“I’ve evolved into something new, and I’ve got one more role to play: myself.”
We’re back in the saddle for Season 2 of Westworld, and pretty much picking up where we left off, albeit slightly unsure of our handle on some timeline fluctuations. The park’s creator, Machiavellian demiurge and monologue purveyor par excellence, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is dead by the hand of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the park’s oldest host. Numerous guests and staff have swiftly followed as the plan of calculating Maeve (Thandie Newton) took effect. ‘Journey into Night’ plunges us into the aftermath, and another tangle of existential quandaries and knotty narrative questions.
Although introducing some new characters, show-runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy wisely focus on four main threads, in a way that could just as easily have provided a coda to Season 1 as much as an overture to season 2. Dolores is now apparently clear of the temporal fog that seemed to have overcome her during her murder of Ford. That, or she has become adept at juggling the multiple timeframes of her memories.
What we do know is she has spent the last two weeks in an ecstasy of slaughter of humans and hosts alike, with a numb Teddy (James Marsden), and Wyatt cultist Angela (Talulah Riley) along for the ride. She now seems at peace with who she is, although regularly spouting the kind of cod-profound dialogue of a trust fund mummy’s boy on a Thailand gap year.
Maeve has reconsidered leaving the park and has relocated Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and strong-armed slimy Lee (Simon Quarterman) into helping her find her daughter, despite the knowledge her memories are ‘false’. This strand has the potential for some odd-couple ‘Bronn & Tyrion’ moments between the imperious Maeve and her cowed former alpha-male hostage, but it’s also at risk of becoming irritating. Newton was so good at conveying Maeve’s awakening in Season 1, but the character is in danger of becoming one-note. Lee was just about bearable in the small doses we were given. Now his role looks like its being beefed up, it could be a long ride.
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is in no danger of becoming boring. Already back from the dead once, he awakes on a beach in what we know is the present timeline. His strand of the episode takes us from his escape from the massacre at the party with Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) and some luckless cannon fodder. Charlotte’s attempts to organise their extraction is met with refusal due to her failure to deliver the ‘package’.
This turns out to be the data contained within the host Peter Abernathy (Louis Hertham). On the beach we’re also introduced to some new characters. In keeping with the trend of Scandinavian actors appearing in the show, we meet Gustaf Skarsgård as Karl Strand, head of the Delos security team that rescues Bernard, and Fares Fares as technician Antoine Costa, who we see extracting data from a dead Ghost Nation native by a somewhat ironic scalping.
Finally, we return to William/ The Man in Black. Ed Harris was easily the scariest being in the park last year and his sick joy at discovering the stakes in Westworld are now real has in no way abated despite narrowly avoiding Dolores’ rampage at the party with a bullet in his arm. He also has a new quest, delivered by Ford’s creepy young avatar. He may have been the only person not to realise the maze was a metaphysical rather than literal space in the first season, so it’s probably a bit much to hope he learns his lesson in his search for ‘The Door’.
So, the pieces are in play, although not necessarily all occupying the same point in time. As a season opener, ‘Journey into Night’ was not the outright bloodbath we thought might materialise, although Season 2 promises to be more plot-orientated. After all, the themes and the trippy existential concepts (‘bicameralism’ in particular) have now been firmly established. It would be unwise to clutter things further. In the character of Bernard there appeared to be a bit of a savior allegory with his resurrection. But what manner of savior kills hundreds of his own kind, as he claims to have done?
As an episode, it was almost necessarily ponderous; scene-dressing for the episodes ahead, in Westworld’s customary elegant, decorous way. The most striking moment however came in a change in the opening credits, with the newly-created host emerging from water rather than the milky gloop of the first season. A beautifully simple metaphor for the fact that the hosts are seeing things with a new-found clarity.
With the streamlining of the story, we will hopefully see a parallel expansion of the world of the park. We’ve already seen tantalising glimpses of samurai hosts and a Bengal tiger. We may just have skimmed the surface. ‘Journey into Night’ felt more like a palate cleanser than a genuine starter, but asked more questions than it answered, and it was a genuine pleasure to be immersed in this world again.
Westworld airs in the UK on Mondays on Sky Atlantic. Let us know what you thought of this episode.