Westworld season 2 review: Androids versus humans battle leaves chaos, carnage in its wake
[Note: The following is a review of episodes 1-5 of Westworld season 2, which premieres internationally on 22 April. Broad plot points are discussed, but no episode-specific spoilers have been revealed as far as possible. However, season 1 reveals have been mentioned in some detail.]
As the full extent of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal has unfolded around us, there's been one constant refrain, a reminder to users of the social media platform that they were foolish to think their data had ever been safe. A refrain that said, "If you're not paying, you're the product".
Much before the data breach unfolded, in 2011, Douglas Rushkoff (author of Program or be Programmed) had cautioned:
"Ask a kid what Facebook is for and they'll answer 'it's there to help me make friends'. Facebook's boardroom isn't talking about how to make Johnny more friends. It's talking about how to monetise Johnnny's social graph... Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. (Here) Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don't know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don't know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers."
They're words that will come back to you when watching Westworld's season 2.
All through season 1, there had been hints and references that Westworld (the place, not the show) was more than just an 'amusement park' where uber-rich holidaying humans got to play act at being pioneers in the Wild Wild West, while "hosts" — robots — went about this painstakingly crafted frontier world, according to roles scripted for them. The hosts were dazzling in their perfection, in their preternatural likeness to humans. But they were — no matter how awe-inspiring — not the main point of Westworld. The guests were.
Yes, the guests, and not the hosts, were the product. A product that Delos — the corporation that owns Westworld — had been making extensive (and presumably unethical) use of.
From the very first episode of its very first season, it was evident that Westworld — as envisioned by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan — would go beyond its source material: Michael Crichton's 1973 film of the same name. Crichton's Westworld followed the same formula as his Jurassic Park books — humans meddle with nature, play God; their 'creations' push back. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were replaced with robots in Crichton's film, but that was all. Nolan and Joy took the premise and turned it into an examination of not only the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and its benefits/pitfalls, but also, of what makes us human, of what constitutes life, of what defines sin, and of who we really are when the promise/fear of eternal salvation/damnation are removed.
That philosophical exploration continues in Westworld season 2.
Episode 1 of season 2 begins with Dolores and Bernard having a conversation: they discuss what is real ('that which is irreplaceable', he tells Dolores, who isn't satisfied with the answer); then Bernard describes a dream in which he was by an ocean while Dolores and the others were on a distant shore. Minutes later, we see Bernard actually awakening on a beach, confused, unable to remember quite how he got there. A team of security experts has taken over the park, looking to put down the robot revolution (that was sparked at the end of season 1). They want Bernard to help them, and he retraces his steps, trying to figure out everything that happened from the time he saw Dolores shoot Dr Ford and the hosts began hunting down the humans.
One of season 1's big reveals was that Bernard himself was a host created and controlled by Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins' absence hangs heavy in these new episodes). In season 2, Bernard seems to move between being aware and ignorant of his reality. His confusion is our confusion. As he tries to recreate the events of the past few days/hours, his discombobulation is our discombobulation. As the viewer, you're operating on just as little information as Bernard is. Sure, we find out later what Dolores and the others are up to, but we don't really know. To add to the sense of disorientation, Bernard keeps slipping between different times: then and now, and somewhere in the middle; past and present until you're never really sure what is happening when. (It recalls Dolores' plaintive cry from season 1 — 'Where are we? When are we?' — as she kept moving between timelines, and into previous iterations of her own story.) Despite his mental disarray, Bernard moves closer to the truth of Westworld, and of Delos.
Meanwhile, Dolores is leading her band of hosts in open mutiny. They're going about the land around Sweetwater, gunning down or executing hapless humans. Also being made redundant are those hosts Dolores doesn't consider 'worthy enough'. Dolores is fully 'awake' now — she remembers everything that's ever happened to and around her: what the world outside the park looks like, her interactions with William, how their creators engineered them. Her end game seems a little hazy at the moment (or misguided?) but it mainly involves wresting control of Westworld from the host's human masters, to be free.
On the other hand, Maeve, having returned to the park to rescue her daughter, has pressed Westworld's chief scriptwriter — Lee Sizemore — into service. She's also helped by Hector, and the other members of their formerly merry band. It's an interesting dynamic to watch, and while Maeve has little to do in the initial episodes, episode 5 is a real doozy! Not to give away too many specifics, but Maeve is going to be the one to watch this season. While Evan Rachel Wood's was among the standout performances of season 1 (the way she shifted between Dolores' soft, rancher's daughter act and her android version, was a treat to watch), it is Thandie Newton's Maeve who shines in season 2, especially once her storyline picks up steam.
Something that was hinted at in season 1, and is shown in detail in season 2, is the presence of parks other than Westworld. Epiodes 1 to 5 reveal the existence of an India-inspired park, where the era of the British Raj is recreated. Guests have the option of going on shikaars, and generally living up the Colonial lifestyle. There's also a recreation of Edo period Japan, where ronin, samurai, ninja, shoguns and geishas all reside and act out storylines that have more than a passing resemblance to the ones in Westworld. The boundaries between these worlds are no longer as impermeable as they used to be, with the result that there are some surprising crossovers.
And as if all this wasn't enough, there's the Man In Black (aka William), who's on his own mission.
Where these storylines will collide and/or lead over the remaining season 2 episodes is anyone's guess.
One of the most poignant aspects of Westworld's first season was the endless loops the hosts were set in. Every morning, they woke up in exactly the same way, went through exactly the same sequence of events (with a few minor tweaks as per the whims and fancies of the humans), only for it all to begin again the next day. If the robots were made in the image of man, then this was perhaps among their more human attributes: the sticking to a routine.
In season 2, that routine is non-existent. Where there was once order, there is chaos. Where there was once control, now there is carnage. The robots are building a 'brave new world' and all the humans can do is get out of their way. Will they?
Westworld Season 2 will air on Star World and Star World HD in India. Watch the trailer here:
Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 16:36:38 IST