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» » » » » » » » » » ‘Westworld’ Season 2 Premiere: Freedom’s Just Another Word

Season 2, Episode 1: “Journey Into Night”

Mike Nichols’s “The Graduate” ends with one of cinema’s most famously ambiguous final shots. After successfully stopping his ex-girlfriend Elaine (Katherine Ross) from marrying some square that met with her parents’ approval, the film’s hero, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), whisks her away from the chapel and onto a crowded bus. They take a seat the back of the bus, exhausted and elated, but after a pause, the same thought appears to hit them simultaneously: “Now what?” Where will this metaphor-on-wheels take them? Do they even have a viable future together? Nichols captures the very first moment they’ve considered those questions. Then he ends the movie.


Ed Harris in “Westworld.”CreditJohn P. Johnson/HBO

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That shot came to mind watching Dolores and Teddy (Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden) stand together, alone, against a picture-postcard Western backdrop in “Journey Into Night,” the mostly gripping return of “Westworld” after a 17-month hiatus. The shot recalls their old loops at the park, when their daily routine included a pleasant respite from the guests’ unsavory attention in Sweetwater, complete with lacquered promises about how they’ll truly be together one day.

Now that day has come. The hosts, led by Dolores, have engaged in a violent revolt against their human oppressors, and they finally have a taste of what real “freedom” is like. (Let’s keep the scare-quotes around “freedom” for now, because it’s not clear that the hosts are ever truly liberated from their loops. Nor is it clear for any of us, for that matter.) In the past, they only fantasized about getting to this point together, and that fantasy was programmed into them like Minesweeper in an old PC.

In the immediate aftermath of the gala melee, which commenced with shooting her co-creator, Dr.
Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Dolores has been hellbent on stalking the partygoers and administering a form of Western justice. Where before it was always Teddy who promised a grand romantic destiny in their loops, now it’s Dolores who fully commands their relationship, reassuring him that she “knows how this story ends” and that it ends with the two of them together.

Yet Dolores isn’t Dolores anymore. And Teddy isn’t Teddy. And Westworld isn’t Westworld. The world has opened up for them, but they haven’t yet defined themselves individually, let alone together. The gala was like a baptism in blood. They’ve all been born again.
And so, in effect, has “Westworld.” In the first season, the loops had as much of a stabilizing presence for viewers as they had for the hosts, guests and engineers at the park. Even when “the reveries” were causing hosts to deviate from their routines, we at least had those routines as a point of comparison, like the control group in an experiment.


Now that Dolores, Maeve and the others are busting out into the open, the possibilities are exciting for them and for the show, but everyone has to live with uncertainty, too. Dolores expresses herself with tremendous confidence (“I have one last role to play: myself”), but even she contains a continuum of competing influences, with the optimistic Sweetwater prairie gal on one end and the mass-murdering “Wyatt” on the other. There’s a path as wide as Monument Valley between those two poles, but there’s no telling where, precisely, Dolores will ultimately walk.

For now, she’s freaking Teddy out a bit. “We’ve ridden 10 miles and all we’ve seen is blood, Dolores,” he tells her. “Is this what you want?” Given what humans have done to Dolores and the other hosts for decades in the park, she could make a sound argument that retribution is the appropriate response. But really, the fact that such moral considerations are even in play among the hosts signifies a departure from Season 1.

Until now, the hosts have been subjected to the programming of human keepers and the whims of human guests, so any action they’ve taken outside of their loops could be considered a defensible part and consequence of their awakening. Now that they’re awake, they’re going to carry the weight of consequential decisions, on consciences that are still works in progress. In the opening scene, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tells Dolores she frightens him. That’s the sound of Season 2 clearing its throat.

There are indicators, however, that the revolution will be short-lived. Delos appears to have some experience in corporate catastrophe: The funniest line of the episode has one company man calling it “the single biggest loss of life on a Delos property,” suggesting that such massacres are part of doing business. Delos has dispatched its own mercenary army to quell the uprising, and it appears to have contingency plans in place for securing their valuable intellectual property in the event that something like this happens. It’s worth keeping in mind that Delos’s endgame for the hosts has nothing to do with theme parks, so this situation could be less devastating to the company’s plans than it seems.

For a show as orderly and worked-out as “Westworld,” the “Now what?” feeling that pervades the Season 2 premiere feels invigorating, as if the show itself had wriggled free of its own narrative patterns. Dolores doesn’t know what the role of “herself” really is at this point, and Maeve (Thandie Newton), fiendishly clever and deadly as she is, has lost herself in a quest to find a “daughter” who is real only to her. The hosts have the capacity to learn quickly, but there’s so much they don’t know about their own world, much less the wider world that exists beyond Westworld’s borders. They may find new limits in place of the old ones.

Paranoid Androids:

• Maeve and Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) are an inspired pairing. Lee’s dim, underhanded bargaining recalls the bearded Nakatomi executive who tries to negotiate with the hostage-takers in “Die Hard.” At the same time, Maeve seems to appreciate Lee’s predictable absence of courage and nobility. After he tries to give her up with nod, she’s neither surprised nor particularly angry about it. Like the scorpion, it’s in his nature.

• Bernard spent the entirety of one timeline attached to Delos reps, gathering information. (Once again, we’re on two timelines, but the relationship between them is different — one during and one apparently after the better part of the uprising.) He’s not the most exciting character on “Westworld,” but his actions behind the scenes were hugely consequential in the first season, as evidenced by the final shot here. He’s already starting to get a better sense of the larger picture than the other hosts have.

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• The older William, better known as the Man in Black (Ed Harris), looks absolutely delighted by the mayhem that has erupted at the park. After spending decades digging for something real in an artificial environment, he’s now experiencing real danger and real lead in his arm. Westworld has finally come alive for him.

• “I killed myself multiple times to get this level of security clearance. Multiple times.” The hosts may be outmanned, but they’re resilient.

• The discovery of a Bengal tiger on Westworld territory hints at more worlds to come. Michael Crichton’s original “Westworld” included glimpses into Medievalworld and Romanworld, where the same virus that altered host behavior in Westworld had spread to the other two, leaving mass casualties in all three places. It remains to be seen how far this android infection has reached.


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