Each week, Brian Grubb and Keith Phipps will attempt to unpack the latest episode of the HBO series Westworld, a show about an amusement park populated by lifelike robots that’s also about… other stuff.
Keith: I’m not sure where to start with this second episode of Westworld, so we may as well start with what seems to be the most pressing issue: The Glitch. A number of our hosts — maybe all of them, in time — are becoming self-aware, including poor, sweet, Dolores, the park’s longest-serving active host. First, I love what Evan Rachel Wood is doing with this performance. In an interview with the L.A. TImes, Wood likened Dolores to a “Disney Princess,” and the pilot made much of this, showing her suffering all manner of abuse and waking up with the same optimistic attitude. But there’s a lot going on beneath Dolores’ untroubled Disney Princess surface. She’s starting to remember the past, and maybe see the future. After a flash of a massacre on the streets of Sweetwater, she tells Thandie Newton’s Maeve, “These violent delights have violent ends.” Even Maeve seems chilled. (Also, Dolores has a gun now. This can’t be going anywhere peaceful.)
Then again, either the choice of Maeve is fortuitous or she passes the self-awareness onto the madam, who’s reprogrammed (incompetently), almost decommissioned, operated upon (even more incompetently), and accidentally allowed to see the place where robots are born. That can’t have been a pleasant experience. She’s also been prone to flashes of an attack that left her and her child dead at the hands of some Native Americans — or was that the Man in Black? I suspect we’ll get to him, and his relation to The Glitch below. In the meantime, what did you make of all this?
Brian: So, a few things we need to discuss here:
1. It appears — or is at least implied — that The Glitch is contagious, as it passes first from Dolores’ father to her and then from her to Maeve. Either that or it is a crazy circumstance that it started developing naturally in the Hosts in that order. The question here is which host gets it next. Maeve has mainly communicated with the employees of her brothel (bartender, prostitutes) and Teddy Flood, James Marsden’s character, whose full name I will continue to use until I stop being tickled that it is “Teddy Flood.” (Five seasons, minimum.)
2. We know that the park rotates its hosts in and out of different roles depending on storyline or need, because one day Dolores woke up and her dad had suddenly become the mustachioed whorehouse bartender. What I’m wondering is if Maeve saw a past, non-madam version of herself from another configuration, or if her character in this one is a madam who also has a young daughter. And in either scenario, while Dolores’ dreams/flashbacks/memories have been mostly of the aftermath of a massacre, Maeve’s had a) horrifying action, b) The Man in Black, who is currently in the park. Very interesting.
3. Dolores’ face when she was talking to Maeve. Terrifying.
Keith: I’ll attempt to answer.
Brian: Things were really interesting at the corporate level this week. Part of that was because the British writer weasel finally presented his big new storyline and was promptly shot down by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who has been secretly working on his own new storyline the whole time, which is hilarious because he let that kid waste weeks and weeks of his life — and a huge chunk of the park’s money, presumably — on this whole multi-faceted plot (including, and I can’t believe they beat Game of Thrones to this, “self-cannibalism”), and then he just strolled in and pulled the kid’s pants down in front of everyone. I literally laughed out loud.
But the other big corporate thing we learned this week is that Bernard has a lot going on. Just a whole lot, both personal and professional. First of all, he apparently lives in some sort of luxury condo on the premises, which can’t be healthy for his work/life balance. (Does… does everyone live on-the-premises? Is there a cafeteria? I am instantly fascinated by this.) Although I guess the work/life balance thing kind of went out the window anyway a few seconds later when we found out that he and Theresa — his boss — are loverssssss. Someone needs to go to the HR rep’s dorm and report this. (Also, we are now two-for-two on episodes in which Theresa talks down to a subordinate while smoking a cigarette. My favorite subplot.)
And then there was also the thing with Dolores, where she asked him if he’d done something wrong and he tried to erase their interaction. That’s something! I’m not sure what it is yet, but it is definitely something.
What did you think about all this? Any theories about what’s going on with that shot of the cross at the end?
Keith: It’s more than a cross, though, isn’t it? We have the cross at the end of a steeple that appears to have no church attached to it. Or an oil rig. And it’s located at some far-flung area that to which Ford has a secret entrance and which he seems determined to keep secret from the curious robot boy who stumbles upon it? Also: If you look in the background, you’ll see three graves with crosses on them à la a traditional crucifixion scene. All of which is saying I have no idea what’s going on in that scene.
With Bernard it feels like we’re getting a lot of set-up that we won’t understand until later. Mostly I’m appreciating how amazing Jeffrey Wright is, in general, but especially at playing a character who’s bottling up a lot inside and not doing the greatest job of hiding it. That interaction with Dolores suggests there’s even more going on beneath the surface than we thought. It’s like he’s got bottles within bottles.
One other emerging detail: The departments within Delos don’t particularly like or trust each other. Really, it seems like the employees within departments don’t like each other all that much, based on the sniping between the two techs working on a not-in-sleep-mode Maeve.
The Man In Black’s Journey
Brian: It’s kind of strange that we went as long as we did without any important television characters who are immune to bullets, and we now have two at once in The Man in Black and Luke Cage, right? This has very little to do with anything, but I think it’s worth pointing out because I feel like I’ve seen 700 bullets bounce off of people in the past two weeks. I hope Bernard builds an AI Luke and these two just spend a whole episode whaling away on each other and doing zero damage.
The Man in Black’s hunt for the maze continues, and it leads him to the wife and daughter of the man he saved from a hanging. Few things in the world creep me out more than dead-eyed expressionless children, so the thing where he shot the mom and then the kid looked up at him and revealed the location of the maze haunted me. Between this look and the one Dolores gave, it was a banner hour for creepy robot stares.
But the thing that jumped out at me the most in The Man in Black’s story this week was that the people at HQ saw him going full John Wick on his hunt for the maze (which they probably know about because the info had to be programmed into the girl), and the response was “That guest gets whatever he wants.” I must know more, immediately.
Keith: I suspect it will be a while before we get any answers about The Man in Black. If anything, he seems to be stirring up even more questions. When the kid gives up the information about The Maze, it’s like she reverts into full robot mode. Is this a different sort of self-awareness than The Glitch? Stay tuned, I guess.
William’s First Time
Keith: Last week’s pilot began with something of a fake-out, setting up Teddy as a Newcomer and letting us imagine we’re seeing the park through human eyes before revealing he was a Host. It was a neat, disarming trick, but it was probably inevitable we’d enter the park alongside a first-timer at some point. Enter William (Jimmi Simpson), who doesn’t really seem like he wants to be there. He’s accompanied by Logan (Ben Barnes), a Westworld veteran and one eager to sample its pleasures again.
This pairing gives Westworld one of its most direct echoes of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, where James Brolin plays the experienced Westworld tourist and Richard Benjamin the shy newcomer. And if I’m reading their relationship correctly, Logan is the brother to William’s girlfriend or wife, whichever “real” person waits for him at home. But the fact that we don’t have all the info on her makes me wonder if all is not what it seems there. William’s the shy good dude — we get to see him choose a white hat instead of a black one, which seems to be the final step for all male visitors — but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were layers here. Logan also gets a line that feels like it’s the show talking directly to viewers: “I know you think you have a handle on what this is gonna be, guns and tits and all that. Mindless shit that I usually enjoy. You have no idea.” Did that scan as meta to you?
Brian: Like 50-60% of the stuff Logan said and did scanned as a little meta to me. Not necessarily in a bad way, but still. It felt like his whole “wild heathen on a rampage” act was a big wink to the audience, as if to tell us that we could end up that way after too many trips. If there is a robot revolution a-comin’, I hope that treasure seeker host gets to kill Logan. I very rarely root for the robots in a story about violent anti-human AI revolt, but this time… this time I will make an exception.
The rolling can that escapes Dolores’ satchel has now been picked up by three people: Teddy Flood, The Man in Black, and William, our painfully shy new guest, who has apparently come to Westworld with no intention of whorin’ or murderin’, which raises the very important question, “Why not just go to Disney, pal?” I’m sure this will all develop and change and possibly end with him on a date with a gun-totin’, dead-eyed Dolores who is having violent visions and killed that fly and has apparently developed the ability to harm living things and noooooooooo William. Run! Run away!
Keith: Good episode! The pilot, while raising a lot of interesting questions, almost felt like a discrete item, a short movie about the dawning of AI consciousness inspired by a ‘70s SF classic. This shows it has legs.
Brian: It dawned on me last night that HBO could start slowly incorporating characters from Deadwood into this show, just to see if anyone notices. They could explain it all really easily, too. Just make it part of the new storyline. Robot Al Swearingen cussing and drinking and so on, edging in on Maeve’s territory. I bet it would take me two episodes to realize what they were doing.