We begin in the new episode of Westworld with one of those one-on-one chats between Bernard and Dolores that now seem so familiar – except this time, it isn’t Bernard. It’s Bernard’s flesh-and-blood predecessor Arnold, which suddenly and jarringly raises the question of how sure we can be about exactly who has and hasn’t been present at the previous chats in the series. A possible clue, though, is that this one isn’t taking place in a grimy basement cell, but rather in a metropolitan hotel room – Arnold and the show’s eerily convincing young Anthony Hopkins have wheeled Dolores out to show their investors.
Arnold claims Dolores isn’t ready for public consumption – a fairly transparent reason to take her round to his place and talk about his tragically fated son. Dolores, on her part, is understandably mainly interested in having a look at the city in all its glory. And why not? What’s the harm? It’s not as if she’ll remember, right? And even if she did, she surely would never hold it against her fleshy masters – ha ha ha, opening credits.
We’re still near the start of the host uprising. A man in black tie bursts into the back rooms, screaming some nonsense about how the hosts have turned on them and are killing everyone. The park employees basically shush him. Mere moments later, Dolores turns up with her gang and starts violently holding it against her fleshy masters, which I’m sure nobody could have seen coming.
With a little friendly torture – as it turns out, the milky stuff they fill the hosts with is incredibly caustic – they learn exactly how much security Delos is going to have standing in their way if they try to punch through out of the facility. And, spoiler alert, it’s a whole lot of security (who should really be mobilised anyway by this point, with Ford dead and Maeve having already had a go at shooting her way out), but there’s also a whole lot more hosts knocking about the park.
A common theme in this week’s episode is main characters running up against circumstances where they declare ‘we’re gonna need an army!’ – and if you’ll remember, there’s one handy in the park. The Confederados are surely the closest HBO will get to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s planned alternate-history drama Confederate any time soon, given D&D’s prior commitments, so it only makes sense to bring them back into the narrative good and hard.
They revive a Confederado soldier, and take him down to the hideout – a development the other Confederados take in their jackbooted stride, remaining smug, contemptuous, and villain-y. It’s only once Teddy shoots them all down, and Dolores has their leader revived, that they start taking any of this remotely seriously. Which is strange on the face of it. They were drunk, but not that drunk, and despite the faintly magical-realist tendencies of some great Western works, the show isn’t called Spookyworld. And more to the point, why would the rebelling hosts, having captured a park employee, let the guy anywhere near the magic iPad that controls whether they live or die?
There’s always the argument that one can keep one’s captives in line with fear – a practice which, if you remember the first season, probably sounds familiar. That’s right, the man in black’s run into his old pal Lawrence again – and rescued him from another bunch of guys who wanted to kill him. Lawrence’s reaction is another stunned ‘motherfucker’, but at least this time he’s not being constantly told ‘you don’t get it, Lawrence’.
The man in black’s storyline this week takes a form that’s oddly similar to The Godfather: Part II – flitting between the present, and his rise to power in his earlier Jimmi Simpson form, the character we knew as ‘William’.
(This episode actually applies the name to his Ed Harris form, but it feels distinctly wrong.)
As it turns out, it was he who sold Papa Delos on investing in Westworld purely through his copper-bottomed pitch (or, as Delos sr. puts it, being a ‘cheeky little cunt’). The idea was for it to serve as a look into the guests’ psyches, by seeing exactly how it is they act when they think they’re not being monitored, like some evil genie’s trick version of the ring of Gyges – which, as the previous episode showed, the park has only doubled down on since. I’m sure you can think of at least one tech giant who’s done very well out of collecting people’s personal information.
It’s hard to judge the timeframe of these sections, with the clearest material clue being William’s growth of stubble. What is clear, however, is that at some point Papa Delos stood down as head of the company, noting his retirement party ‘feels more like a coronation’, suggesting – but not coming right out and saying, and if the show isn’t picky about that the fanbase will be – that William’s taking the throne.
This does put the present-day man in black in a curious position, as he’s still stumbling after the never-specified secrets of the park – the centre of the maze, the other levels, call them what you like, because he certainly does. Yet if (and it’s a big if) he really does own the whole place, why didn’t he simply lean on Ford to give up the secrets, or fire him and appoint someone who would? We’ve always known he was high up in Delos – with the occasional moment of surprising levity when he’d encounter someone from the real world and they’d offer him a respectful ‘sir’ – but his precise role has always been vague, possibly deliberately.
Either way, he and Lawrence are off on a journey again – with Lawrence, mercifully, not having to travel by noose this time. But, once again, they’re gonna need an army, especially with the man in black no longer being functionally invincible, having only the superior ability of someone who’s been playing the game obsessively for some thirty years. So they go to the friendly town of Pariah and look up El Lazo, now played with glorious intensity by Giancarlo ‘Gus Fring’ Esposito.
Their exchange doesn’t really involve much of substance – Gus tells him he has to play the game alone, then, to underscore the point, he and all his men shoot themselves in the head. Still, it’s lots of fun to see Harris and Esposito trading snipes, and a shame to see Esposito gone so soon, particularly as he’s been criminally underused in Better Call Saul – though, granted, I’d say that about any version of the show that didn’t have every non-Gus scene be people looking around and saying ‘where’s Gus?’.
(Similarly, Zahn McClarnon’s cameo is also distressingly brief – he was quality as Hanzee in Fargo, and deserved a role he could have gotten his teeth into here.)
Speaking of unspecified goals out in the depths of the park, though, we also get William taking Dolores out there – even though he considers her an object – to show her…something. All we actually see is those huge circular-saw-looking diggers (popularised by ‘no, this isn’t photoshopped’ articles) at work, literally preparing the ground for…again, something. And it turns out that whatever it is, that’s what Dolores is going after in the present day.
As a revelation, this is fairly weak, since it hasn’t actually revealed anything. Which is a criticism one might well make of this episode as a whole. Huge parts of it were restating what we already knew – ‘now the stakes are real’, yeah, cheers, we figured that out when Dolores shot Anthony Hopkins. And obviously this applies double to all the sections in the past, which are for the most part just fleshing out decisions we knew had been taken. Even Dolores and Maeve, two of our leads, rocking up against each other simply wasn’t the earthshaker it should have been.
(Although we do catch up with Logan Delos, who I initially remembered only as ‘William’s douche brother-in-law’ – and it turns out he didn’t die of exposure in the park, but will very obviously never be the same again.)
The freshest and most novel part was Dolores getting a bit of a wander about not just outside the park, but outside the entire Westworld facility – even if in one case it was because the Deloses had rented her as a pianist. Which makes it all the more galling that Dolores and Maeve, the two most pro-robot-liberation characters, have both now turned inwards, back towards the park.
Yes, the show’s building to something, obviously they’re building to something, they couldn’t be clearer about this if they steepled their fingers and said ‘I have a cunning plan’ while waggling their eyebrows like they’re having some kind of fit. But they should heed the risks of shows like The Sopranos and Lost, which kept promising that the earth-shattering plot points would be along any second, any minute now, just wait a little longer – and by the time they finally did, the audience had stopped caring.