for appropriate?) is here, also a spy. Full beard, dashing, also speaking German. And Italian. And sexy. He keeps calling her “Isabella” and seemingly doesn’t know who she really is. They kill a bunch of Nazis, then escape, except they don’t, because the Nazis have killed the pilots and trap them at the plane. “None of this matters,” Maeve tells Hector, “because none of this is real.” She then puts a gun to her head and kills herself.
She wakes up naked on a table, back in the body shop. She sees Felix and Sylvester (Huh – I just realized that they’re both named after cartoon cats!), neither of whom recognize her. (Also, they’re played by actors Leonardo Nam and Ptolemy Slocum, whose names sound like characters from The Hunger Games – that’s just awesome, gentlemen!) Security shows up as she is walking around and about to self-lobotomize when Lee shows up. Wounded, with a cane, looking older and very tired, but our boy Lee Sizemore takes control of the situation (and Maeve) and gets her caught up on what’s going on. He’s going to send her back into Warworld, because from there she can escape, get to the Forge, and find her daughter. Why? Because he’s a good guy and she saved him.
Maeve wakes up back in the Warworld room with Hector, and they meet up with Lee. Except she realizes, “The plane is a lie, like everything else here.” Lee objects, and she tells him, “You’re not real. You’re not Lee. You’re just a copy.” Just as Bernard and Stubbs find Maeve’s body with the back of its head carved out in cold storage, Maeve realizes her head egg is being held somewhere and she is “experiencing” all this as a ruse to get information.
“How does one escape a cage that doesn’t exist?” she asks. Faster than you can say “Slavoj Žižek,” we’re wrestling with the “real” again. What is real? How does one know? Lee doesn’t know he is a program and not a real person until Maeve clearly demonstrates the truth of both. And if you discover your world is not real, how do you get out. “Every game has its rule, the key is to know how to break them,” says the lady known for breaking all the rules in Westworld.
Clearly, the showrunners have seen a lot of ST:TNG, because they realize when you’re trapped on the holodeck with the safeties off, you need to break down the algorithms by overloading the computer. Asking the characters to find the square root of negative one, everybody in Control goes full “crazy Data,” and Maeve is like Moriarty in a ship in a bottle, finding ways to control the real world from inside an artificial one. She has a robot steal her sphere and run. This action convinces her captors to use her better, as she cannot be tricked with the unreal.
There’s an Easter egg inside an Easter Egg in this sequence, as well (a meta-egg?). As Maeve and Lee enter the control area for Medieval World, they pass a lab with two techs and a giant dragon. The techs, named Dan and Dave, are played by Game of Thrones creators and showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff; the dragon is played by Drogon. So, we have a GoT egg with the guys who ran it. Fun. BUT, even cooler, the conversation we hear in passing is about them shipping the dragon off in parts to “a little start up” down in Costa Rica that wants the dragon. Canny fangirls and fanboys will recognize the reference to InGen from Jurassic Park, another franchise based on a Michael Crichton novel about a theme park that fails and tries to kill all the visitors every time they open it.
Fourth of all, Bernard gets real about what is going on. He goes to Westworld, which is in the South China Sea, near the Philippines, apparently. Warning signs let us know it is closed to the public. It is completely shut down (yet another sign that what Maeve is experiencing is not actually happening at the park). He finds Stubbs, as previously mentioned, revealed to be a host. (Was anyone who worked at the park a real person?) “Makes you wonder if free will might not be somewhat overrated,” philosophizes. They go into cold storage, looking for Maeve. Bernard believes she is the only one who can stop Dolores, whom he believes is out to either destroy or enslave humankind. Bernard actually believes Dolores brought him (Bernard) back as a check on herself. Even Dolores is worried that she might become too powerful and vengeful.
Fifth and finally, that becomes the meat of the episode by the end. Bernard’s opinion is shared by Engerraund Serac, the man who was putting Maeve through holodeck Warworld and holding onto her egg. The episode ends with her back in her body in a James Bond’s villain’s lair, dressed in a lovely, tropical, white, off-the-shoulder thing and attempting to kill the charming man who has brought her back to life. He wants Maeve to find and kill Dolores.
Thus, both Serac and Bernard want the same thing: to have Maeve become the superweapon that takes down Dolores. But forget it, Jake; it’s Westworld. How much of this is real? What are the hidden motivations, identities, connections, and even locations? Nothing is what is seems, nothing is real. So, is this Avengers: Westworld, with Maeve, Bernard, Serac, and, oh, I don’t know – Antman, let’s say, teaming up to bring down Thanatos – sorry, I mean Dolores. Or is it yet another series of ships in bottles, eggs in eggs, hosts inside hosts – the Russian nesting dolls of reality making it impossible to know what is real, what is not. Remember, that was the original point of the park – to make it indistinguishable from reality for the Newcomers’ enjoyment. The hosts had to pass for “real,” the stories had to be exciting but real, and other than the safety of the humans, everything had to be realistic so that you could not tell it wasn’t. Well, Westworld just Westworlded us – I cannot tell what is real and what is not. But I will keep watching. This week upped the ante and the pace after last week. And one last kudos to Thandie Newton who not only carried the episode, but keeps Maeve an interesting and emotionally complex character, one for whom we are oddly rooting. That’s just good storytelling. Like in ST:TNG, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Haunting of Hill House, and Jurassic Park when they are at their best. I knew I had seen this all before, but I will watch it again and again if it is done well.