This review contains spoilers
Episode two of HBO’s Westworld continues to immerse us into the world of the park, however even more questions are beginning to pile up, without many answers.
The episode begins with a Donnie Darko style opening; a strange distorted voice commands Dolores to wake up, she walks outside and the voice tells her to remember. We seamlessly transition to a man waiting on a train. This is Logan (Ben Barnes), accompanied by William (Jimmi Simpson). For the majority of the episode we follow these two new characters as they experience the park.
If there’s a connection here between Dolores and these new guests, it’s certainly not apparent at the moment. Nothing we learn about them seems to relate back to her. We see how Logan is sceptical of the park, yet ultimately appears to have a good conscience, despite his motivations for visiting remaining unclear. William on the other hand seems to treat everything as a familiar fantasy, and visits for the opportunity to indulge. These characters make interesting new editions, and are a great way of establishing how the park works from the perspective of the guests, which is something that was missing from the first episode. Logan is a character who is surprisingly sympathetic and someone you can root for. It’s refreshing to have a character who seems moral and compassionate, though I’m not sure how long that’ll last.
The show elegantly skips past the question of how the guests actually enter the park, and by extension the nature of the park itself. How real is it? Is it a physical place or part of another reality? On which train did they arrive at the park, the first or the second? Regardless, these two characters highlight one of the great conflicts of the show. It sells us on the incredible fantasy of the world but horrifies us with the reality of it, as they participate in or observe violence against the artificial beings.
The rest of the episode does not focus much on Dolores. She comes in and out of a few scenes and has a conversation with Bernard. Instead the focus seems to have shifted to Maeve (Thandie Newton) for this episode. She plays one of the artificial prostitutes of the park who because of a malfunction is no longer desirable, and therefore has been scheduled for decommission. Newton is definitely the standout performance of the episode. As part of the decommissioning process she undergoes an operation, from which for reasons unkown she wakes up half way through, her stomach sliced open, the surgeons scalpel still inside her. The entire scene plays out like a nightmare as Maeve attempts an escape, running naked through the compound, everything grey, sterile, and completely alien. It’s an electrifying scene, and seeing everything from Maeve’s perspective really highlighted how little we know about what goes on in the corporate side of the park. How do the artificial beings get re-set? And what happens to them after they die?
The other major narrative strain belongs to Ed Harris’ Man in Black. Here he does his best Clint Eastwood impression as he shoots down artificial beings by the dozen. He’s on a quest to discover a hidden labyrinth in the park, and this episode takes him one step deeper as he enlists the help of a bewildered artificial being. But for the most part these scenes felt misjudged. Painting the Man in Black as some western anti-hero felt pointless. Since he’s been established as being nigh invulnerable there was no sense of peril, drama, or excitement. Nevertheless the development in his quest to find the maze was interesting, and prompts the viewer to ask even more questions. What has been programmed into the world and by whom?
The show has a trend of using instrumental versions of popular songs. This week it was No Surprises by Radiohead. It’s a clever was to stylise the show, pulling it into our own reality.
Overall this was a very solid episode which built upon everything from the pilot, creating a greater sense of scale in the park and introducing new characters in a way that feels natural and unhurried. Even more questions were posed, but the sense of mystery is being handled immensely well. I get the sense that Westworld is building towards a definitive ending, where answers will be revealed only once it becomes necessary. It’s nice to be watch a show feels like the creative team behind it are absolutely confident in their vision, and so far I believe in them.