Everything You Need to Know Before Watching ‘Westworld’ Season 2
Welcome back to Westworld, the deranged Disneyland where, once upon a time, visitors got to explore their deepest desires for $40K a day (adjust for inflation). In this world, where robots act out elaborate narratives in a Wild West setting, “living out your dream” basically means having sex with women whose names you need not remember and committing horrific violent acts, also usually directed toward women. (We’re looking at you, Ed “Man in Black” Harris!) And that, my friends, is just the setup. Thankfully, Westworld isn’t (just) a show about extreme misogyny. The first season is a deep dive into what really separates man from machine (other than Thandie Newton’s flawless bod).
Before we get to season two, which premieres this Sunday, April 22, keep reading for a recap of the not-so-typical amusement park’s first season.
The adult theme park is the creation of Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his deceased partner, Arnold, a scientist obsessed with creating consciousness in artificial intelligence. After isolating himself from the real world and only hanging out with the hosts (artificially created beings who occupy the amusement park) for years, Arnold died in the park. But how?! We don’t know yet, but his death, apparently, was no accident. Dun dun duuunnn…
Ford seems adamant that Westworld shouldn’t be some weird narcissistic joyride. Instead, it should be about discovering the potential of who you could be. (Though the train to Sinisterville seems to have left the station a long time ago.) He doesn’t seem too concerned that some of his hosts remember the horrible things they’ve endured. He views them merely as machines he can always reboot when necessary. “The hosts are not real,” barks Ford, insisting they walk around stark naked in the lab to dehumanize them even further.
His head of programming, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), is not so sure. He’s been tooling around with the coding of the oldest host, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and decides he’s going to let her explore her humanity. Get this guy a Netflix subscription or a Game Boy, stat. Bernard has a soft spot for Dolores. He’s struggling with the death of his child and loss of his marriage, and she speaks to his own humanity when she says the pain is all she has left of her loved ones, which is exactly how Bernard feels.
Dolores, the beautiful “Girl Next Door”-bot has, among other man-pleasing qualities, been programmed to be incapable of pulling a trigger. But there’s just one flimsy line of coding that keeps these machines from ripping their guests to shreds. So, yes, we’re basically watching an X-rated Jurassic Park. Thanks to Bernard, Dolores is now developing memories, and when she’s livid enough, that trigger finger works just fine. Evolution at its finest, ladies and gents.
Our guest experience is seen through the eyes of William (Jimmi Simpson), who visits Westworld for his bachelor party. Much to his future brother-in-law Logan’s (Ben Barnes) chagrin, William would much rather be camping in the Grand Canyon-like surroundings than engaging in nefarious “what happens in Westworld stays in Westworld” activities, but pitching a literal tent is not what Logan paid $40K for. Well, that all changes when William falls for Dolores. (More about that later.)
And then we’ve got brothel owner Maeve (Thandie Newton), a host that keeps getting sent back to the lab for repairs because she’s acting strange. Well, you’d act bizarre too if you recalled your own death multiple times and then woke up in a futuristic environment, mid-surgery, with someone digging through your stomach with a scalpel. Maeve, not knowing she’s not a real person, thinks she’s going nuts, with visions of men in hazmat suits repeatedly coming to get her. When the poor thing finally realizes she’s a robot, she totally does a spinning beach ball. (You know, when your computer freezes for a moment when you download something new?) As soon as she reboots, she’s dead set on figuring out how the robot sausage is made.
When Maeve receives a tour of the lab, she realizes her entire life, her dreams and her family are all a man-made construct. As if it’s not horrific enough to discover your life is a lie, she has to watch her friend Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) be lobotomized with a rotating mascara wand. Those things should never go up one’s nose.
But wait, there’s even more heartbreak. Dolores crumbles when she hears that William is getting married to another woman in the “real world.” William is in love with her too—enough for the gentle pacifist to kill for her (like, lots and lots of people, in ways that would make serial killers blush). This is the Westworld Ford wanted to build. But how do you go back to real life when you know what it feels like to live life at this elevated level?
Well, this is where it all starts to get interesting beyond the philosophical.
Remember that code that prevents the hosts from harming humans? Turns out it’s not that hard to override (surprise, surprise), which we discover when Ford commands Bernard to kill quality assurance head and his mistress. YES! Bernard is a goddamn robot! (Mind. Blown.) And while Bernard is sickened that he committed murder, Ford marvels over the coding that allows his creation to feel guilt.
Super self-aware, and angry as all hell, Maeve wants her freedom but is told all bots have an explosive device in their spine that will make them go boom if they set foot outside the lab. So, logically, she’ll need allies and administrative privileges, which the lab guy naively gives her. Thanks to his help, she can also control the narrative inside Westworld, which she does, resulting in a bloody massacre to the tune of “Swan Lake.”
On her (very) long journey with William, Dolores finally finds “home” in the form of a village as idyllic as “It’s a Small World,” but much like the animatronic ride, it’s all an illusion, sparking strange memories. “Arnold wants me to remember,” she tells William. But...what? William wants to ditch his real-life bride and take Dolores home with him. (Clearly, they don’t know about the built-in bomb in her back.) And then she remembers: Arnold is Bernard. Well, Bernard is the bot created in Arnold’s image. And Dolores is the one that killed Arnold—at his request! Arnold believed that the hosts could attain consciousness, and in order to stall the opening of the park, he committed suicide by robot. But that, obviously, was all for naught.
And speaking of Westworld showing us who we really are, The Man in Black reveals that after his wife of 30 years “accidentally” overdosed, he came to Westworld and brutally killed Maeve and her daughter to see what such vile acts would make him feel. Turns out, nada. Maeve, however, became more human thanks to the grief of losing her daughter. And we discover The Man in Black is a board member of Delos, the company that runs Westworld. But that’s not even the worst of it. The Man in Black is William, who after realizing that Dolores really, truly only lives on a short loop, made a career out of elaborate ways of destroying her. See what unrequited love does to humans? (And we thought ghosting was bad…)
As the curtain closes on the first season, we’re left with several mysteries: Will Maeve build her army and break free from Westworld? Or is she just running through another man-made narrative designed to make her think she needs to break free? Is the lab a beta test for another Westworld-like experience? Maeve is also on her way to find her daughter—but to what end?
Will William/The Man in Black finally succeed in corrupting the game, an activity he seems to have dedicated his entire life to? Will Dolores, after finally understanding that the voices she has been hearing in her head are her own, be free from the endless loop that has driven both her and William crazy?
All we know is, life will find a way.