Those of us who thought that Westworld had finally worked itself up into a determined gallop have been proved wrong. Apparently as shocked as anyone by the concluding outburst of violence of Season 1, the writers have hauled back hard on the reins and returned to the patient world-building that has characterised the show, now excavating backwards in time as well as forging forward. However, having introduced new characters and an apparently solidly contemporary timeline in ‘Journey into Night’, this further archaeology at the expense of the present leads to certain amount of frustration with ‘Reunion.’
Bernard’s apparent murder of hundreds of hosts has been jettisoned this week. Instead we spend our time with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), both in her most recent position of avenging angel; and as one of the original hosts. Here she’s used as a seductive siren song to entice the Epicurean Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), last seen riding literally bareback into a scorched sunset, into investing in the park.
Once again, these two states of Dolores are contrasted for thematic effect. A programmed utterance about traffic lights resembling “stars… scattered across the ground,” is referred to when she growls, “I used to see the beauty in this world, and now I see the truth.” This comes across as a subversion of ‘Amazing Grace’, in which the person who finds God once was blind, but now sees.
Religious themes and allegories like these are reshaping the philosophical landscape of Westworld, seemingly as vast and amorphous as the park itself, if this second episode of Season 2 is anything to go by. The character of Dolores now carries a heavily Miltonian subtext, as someone who has rejected their God’s plan and is now intent on carving their own Pandemonium, raising an army of undead host on their way. The imagery of the episode also includes an obvious, yet amusing nod to ‘The Last Supper’ in the scene where the Confederados are recruited by Dolores.
We reengage with William both in his current guise of the Man in Black (Ed Harris), and as his younger self (Jimmi Simpson). The latter thread establishes a new time line, after William’s first, life-changing, experience with Westworld. William brings his father-in-law (Peter Mullan, always welcome, not least for his way with a precision ‘C’-bomb) to the park. Delos Sr. isn’t initially impressed. He deals in reality, not fantasy he explains. Williams counters that this is a way of harvesting data, monetising user information, and therefore being able to give consumers what they want, before they know they want it – sickly prescient ideas given the current climate.
In the present, the MiB reunites with host Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) and fills him in on what is really happening in the park. While all hell is breaking loose, it appears there are huge areas of the park unaffected and thousands of hosts (and their attendant human techs) merrily going about their business. The religious theme is addressed again, MiB gloomily intoning, “They wanted a place hidden from God, a place they could sin in peace. But we were watching them. We were tallying up all their sins, all their choices.” The irony at the beginning of Season 2 is that it’s the human William who has had his quest imposed upon him (and is seemingly being manipulated from beyond the grave by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), whereas it’s the artificial lives of Dolores and Maeve who have chosen theirs freely – or at least, they appear to have.
Speaking of Maeve (Thandie Newton), we only glimpse her briefly, rejecting Dolores’ offer of joining her rag-tag barmy army, and having a portentous ding-dong about the nature of freedom in the process. This minor interaction gives further indication there may be other hands on the tiller.
So, with all the pieces seemingly in play after the Season opener, we’ve instead delved deeper into the origins of two of the main players. It has to be said that it felt that there had been more than enough established, character-wise at least, and ‘Reunion’ feels like a deceleration. Presumably, a rhythm is being established which will see Dolores and William side-lined and the stories of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve coming back into focus in the next episode.
This is all well-and-good, but Season 1 worked well when it dipped in and out of the main strands, keeping it comparatively briskly-paced despite the stately nature of the story-telling. This more luxuriant wallowing in the characters risks us losing track of one story as we’re engulfed in another – particularly with the wait between episodes to which our modern habits have become unaccustomed.
Overall, while no doubt laying down a tantalising trail of breadcrumbs which will lead us to the light later in the season, ‘Reunion’ was all allegorical rumble and portentous hints. No detail will be inconsequential – there’s a Nolan involved after all – but after the gear change it’s a tad frustrating. Of course, this is impotent grouching at what the show isn’t, rather than what it is, but this episode was a prime example of its more indulgent tendencies.
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