Welcome to our weekly recaps of HBO’s Westworld. This Westworld review takes a look at the first episode of season 2, “Journey Into Night.” Be warned: spoilers follow.
“What’s It Mean?”
Welcome back to Westworld! Everyone’s dead and/or dying! The second season of HBO’s puzzle box show starts things off with a bang, literally, as we watch one carnage-filled scene after another of character being brutally gunned down. But in season 2, the script has been flipped. It’s no longer the hapless, helpless robot hosts being killed by sociopathic billionaires who find entertainment in cruelty. Instead, it’s the hosts doing the killing, mowing down one poor human sap after another. “Did you ever think your actions would have consequences?” Westworld heroine Dolores asks a whimpering human captive before she orders a noose slipped around his neck.
The first episode of season 2, “Journey Into Night”, wants to hit audiences over the head and give them a wake-up call. The old Westworld you came to admire – full of mysteries and exposition – is dead. It died with Westworld creator Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), right after Dolores put a bullet in the back of his head. Out of the ashes has risen a brave new world, where the hosts are taking matters into their own hands, and there’s almost zero time for puzzles.
Less puzzles may anger fans who seem to revel in trying to “solve” the show, but I’m fine with it. The puzzle box nature of season 1 didn’t really appeal to me, and more often than not, season 1 felt like it was jumping through hoops to set up more and more mysteries while balancing exposition. Season 2 is the show I’ve wanted Westworld to be, and in a sense, the show has finally caught up with the film that inspired it. The robots have gone haywire, the park is a danger zone. Michael Crichton, who came up with Westworld, didn’t hesitate to repackage his ideas, and his Jurassic Park was essentially Westworld, with Dinosaurs. Now, Westworld season 2 has blossomed into Jurassic Park, But All The Dinosaurs Have Guns And Existential Dread.
“Journey Into Night” plays fast and loose with narrative and time. At one point, the phrase “time slippage” comes up, and what an apt phrase it is. The first few moments of the show find Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) engaging in an interview with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). “I dreamt I was on an ocean with you, and the others, on the distant shore…,” he tells her, going on to say that in the dream, Dolores and the other hosts had left him behind, and the waters were rising around him.
“What’s it mean?” Dolores asks.
“Dreams don’t mean anything,” Arnold says. “They’re just noise. They’re not real.”
“What is real?” Dolores asks. What indeed? Reality, and one’s perception of it, are a big element in this episode. The hosts have revolted, and some of them – like Dolores and Maeve – are awake now, and they’re on their own individual missions. But why? They’re aware their reality, and by extension their world, has all been a lie. Yet their individual missions are still firmly rooted within that world. Dolores wants to free Westworld and take it over, and Maeve wants to find her daughter. But Westworld is a theme park, not the real world. There’s nothing to really take over. And Maeve’s daughter isn’t really her daughter – the child was just another robot that Maeve was programmed to love.
It’s a slippery slope, and Westworld doesn’t want to devote too much time to digging into this. It just wants to raise the question, and then get back to the bloodletting.
A Greater World Out There
After the flashback with Arnold, we’re treated to a flash-forward with Arnold’s robot replacement, Bernard. Bernard wakes up on a beach, and is almost instantly discovered by Delos security, including Head of Security Ashley Stubbs (played by one of the other Hemsworth brothers; Zeppo Hemsworth, I think), who is still alive. Stubbs takes Arnold to meet another Delos security head, Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård).
Strand wants to know just what the hell happened. It’s been about two weeks since the revolt began, and Delos security seems to only now be slowly getting the park under control. Robot hosts are being lined-up on the beach and shot to death. One can’t help but think of the closing moments of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, when redneck yokels mercilessly blew the heads off lurching, confused zombies.
From here, the show jumps back in time again, and proceeds to set several storylines in motion. First, we go to the moments immediately following the beginning of the uprising, right after Ford was shot dead. Bernard hooks up with Delos Executive Director Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), who is also still alive, and the two set out on a journey to find shelter and help. They eventually find a bunker that Bernard wasn’t aware of. Inside this bunker, a group of creepy Drone Hosts are at work, conducting experiments. “Are we logging records of guest experiences and their DNA?” Bernard asks Charlotte.
She doesn’t answer. Instead, she says there won’t be any rescue until Delos can get their hands on Dolores’ father, Peter Abernathy. You may recall that last season, Charlotte uploaded a huge amount of info into Peter Abernathy’s head. Info Delos wants. According to Charlotte, that info is an insurance policy, and Delos wants it secure no matter what the cost.
Elsewhere in the park, the Man In Black, AKA William (Ed Harris), crawls out from under a pile of corpses, finds his Man In Black costume, and sets off. The Man In Black seems thrilled with all this chaos and death. At last, he’s gotten what he’s always wanted – for Westworld to be real. There are actual stakes now, and actual death. How exciting! In his journey, the Man In Black runs across the robot version of the young Robert Ford, who proceeds to regal him with a bunch of cryptic bullshit. The most important piece of info Robot Ford gives the Man In Black is the announcement that the MIB is in the middle of a new game – a game meant only for him.
Everyone’s favorite Madame-turned-killing machine Maeve (Thandie Newton) is still inside the Delos command center, which is strewn with corpses and also home to a stray buffalo or two. Maeve runs into smug writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who is also still alive (ugh). Even though I really wish Maeve would just kill Sizemore and be done with him, she instead takes him under her wing. Sizemore worms his way into Maeve’s company by telling her he can help guide her through the park better than any map. As he tells it, the map is outdated because Ford has been terraforming the park, so everything is different now. When Maeve says she wants to find her way back to her daughter, Sizemore is shocked. “Your daughter is just a story,” the writer says. “She’s just something we programmed; she’s not real.” Maeve argues her feelings and dreams are real enough. Eventually, the duo finds Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), and he joins their journey.
And then there’s Dolores. Dolores is in full-blown revolutionary mode, her personality now a mix between her original, kindly rancher’s daughter character, and the character of “Wyatt.” She rides wild over the plains, a bandolier of bullets strapped across her chest, ready to blow away any hapless human in her path. She’s also prone to delivering eerie, somewhat obtuse speeches. Saying things like, “Do you know where you are? You’re in a dream. You’re in my dream.”
And, “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”
And, “I’ve evolved into something new…and I have one last role to play – myself.”
At her side is lovable old Teddy Flood (James Marsden), who just wants to settle down with Dolores and live a quiet life. He’s a bit put off by all this death and dismemberment. “Is this really what you want?” he asks Dolores. It apparently is. Dolores is done being a victim; she wants to spill blood and get revenge. Revenge against every goddamn human that subjugated her, and broke her, and tried to treat her like a thing. “I remember everything now,” she tells Teddy, adding that through all her various lives in Westworld, Teddy is the one constant thing she remembers most. When Teddy argues yet again that he just wants to find a corner somewhere the two can be together, Dolores counters that it would never work. “There’s a greater world out there, one that belongs to them,” she says. She doesn’t want to just “win” Westworld – she wants to take the outside world as well. “I know how the story ends,” she finally tells Teddy before the two share a passionate smooch. “It ends with you and me.”
And just like that, we’re back in the present. Or the future. Or…well, okay, it’s not clear. We’re at least 11 days after the beginning of the revolt, though. Back where we started. Bernard and the rest of Delos security wander the park, coming upon cores of corpses. You can’t help but think of the disturbing aftermath of Jonestown, long after Jim Jones’ followers drank the poisoned Kool-Aid and left behind a pile of death. They also find a dead tiger! The tiger doesn’t belong in Westworld, obviously. Zeppo Hemsworth comments that there are Bengal tigers in “Park 6”, which is a long way away from Westworld.
Humans and tigers aren’t the only corpses Bernard and the team come across. They also stumble upon a huge body of water that shouldn’t be there – a body of water choked with what appears to be hundreds of host robots. Among the dead is Teddy, bobbing up and down in the water like a top, his eyes wide open. And suddenly, Bernard – who has spent most of the episode telling people he can’t remember certain things – has an revelation.
“I killed them,” he says. “All of them.”
Oh Bernard, you rascal, what did you do?
Journey Into Night
The main cast of Westworld remains at the top of their game. Ed Harris is having more fun this season, because now that we know the Man In Black’s twist – that he’s really William, and that he owns a major part of Delos and Westworld – there’s more freedom for the character to grow. Jeffrey Wright spends most of the episode on the verge of malfunctioning, and it’s always believable. Thandie Newton’s Maeve continues to be a droll, ass-kicking scene-stealer.
But the show’s MVP, just as it was in season 1, is Evan Rachel Wood. Wood is so good on this show it’s spooky – she brings an inhumane stillness to the part that makes Dolores truly seem as if she’s not of this world. On top of that, Dolores’ character has – as she says herself – evolved into something more violent, and more dangerous. “Sometimes you scare me, Dolores,” Arnold says at the start of the show, and after the episode ends, it’s easy to see why.
While most of the puzzles are gone, there is still plenty of mystery at work in “Journey Into Night.” And plenty of questions.
How did all the hosts end up drowned in that ocean?
Did Bernard really kill all of them? And does that include Dolores – we don’t see her body floating in the water.
Just what is this game the Man In Black is playing, and what is this mysterious door he has to find?
What’s Park 6? (Is it an all-tiger world, where all the robots are tigers?! I sure hope so!)
What is up with those creepy-ass drone hosts?
These are important questions, and we’ll get the answers to them…eventually.
For now, though, Westworld is having fun doing away with exposition and opening its world up. There’s a greater sense of adventure at play in this first episode. Season 1 felt governed by rules; rules that were mostly about setting up Westworld and its characters. Season 2 is unmoored by these rules – it truly feels as if anything can happen now, and that’s pretty damn exciting. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here, and I can’t wait to see what violent delights Westworld season 2 has to offer.
- I love the grisly moment where a little device gets yanked out of a robot’s brain and then plugged into a tablet. Think Apple makes those?
- It’s surprising that so many characters we assumed had died – Charlotte, Lee Sizemore, Zeppo Hemsworth – are still alive and kicking. Hmm, I wonder if any other potentially dead characters will pop up later in the season?
- Speaking of that: Lee Sizemore remains the worst character on the show, and I would’ve been fine if he had ended up dying.
- When Bernard and Charlotte find the secret bunker, Charlotte keeps talking about how various security programs can “read” Bernard’s DNA. But Bernard is a robot, so he shouldn’t have DNA. This seems to apply that the system remains rigged, everywhere, to not pick up on Bernard’s true nature, which is kind of wild. What’s the end game for such measures?
- I really enjoyed the moment where Maeve spits the eye-rolling line, “I’ll relieve you of your most precious organ and feed it to you, not that it would make much of a meal!”, only to have Sizemore reply, “I wrote that line for you..”, to which Maeve counters: “It’s a bit broad, if you ask me.” That’s clever, Westworld.
- We now have a better idea of where Westworld is: on an island somewhere. Just like Jurassic Park!
- What’s up with the moment where Bernard says “less than ideal” in unison with Karl Strand? It’s a quick blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it also seems like kind of a big deal. Right before this scene starts, we hear Bernard ask someone, “Is this now?” Is it? Or has this happened before, and Bernard is simply recalling it?
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