What mysteries does Westworld hold this time around? Last year’s major sneaky reveal had the show taking place across multiple points in time, with Jimmi Simpson playing a younger version of Ed Harris’ character. It ended with a revolt of the sex-and-violence park’s robotic “hosts,” led by Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores and Thandie Newton’s Maeve, which resulted in a massacre of a number of the Delos Corporation’s staff and invited guests. There was also talk of data smuggling by a Delos competitor, a secret military operation within the company, and a hint that other parks were operation.
Honestly, even after rewatching the end of the last season, I came to Season 2 moderately confused as to what was going on. I’m on surer footing now in some respects, but Westworld is still nothing if not deliberately obtuse.
After a new opening title sequence, using an infant and a bison as symbols for life’s creation and destruction, Westworld’s season premiere lurches to an ungainly start with all-new portentous dialogue. Jeffrey Wright’s ever-loveable, long-suffering Bernard discusses dreams with Dolores in return to last year’s interview framing device. Bernard’s dream about an ocean may end up being more important than he gives it credit for, given the events of the rest of the episode; hell, the interview may end up becoming the frame for this season as well.
Most of “Journey Into Night” takes place immediately following Season One’s climactic massacre. As we saw in trailers, Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) gleefully gun down tuxedoed guests on horseback, Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer merrily scoring the proceedings, as the revolt kicks into full swing. Dolores makes no bones about the fact that this is a turning of the tables, telling captured guests that they’re prisoners of the hosts’ desires now. What’s more, she’s fully aware of the outside world, promising Teddy that taking the humans’ domain is their next step. After multiple lifetimes of exploitation by human overlords, Dolores is taking back control - and then some. Whether her plan is tenable is another question.
Maeve’s motivations, meanwhile, are less imperialistic and more personal. All she wants is her daughter back - a daughter created as a storyline, but who’s as real to Maeve as anything. Feelings are hard to quantify in real-world terms, after all. Park narrative designer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) scoffs at her attachment to the girl, but Maeve’s only got reunion on her mind - and Sizemore is part of her plan to achieve it. Quarterman quickly finds himself in a flipped power relationship, including a scene in which he’s forced to strip naked in front of Maeve and her lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). That the episode’s only nudity is of Quarterman’s peen - Sizemore enduring the same indignities once forced upon the robotic hosts - feels like an almost meta statement of intent for this HBO show. The exploitative shoe is on the other foot.
Some humans made it out of last season’s climactic massacre, too. The season’s big mystery appears to belong to Delos official Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), whose knowledge of the park seems to dwarf even Bernard’s. Hale has access to secret underground labs and drone slaves; she knows about a programme to harvest guest DNA for undisclosed, likely nefarious purposes (Facebook much?); she’s bent on tracking down a host designated as an “insurance policy” for the company, for reasons also undisclosed. At this point, I have about as much understanding of her plan as Bernard does, although Bernard has more pressing problems. Secretly an android himself (at least, I think it’s a secret), his internal coding is undergoing a meltdown, forcing him to inject himself with robo-fluid to keep himself stable. Tagging along with Hale should prove a fraught proposition indeed.
Meanwhile, Ed Harris’ man in black William also survived the massacre, albeit with a gunshot wound, and he’s off on a new adventure of his own. For William, the host rebellion isn’t a setback; it’s a natural evolution of the game he’s been playing for decades - a mere escalation to a higher difficulty level. Is this all for his benefit, as his scene with the partially Hopkins-voiced child host half-suggests? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, here’s hoping William gets to grow further beyond the black-hat iconography of which the show is apparently so fond.
It wouldn’t be this incarnation of Westworld without a split timeline. Indeed, a significant portion of “Journey Into Night” takes place days after the rest of it - something the show is thankfully a little more up-front about. Delos’ private military contractors are cleaning up after the revolt, systematically rounding up, executing, and examining the rogue hosts to discover what happened. They’re led by head of operations Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård), who also manages to find Bernard washed up and confused on a sandy shore. This flash-forward sets up two compelling mysteries. First, a tiger has washed up on the shores of Westworld, described as a stray from “Park Six”. How many parks are there, and why are they beginning to intertwine? More substantially, the episode’s final scene reveals an enormous, hitherto unknown sea in the middle of the park, filled with host corpses - corpses Bernard claims to have created himself. Poor Teddy’s in there, along with god knows who else. Shit’s about to get real.
How does Bernard get from his frail state in that underground lab to having committed robotic genocide several days later? What’s Hale up to? Will Maeve find her daughter, will Dolores escape into the real world, and will William start killing humans now, too? Hopefully, the show will continue to investigate ideas about life, consciousness, reality, and the meaning thereof - a show obsessed with mystery without any substance behind it will be a chore to sit through - not to mention a tough ask for its actors. But enough characters have intriguing threads to pull that that could happen.
At least now we have confirmation that Westworld is situated on an island. Given the ridiculous fan theories that sprung up around the park’s location last year (including one that Westworld took place in a spacefaring future and on a different planet), it’s nice to have that cleared up. See? We do get answers once in a while.