Westworld season 2 episode 1 review: Journey Into Night

If any drama can maintain its complexity into a second season, it's Westworld. Spoilers ahead in our Journey Into Night review...

This review contains spoilers. Our US chums’ spoiler-free review of the first five episodes is here.

2.1 Journey Into Night

Over the last week, give or take a few days, I threw myself completely into Westworld. I knew the movie, mostly from Yul Brenner as the original Gunslinger, but I’d skipped out on what is one of the better mind-bending science fiction television programmes on TV until now. How foolish I was to ignore this show for so long. I burned through the first six episodes of the first season in a day, until my head hurt from staring at my phone and my ears were aching from headphones.

However, I came to the conclusion that Westworld isn’t the sort of show that can be watched mindlessly. It’s too obfuscated. There are too many interwoven character arcs, too many differing time lines, too many secret hosts/replicants, and too much corporate intrigue for the show to simply be burned through, as the interwoven character arcs, time line confusion, and layers upon layers of back story make it a difficult process, and an unsatisfying one.

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The second season doesn’t make the water any clearer. Indeed, the waters are muddier than ever. On one hand, Delos has brought in specialised security personnel to get the android insurrection under control and figure out just what led to the biggest loss of life on any Delos property. On the other hand, Bernard tries to piece back together just what happened to him between the initial attack by the replicants on the Delos board of directors and when he wakes up on the beach, covered in sand and missing the past few hours.

One of the keys to Ford’s more lifelike automatons was his use of reveries, little memories that trigger in the host and cause it to behave in a more lifelike manner, and one of the keys to Westworld is the way that the show has little reveries of its own, little moments not especially related to the plot, but beautiful and poignant. Teddy and Dolores with the sunset behind them, talking about a world in which they’ll no longer be the playthings of the guests who walked among them, killing and torturing them for fun. Maeve and Hector standing on the pool deck overlooking Westworld’s expansive mesas, sharing a kiss after Hector promises to follow Maeve wherever she has to go to find her daughter.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase Ian Malcolm in a different Michael Crichton adaptation, there’s running and screaming. Not to mention bleeding, shooting, dying, and terror. Watching the guests flee in a panic from the hosts, to finally get a little of what they’ve been giving out for decades, is kind of satisfying, in a sense. Dolores has been an object of torture, not just for William but for lots of humans and hosts over the years, and it’s fun to watch her give into her Wyatt subroutine and engage in the sort of violence that makes good-hearted gunslinger Teddy a little bit queasy. Similarly, it’s also very satisfying to see William get his first taste of a Westworld with real life-or-death stakes, to finally find the centre of his own maze and embrace just who he truly is in this new world of fighting for survival.

It’s satisfying to see Dolores on the war path, simply because of how good Evan Rachel Wood is at playing the avenging Valkyrie sort. To put her against Ed Harris is a bold play, and it worked well throughout the first season of the show. There’s the righteous quest, and the unrighteous fight for survival, forcing the viewing audience to pick either a non-human protagonist or a human antagonist who is bereft of more of humanity’s higher virtues. The more ambiguous characters, like Teddy, are going to have to choose a side at some point (thought perhaps the pain of this assault on otherwise innocent people is part of Teddy’s journey to consciousness, ditto Bernard’s struggle to come to terms with his behaviour over the previous season).

Director Richard J. Lewis does wonderfully by these good character moments, and it’s a deft hand to keep showier pieces from overshadowing quieter moments. Dolores hanging three people or William finding his gun in a cabin are strong punches, but the fleeing Delos board members walking into a trap is somehow less frightening than Bernard’s panicked attempt to conceal his malfunctioning robotic state from Charlotte Hale, which is more tense than anything else in the stellar opening episode.

No doubt that moment of secrecy, and the fact that Hale has to take Bernard back into the park, will play further in this season. Given the way that discussing Westworld theories has become a cottage industry online, writers Lisa Joy and Roberto Patino have given the fans a lot to parse. This isn’t the end of the Westworld story, but a new chapter to twist things even further, and a wonderful opening to an entirely new world of high-stakes narrative.

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It’s rare that a show is able to maintain this level of complexity over a long haul, but if any drama can buck the trend of simplification, it will be this one. It’s not in the bigger story, but it’s in the little moments, the little beats and tics that breathe life into the inanimate and keep comment threads buzzing long into the night like a malfunctioning host. There’s certainly a lot to ponder over—even this early, things are getting weird—and I look forward to trying to puzzle through it for the rest of my week.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan grinned like Rebus when he saw Rebus on screen. I hope he somehow makes his way to Samurai World before this is all over. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.