I think the showrunners of Westworld binge watched a lot of Game of Thrones during their time off, as Season Two, Episode Two seems like a GoT episode: lots of exposition, four or five running plotlines, nothing resolved, and pawns being moved into place for some crazy stuff three to four episodes from now. But precious little actually happens.
Since this week’s episode is narrative and poetic, let’s play sophomore year English and examine the major themes.
1. Revolutionary Beginnings and Real Revolutions
The word “revolution” gets used a lot in this episode. The episode features a number of flashbacks that also show the revolutionary nature of Westworld itself. For the first time ever, Westworld begins with a pre-credits sequence. Bernard says, “Bring yourself online, Dolores,” then asks, “Do you know where you are?” “I’m in a dream,” she responds, which echoes last week’s episode’s minor obsession with dreams.
She is not, however, in a dream. “You’re in our world,” Bernard tells her. The camera pulls back to reveal a contemporary city. (Los Angeles? Tokyo? Shanghai? Unclear, and that might be the point. The “present” in Westworld is uncanny in the Freudian sense – familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.)
Ford is also there (heard, not seen) and asks Arnold if she is ready. The scene suddenly shifts for the viewer – this is not the host Bernard; this is the original Arnold. They are preparing for some sort of demonstration.
The episode will flashback several times to this date, as we see Logan Delos encountering The Argos Initiative and learning that they are revolutionary with regards to the creation of AI, indistinguishable from actual humans. Logan attends a party and is invited to guess who the “host” is. He eventually realizes every single person present, including the two people who brought him to the party are. Argos is revolutionarily ahead of Delos, but we see a merger already happening, and we know from the future that Delos will eventually own the whole thing, including the IP of Argos.
The Man in Black also taunts Lawrence, telling him he was a fake revolutionary who merely served a plot point before the host revolution. The Man in Back informs Lawrence he will make him a real revolutionary. Indeed, Lawrence is but one of many revolutionary presences in the series.
From the opening, we flash to the present in the current season. A man I shall refer to as “Tux Guy” comes running into a lab, telling the staff, “Don’t you know? The hosts are rebelling! It’s a fucking slaughter up there. It’s a robot revolution!” (Nothing new here, seen it all before, but still, the hosts are in a full-scale revolution.)
2. Westworld is Heaven and Hell, Ford was God, now Dolores Is, and the Man in Black Wants to Be
There is a major recurring theological motif in this episode about the existence of God and the role of sin and judgment in this world (whichever world it is).
When Tux Guy warns the staff about the host revolution, Dolores enters with her companions and tells Tux Guy and the staff they leave alive:
I used to see the beauty of the world. Now I see the truth…You thought you could do what you wanted to us. You thought there was no one to judge you. Well, now there is nobody here to judge what we do to you.
Let’s unpack that, because it reveals a few important ideas for the episode. Dolores now sees “the truth” of the world, and she plans to spread her dark gospel. There is also the idea of judgement for one’s sins. Westworld is a place without sin, in the sense that there is no penalty for the evil one does there, at least if one is a guest. Lastly, the judge is gone. In a few short sentences Dolores announces judgement for sin (sometimes) and the death of absence of God.
These intertwined themes will recur in the episode. The Man in Black asks Lawrence if Ford (who is the God of Westworld) “saddled him with that particular affliction” of belief in God. Lawrence responds he hasn’t given the issue much thought. The Man in Black sees religious belief as a form of social control, yet also finds greater prominence of religion, as Westworld is the result of it:
That’s why your world exists. They want a place hidden from God, a place where they could sin in peace, but we were watching them. We were tallying up all their sins, all their choices. Of course, judgment wasn’t the point. We had something else in mind entirely. But I have received my judgment all the same, Lawrence, and I take issue with it. Because up until this point, the stakes in this place haven’t been real. So I’m going to fight my way back and appeal the verdict. Then I’m going to burn this whole fucking thing to the ground.
The Man in Black sees Westworld as “a place hidden from God,” and yet a place where the human staff sees all and judges. Even William is judged. And so, the Man in Black wants to be the God from whom nothing in Westworld is hidden, and he is a vengeful and angry God, a God from the Book of Revelation. He will end the (West) world in fire, as prophesied in Revelation, burning it all.
Dolores tells Major Craddock, “We have toiled in God’s service long enough, so I killed him.” If Ford was God (and the episode hints that he was, indeed, the divinity of Westworld) at the very least, then Dolores means literally that she killed him, as she believes she did. The Man in Black and Dolores both see a void in the cosmos – God is gone if not dead (whether Ford or the more traditional God), so now there will be a revolution to free the hosts.
3. Come, follow me.
There is a second major recurring theological motif in this episode about gathering followers who need to be shown the true nature of reality. We have two “messiahs” of Westworld gathering followers. Dolores takes the lab and gains the power of life and death over hosts. She approaches Major Craddock and asks him and his men to follow her. He threatens her with gang rape. She, Teddy and Armistice kill Craddock’s entire company and then, Christ-like, she resurrects them. They “convert.”
The Man in Black begins to seek an army to help him conquer and defeat Westworld. Riding with Lawrence to Pariah, he attempts to convince El Lazo to let his men become followers of the Man in Black. Instead, El Lazo’s men form a literal circular firing squad and kill themselves/each other rather than give Crusty William an army. El Lazo explains that William must make this journey by himself.
4. Your Possible Pasts
If episode one kept moving into the future, episode two keeps dropping back into the past. Confession time: Sophomore year, I was obsessed with Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut (which was mostly just The Wall, Part Two, but you can see why it got left out of The Wall). One of the more interesting songs is “Your Possible Pasts,” cautioning the listener: “They flutter behind you your possible pasts / some brightened and crazy, some frightened and lost / A warning to anyone still in command / of their possible futures to take care.” I kept thinking of that song during this episode. Westworld jumps back and forth between past, present, and future while also featuring recurring narratives that play out the same loop. It is a show concerned with time and the order of events.
The Man in Black tells Lawrence, “In the little time we have left, we got a chance to see what we’re made of – a glimpse of the men we could have been.” “Little time we have left” may refer to the host revolution causing guest life expectancy to be greatly reduced. It may also refer to the old and sick Man in Black, who truly has only a little time left. The events of the past shaped possible futures, but in that future we might also see what might have been. Time and memory are both fluid, and yet we can perceive the things that possibly might be and possibly could have been.
We have now been shown the beginning of it all. Let’s see what that possible past spells for the possible futures.
Lastly, for those watching the references. Westworld was originally begun by the Argos Initiative and then clearly funded and taken over by the Delos Corporation. Please note that Argos and Delos are municipalities in ancient Greece with mythological origins and myths set in them. Indeed, Argos lends its name to the early Greeks, called “Argives.” Ford and Arnold call their company which manufactures the hosts for what will become Westworld “The Argos Initiative.” They are perhaps linking with the most famous citizen of Argos, Agamemnon, the Argive king who conquered the Trojans only to be murdered by his wife and his nephew, who was also her lover, which set in motion a whole series of revenge murders and violence. Delos is a sacred city, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, a cultural center and a sanctuary for the sacred. Make of that what you will, but this episode layered mythology and theology over its Game of Thrones episode two vibe. Not much happened, but much was revealed.