“Everyone deserves to choose their own fate.” – Maeve
If the second season of Westworld could be summed up in one quote – taking in all the philosophical and metaphysical allegories that pepper the show like buckshot – it’s the one above. It’s unusually on-the-nose for a series that has no problem with the gnomic and obtuse, but above all Westworld is about personal agency. What agency is granted with self-awareness, the limits of that agency and the responsibilities that come with it. The ongoing stories of Maeve and Dolores (Thandie Newtown and Evan Rachel Wood) are parallel, if very opposite explorations of this, although the unequal time spent with them onscreen in the last three episodes is leaving this contrast rather unbalanced.
We pick up with Maeve surrounded by slain samurai, having emerged victorious from the battle at the Shogan’s camp. Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) ceremonially removes the heart from her adopted daughter Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), before they leave for Snow Lake and the access point back to Westworld. Safe passage is assured by Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) winning a duel to the death with Tanaka (Masayoshi Haneda). Super-Maeve decides not to intervene in the duel, silencing her Word of God and allowing both men to do the honourable, in a nicely-staged, satisfying battle. The irony being, of course, how much agency do you have when bound by the samurai code?
Bidding farewell to her brief ersatz family, Maeve and her fellow Westworld refugees head back to the farmstead to reunite with her daughter and, she assumes, complete her mission. In a quietly heartbreaking moment, the girl doesn’t recognise her, and another host is playing mum. There’s nary a moment to shed a tear however, before the Ghost Nation appear. The leader Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) tells her they should go with him, as they’re both looking for the same thing. Once more, the show merrily defenestrates another of my theories; that Maeve’s daughter may be the host with the missing data, rather than Abernathy. It turns out she was nothing more than a cute McGuffin to drag Maeve back into the park and set her towards the destination upon which all paths seem to be converging; the Mesa. It’s been surprising how Maeve’s storyline has evolved into the most engaging thread of the show, after an unpromising start to the series. Newton has been fantastic, with the revolving characters in her orbit all given the chance to shine.
As Maeve’s star has risen, so Dolores’ has slumped. It seems the Wyatt persona is entirely dominant, and her descent into barbarism has continued apace. I predicted a Dolores-heavy episode, and yet again the only prediction I can make with any certainty is that my predictions will invariably be wrong. She’s being held up as a thematic mirror to Maeve, with a wildly different approach to the same situation. As she is allegedly fighting for the free will of the hosts, she’s doing so by thoroughly autocratic means. The most extreme example was the hatchet job on the character of poor Teddy (James Marsden) last week. Now he’s assumed the role of reluctant terminator; blowing people away as Dolores requires, but there’s still something of the old Teddy fighting behind the eyes. As we’ve seen those eyes lifeless a few times in the present timeline, it looks like that fight will be ultimately futile, but something’s going to give. As stale as Dolores’ story has become, there is some steam-powered plot propulsion as she too is making her way towards the Mesa, although she’s decided to plough a train into it first. Carnage awaits.
William, aka the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is also heading that way, in his quest for ‘The Door’ – any bets the showrunners will pull the rug out from under us again, and it will be a literal door? – but he’s ran into his estranged daughter Emily (Katja Herbers). There’s some awkward family chat round a campfire as she slowly convinces him she isn’t a host a la the sad case of James Delos. He promises she can come with them, but she awakes the next morning to find them gone. “Motherfucker,” she spits. If she knew what was awaiting her dear old MiB she might have reconsidered her opinion; yet another ambush from the Ghost Nation. Is this a genuine attack whoever, or are they ironically acting as cowboys and rounding up the central players in the saga?
Every story is getting an airing this week – the neat new double act of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) have also made their way back to the Mesa, and discovered there appears to be a ghost in the machine. Some entity is attempting to interact with the repository of all host data, evocatively titled The Cradle. Whatever it is is resisting all attempts at detection from the outside, so Bernard undergoes a brutal removal of his control unit so he can be plugged directly into the Cradle. There, he arrives, as we have so often before, in Sweetwater before the host uprising. Upon entering the Mariposa saloon he sees a familiar face at the piano. “Hello, old friend,” says Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
What does this all mean for the series? It seems a little soon for all the pieces to be in place for a climactic showpiece only six episodes in, and perhaps a little too obvious that it’s the apparently late Mr Ford who is the invisible puppet master behind all of this. Was the opening scene a clue? We briefly flash back to the frequent conversations we’ve seen between Dolores and Arnold, but before long we realise Dolores is conducting a similar ‘fidelity’ test to that which William performed for decades on James Delos, and Arnold is in fact a host. We can’t therefore entirely assume that the Ford we’ve seen is actually Ford and not a transplanted avatar. However, that also makes it a fair possibility that the Ford killed by Dolores at the end of season one was not the original.
Overall, ‘Phase Space’ felt like the show taking stock and shuffling its pieces around the board. This was probably necessary, but after the simplicity and exhilaration of last week, it felt slightly overstuffed, and the quality in the individual storylines inconsistent. However, when Westworld is good, there’s very little to touch it in terms of ambition and sophistication. They really need to pull something out of the bag with Dolores now though.