Thomas Jefferson once said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." If you want to plant a sapling of liberty, I suppose the best thing to water it with is with blood, too. It's a good thing Westworld is currently soaked in it.
Photo: All images: Jake P. Johnson (HBO)
It's been a long year-plus since Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) gained her true freedom by deciding herself to kill her maker Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), and starting the Host revolution by gunning down the Delos board members who came to witness Ford's final narrative, "Journey Into Night" (also the name of the episode).
But of course Westworld wasn't going to begin by immediately giving us the answer to what happened next other than one detail - there are corpses everywhere. In the park, in the Delos offices; Hosts and humans alike. They cover the ground in virtually every single scene we see, to the point where it almost seems ludicrous that anyone is still alive.
After a dreamlike conversation between what seems for all the world like Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) and Dolores - since Arnold is discussing Dolores' path to sentience and getting worried about what she might become - Bernard (also Jeffrey Wright) wakes up on the beach near the celebration-turned-massacre. He's quickly found by Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), leading an assault team who have arrived via boats.
Assumed by everyone to be human, Bernard is shocked to discover two weeks have passed since Dolores pulled the trigger, and he has no memory of what's happened since then, much to the annoyance of new character and guy-in-charge Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård). We see that he's having his men line up the Hosts and is executing them one by one, in a manner that feels as though the Hosts are not being treated like malfunctioning machines, but like enemy combatants.
We learn that Strand has sent search-and-rescue teams to the other six parks, but since there have been no communications from the park at all over the last two weeks, no one has any idea of what's happened.
Strand demands one of his tech guys examine the brain of one of the many slaughtered Hosts on the beach, and, underneath enough fleshy brain matter to splatter appropriately when someone shoots them in the head, we finally see a Host "brain". It looks like a cross between Tony Stark's arc reactor and a Brita water filter cartridge, contained in a small chamber with some sort of neural goo in it. The goo is important in the premiere; I suspect it's going to be important all season.
Anyway, the tech loads up the Host brain to get a first-person view of what he saw before he died, but it wasn't a human. It was Dolores, who lords over him, and says, "I told you, friend. Not all of us deserve to make it to the valley beyond."
Yes, our first shocker of the episode: Dolores has somehow gone from killing the humans who shot, raped and controlled the Hosts for all these decades, to killing her fellow Hosts - the ones she doesn't deem worthy. It's a disturbing twist - not least because the Host she's killed is one of the Ghost Nation "savages" - but what's worse is the way she taunted him before murdering him. It's pettily cruel, and very… human.
Bernard sees this, and flashes back to the night of the party, taking the entire narrative with him. It is a slaughter. It's unclear how many Hosts gained full sentience when Dolores did, or if they're following the same path but lagging behind, but suffice it to say many, many of them at least gained the freedom to start shooting their former masters.
Their personalities seem to be centred around the narratives they used to tell. One of the toughs (played by Steven Ogg, AKA Simon on The Walking Dead) has his drunken men try to shoot a shot glass off a woman's head, making a game of her death. But then there's a simple stablehand, still going about his business while the killing is happening, who comes across Bernard, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and a group of other humans, and kindly offers them help. (He is beaten to death by those terrified, angry humans, to Bernard's horror.)
I thought Dolores was also being influenced by her narratives, frankly; that it was the part of her that became the merciless killer Wyatt that was dominating her, making her not just want to kill the humans, but wanting them to suffer first. It's certainly what the character of Wyatt would have wanted.
But, while giving a lengthy speech to a group of three she's pulling the old "leave them standing on something precarious while a noose is around their necks" method of killing on, she makes it abundantly clear to them and the audience that whatever she's doing, her decisions are totally her own. In the role of the innocent farmgirl she saw the beauty in people, as Wyatt she saw the ugliness in them. But now: "I've evolved into something new. I have one last role to play: Myself." And she leaves them hanging, to agonisingly anticipate their almost certain deaths.
If you wanted more proof that the new, real Dolores is a bad dude, despite her Wyatt side in the back seat, that hasn't stopped her from taking control of Wyatt's terrifying, brutal gang - the ones that brutalised two men and hung them up to suffer before they died, one of them being Teddy. But Teddy is still riding with Dolores, even as he's troubled by her mercilessness - even when she says not only is the only way to make "our world" safe for them is to wipe out all the humans, but to take "their world", too. It's safe to say she doesn't plan on letting anyone who isn't a Host stay in it.
Dolores isn't the only one who wants to mess with the humans' heads before she kills them; the group that Bernard and Hale are with spot a Jeep with park attendants next to it and run towards it for safety, only to be gunned down by Hosts who set it up as a trap.
Bernard and Hale escape to a mysterious access point from the park into Delos that even Bernard doesn't know about. Inside, Hale refuses to give Bernard any information about what's inside, but he sees two "drone host" - faceless, unpainted, slightly unfinished hosts who are unnecessarily creepy for the work Delos has them doing - which Bernard realises are taking out Hosts' brains to see what the guests' experiences were, and also logging the guests' DNA.
Not hard to see what the Delos corporation could get out of this: Blackmail material for one, since no one would want people to see the horrors they committed in Westworld. But the DNA would allow them to create Hosts of any guest, presumably to replace them in the real world.
Bernard is more shocked than anything, while Hale is understandably put out by the discovery that Abernathy, the Host (formerly Dolores' dad from the first season premiere) which she uploaded with all of Dr Ford's data on the Hosts in order to sneak it out of the park for Delos, has not arrived, and Delos is absolutely not going to rescue her, or anyone, from Westworld until Abernathy is found.
Hale convinces Bernard that the sooner they find him the sooner a rescue operation will be mounted, so Bernard uses the Hosts' mesh network - a system that connects them all subconsciously to keep their narratives from colliding - which can also be used to locate any Hosts. It works, but not before Bernard starts having a breakdown of sorts, while Hale is helpfully out of the room. Shaking, dizzy, and clearly about to shut down, he scans himself to learn he has a "critical corruption" which means he'll be revealed as a Host - and not likely to ever be turned back on.
In order to save himself, he takes a giant syringe and shoves it into the brain of the defunct Host he's doing his mesh search through, draws out a great deal of the aforementioned brain goo, and then injects it into his own brain. It seems that Bernard's brain chamber has a small crack in it from which the goo is leaking out of, and dripping out of his ears. It seems that if he doesn't get it fixed - impossible while he has to masquerade as human - or doesn't regularly inject himself with braingoo when he's low, he'll continue to be in danger, and suffer the side effects. Such as "time slippage".
Cut back to the future, where Strand, Stubbs, Bernard and the assault team have discovered that all the Hosts are clustered in one location, a valley. Except when they get there, there's no valley; it's a sea, far too big for Ford to have terraformed secretly. It seems as though it must have been made in the last two weeks (apparently terraforming is very time-efficient in the future of Westworld), which is kind of surprising. More surprising: The realisation that all the Hosts are in the sea, floating awkwardly because they're all dead. And the surprisingest: Bernard suddenly remembering, to his horror: "I killed them."
Westworld, it's good to have you back.
Likewise, it's also good to see Maeve (Thandie Newton), who actually got more screentime than Dolores yesterday. She has indeed come back to find her daughter, and she quickly encounters junior narrative writer/hilarious douchey person Lee who is too dim to be truly scared of the uprising.
She commandeers him as a guide through Delos, where every Host inside seems to have started killing the employees as soon as Dolores did. The bodies of humans and Hosts alike litter every single place the two go, including the control room (which was previously locked down); the only few living humans they encounter are very, very quickly murdered by some roaming Hosts.
Maeve demands Lee take her to the nearest bar (the rooftop one from season one) because she knows what she'll find there: Her outlaw lover Hector, who she had just abandoned while making her escape. Hector is totally fine with her abandonment of him and the many bullet wounds he seems to have received, and the two make out immediately. Now that she has a bodyguard, she demands Lee take her to where her daughter is - which turns out to be the homestead where she was programmed to be a mother.
There's one more question from the finale that the season two premiere answers: What happened to William (Ed Harris), the Man in Black? Turns out he's fine, thanks to a pile of corpses he hid under during the party attack. Hell, he'd better than fine, because he's gotten what he always wanted - a park where the Hosts can truly fight back. He genuinely smiles after he puts his black hat back on, knowing his life is finally on the line.
Later, he encounters little robot Robert Ford (I dub him… Robort) hiking through the woods. It doesn't appear to be a chance encounter, because grown-up Ford has a message for William: Before, the Man in Black was playing Arnold's game, the maze, which wasn't meant for him but the Hosts. Now, he's in Ford's game - "The Door" - and it's meant just for him. William asks if that's some sort of code, and Robort makes the wonderfully astute declaration that "everything is code here". Then William shoots the child 'bot in the head.
Truth be told, as happy as I was at its return, I felt a bit let down by the season two premiere. Part of it was because Dolores was taking a page out of Rick Grimes' Walking Dead Playbook: How to Murder People and Show No Mercy and Still Be the Protagonist, and maybe another part of it was the (seemingly) clear, obvious timelines, when part of what I'd fallen in love with was the show's complexity.
The first season was so wonderfully layered and metaphorical and rich that yesterday's episode couldn't help but feel too straightforward, too flat. But I suspect I felt that way partially because I just mainlined the entirety of season one this past weekend, so I was subconsciously judging the premiere against the entirety of the debut season. After all, Robort's right - everything is code here - and season two has only started sending us its message. There's still plenty of time to have our minds blown - or at least have them surgically detached and uploaded to Delos servers for nefarious purposes.
- Westworld is complex enough that I figured it might be nice to give the inevitable questions the show raises their own section, along with a space for any major mysteries the show happens to answer.
- What is the "it" that Wyatt's crew found for Dolores, and why does she think if Teddy sees it he'll understand why?
- Bernard says that the reason the Hosts' guns can suddenly affect/kill the guests is because Ford coded the weapons to recognise the guests as Hosts before he died. How the hell do the bullets, which cause physical damage to every other thing in the park, magically fail to hit or hurt the guests?
- How are those animals - such as wolves and a Bengal tiger - from another park getting to Westworld? I'm supremely confident we'll get an answer to this, but right now it feels eerily reminiscent of the polar bear on Lost.
- Where is Felix?
- What's the deal with the unbelievably heavy mother and child imagery in the new opening credits? The obvious answer is that it's something to do with Maeve finding her daughter, but that's definitely not what it is. This is primarily Delores' story; is she going to give metaphorical birth to someone or something? Is she in the process of being born in some manner, that this lashing out is part of her process to becoming her truer self? Is she gonna have a miracle baby? I hope she doesn't have a miracle baby.
- Since Strand takes total control of the "island" from a Chinese representative and the troops come by boat, we can safely rule out the theory that the park is miniaturised. I'm just going to assume that among the other insane technology available to the park there are weather-controlling machines, which is why it's never rained in Westworld.
- It appears that the maze was printed on the underside of all the Hosts' skulls.
- Lee getting attacked by the fake Wyatt he had created - an eloquent cannibal - was a nice touch, I thought.
- Likewise, Maeve forcing Lee to strip completely naked - just the tiniest taste of what the Hosts were unknowingly subjected to - was also satisfying.
- If I were Hale I'd be a lot more upset that the company I worked for refused to rescue me from a park overrun by human-hating killer robots until I got them their precious hard drive.
- It's been a bad year for Steve Ogg characters.
- Oh my God, that may have been the best "This season on" video I have ever seen. Dolores walking in the real world! The return of young William! Clementine, back in action and clearly having joined the fight! Maeve in a kimono with a goddamn samurai sword! Ugh I want all the episodes now.