We’ve passed the halfway point of this series, we know it’s all going to get a bit Red Wedding at some point, so you’d expect everything to be rapidly gaining speed and shifting into a higher gear – but this episode starts off quite slow and decompress-y. The title does perhaps hint in the direction of giving everything a bit of breathing room. ‘Phase Space’ could only mean either that, or some sort of claustrophobic sci-fi fun where they’re crawling around in the vents like Aliens, and with no xenomorphs present that only leaves the one option.
The cold open is another of those classic one-on-ones where Bernard is chatting with Dolores. These scenes often have the feel of the psychiatrist’s couch, with the interviewer delving into what exactly makes up the mind of their interviewee (if anything, the many times they’ve brought up dreams in these scenes is a little on the nose). But the whole park’s gone off the rails, and when Dolores freezes Bernard’s motor functions suddenly this does too. This, it turns out, is a much younger Bernard, in the early stages of replacing Arnold, and Dolores is testing him for ‘fidelity’ – which, if you’ll remember, is what the Man in Black was testing with the host versions of papa Delos.
After all the balls-to-the-wall samurai action last week in Shogunworld, Maeve and the gang have, to be fair, earned a spot of breathing space. A good bit of their adventure this week is just dealing with the aftermath of all that – Japanese Maeve mourns her surrogate daughter, Japanese Hector duels the young pup who took his old job with the shogun. We also learn that Shogunworld apparently has its own replica version of Mount Fuji (approximately 3,776 metres high), which feels like a lot of trouble to go to for what is apparently one of the lesser-visited parks.
Things start to hot up a bit when they break back into Westworld – although most of the Shogunworld contigent stay there, which feels like it’s more about the writers thinking the group’s getting a bit unwieldy than any particular character motivation. Yes, Japan has historically been very isolationist, but I feel it’s not going out on a limb to say discovering they’re all robots might shake that up a bit.
Anyway, Maeve finally finds her daughter. Because this isn’t a show that goes in for happy reunions, she’s got a different host being her mother now, and then the Ghost Nation attack mere moments later. They want Maeve to join them, since apparently they’re ‘made for the same path’, but Maeve isn’t having any of that – and telling a robot they were ‘made’ for anything seems like an unforgivable faux pas. Instead of using her wifi powers to kill them, she lets Hector, Armistice, and Japanese Armistice do it while she runs off.
Even though the last time we saw the Man in Black, he’d just reunited with his daughter Emily, who was also looking for the park’s easter eggs, his plotline remains fairly sedate too. We get a glimpse into their family life, which is no more and no less dysfunctional than you’d imagine – there’s still a lot of ill feeling over her mother’s death, he thinks she blames him, you know the drill. Then, when she finally thinks they’ve reached a bit of a resolve, she wakes up the next morning to find he’s gone off without her. I hesitate to generalise, but the lesson here is, quite simply, never trust the Man in Black. And just as Maeve didn’t get to enjoy a happy reunion, it’s inconceivable they’re actually going to make up properly at any point – though if they’re lucky they might go out together like Butch and Sundance.
Dolores, meanwhile – and I’ve been arguing for a while now she’s taking after the Man in Black more than she’d want to admit – actually has turned things up a bit. Teddy is settling into his new role as an evil bastard, and while threatening their kidnapped staff members leaves them no closer to finding Dolores’s father, they do at least have a backup plan. Despite all the fond memories Teddy has of the train (get off it, get killed somehow, repeat), they convert it into a rolling bomb and send it towards the visitor centre.
This will almost certainly play merry hell for the remaining staff members, as well as the Delos early-responders who have turned up to throw their weight around, act all arrogant, and stop just short of declaring ‘this is my investigation now’. They’ve got Abernathy secured – well, bolted in place – although that probably won’t last long, and their methods are giving Ashley a little twinge of sympathy for the hosts.
Despite having Abernathy, they haven’t cracked into whatever’s rattling round in his programming yet, and as such find themselves butting their heads against the firewall Ford put in place to screw with everyone. Elsie’s having the same problem, until Bernard volunteers to – well, it’s some kind of host maintenance machine, but in visuals and outcome, he’s literally jacking into the Matrix.
He finds himself in a virtual version of Sweetwater’s halcyon days – he gets off the train, oh look, there’s Dolores, getting the groceries rather than going around killing people in unspeakably horrible ways. Then he follows what must be a significant whippet into the saloon, and who’s that playing the piano? Who is it? Who could it possibly be? Which significant character is ostensibly dead but probably just waiting in the wings for an opportune moment?
Bringing back Anthony Hopkins’s Ford was a bit of a foregone conclusion – he’s still been pulling the strings offstage despite being dead for the whole second season now, like a better-acted Jigsaw from the Saw films. And the show’s laid the ground for this, with the robot clones of papa Delos (explicitly intended to let him cheat death), and in the cold open, with Dolores checking how good a replica Arnold Bernard’s turned out to be. Really, the only surprise is that Ford only still exists in cyberspace, although this neatly explains how he keeps speaking through all those incredibly creepy children.
Despite a fairly slow-burn opening, ‘Phase Space’ deserves some credit for having Dolores’s rebellion finally move on, and for this final reveal – though it remains to be seen just how much they’ll do with either. In Hoppy’s case, I could stand some talkie scenes – but Dolores and her warband breaking out of the park and going full-on wild west six-shooting mayhem on their human masters is long overdue.
Catch the rest of our Westworld reviews here.