This Westworld review contains spoilers.
Westworld Season 2 Episode 6
Way back in the first season of Westworld—back when Teddy was so young, so innocent—series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy re-popularized a term from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: These violent delights have violent ends. What it suggests was both cryptic yet very obvious. However, after more than a year and a half of television spent in Robert Ford’s park, nothing seems quite so obvious anymore. Even that quote becomes nebulous in a series that seems to have no beginning or end, and in which the timeline increasingly resembles an M.C. Escher painting.
So begins “Phase Space,” which with hardly the greatest artfulness turns the tables on us again. The hour starts in exactly the same fashion as season 2, with a seeming flashback of Bernard testing Dolores’ diagnostics and seeing just how human she can become. Six weeks ago, it was a reminder of how far Dolores had traveled from being the smiling and benign rancher’s daughter to a revolutionary who shows no quarter. However, as we learn tonight, this is in fact not what that sequence is at all. Rather Dolores is doing a fidelity test on Arnold… or maybe Bernard? By design it’s not clear. What seems less by design is the sneaking suspicion that Westworld is erring very close to reaching the point of diminishing returns with this kind of narrative twist that throws the timeline into yet further chaos.
Obviously this is meant to be an echo of season 1. Last year it was a shock to many that the little chats between Bernard and Dolores in sequences that appeared to be happening concurrently with her sojourn of self-discovery with young William were in fact “reveries” of Dolores’ time with her creator, Arnold Weber. And yet, for others it wasn’t a surprise at all. Nolan and Joy laid subtle but coherent breadcrumbs that, if you were paying extra attention, made complete sense. This season, however, the revelation that a sequence we only were shown once is in fact a “fidelity” test for Arnold by Dolores feels less like an intricate puzzle piece falling into place as it seems like an arbitrary rug pull. The contrast of finesse between these two twists also sums up the dip in quality as a whole in season 2.
Be that as it may, the narrative turn of course opens a new can of worms. Where is this in the timeline? Presumably it is set after everything else we’ve seen thus far in the second season. For whatever reason, Dolores is attempting to test whether Arnold’s identity has been completely copied onto this host that looks like the long dead genius. This scene also is clearly occurring after Dolores’ revolution, otherwise Ford would not have a host providing the test. There has also been a subtle hint in previous episodes that this is a point of interest for Dolores, as she asked Bernard in the third episode if there is any trace of the man she respects inside of him.
However, the idea that there is a timeline where Dolores is attempting to recreate Arnold leaves far more questions. Is it possible Dolores’ “memory” of Arnold in the second episode this season is also a test? Or is what many have been calling the future-most timeline featuring Bernard on a walk around the park with Karl Strand simply another virtual reality illusion created by Robert Ford’s literal ghost in the machine?
It’s all just vague enough to be curious, but still so obtuse to be more mildly exhausting as opposed to exhilarating. There is a real balance to threading a needle, and season 2 is having trouble with more than one crucial strand in its tapestry.
The other narrative thread with Bernard fares better though once viewers get over the utter convenience of “The Cradle” between introduced 16-plus hours into the story as a “hive mind” for the park. Generally speaking, it makes sense for there to be a databank at the heart of the Westworld park controlling the flow of information—it would also explain how Ford is still able to control the hosts to a degree—but such a major and mind-bending aspect of the mythology being introduced in the same hour it becomes crucial to the plot suggests, again, season 2 is starting to strain beneath the scope of its ambition.
Nevertheless, I will say that Bernard and Elsie going to the Cradle inside of the Mesa (the park’s entrance) does get to one of the better elements of season 2: What could a weapon be that is greater than simply trying to achieve immortality via robotic cloning?
Finding the luckily attached host-uploader by the Cradle, Elsie is able to implant Bernard’s data straight into the archives. These banks seem to include all of the data and presumable IP stored by the hosts. However, is unclear how connected they can be to the hosts since it would seem each host needs to be manually attached to the Cradle in order for information to be extracted… even though the Cradle can still somehow also communicate with the hosts throughout the park, including by protecting them from being hacked by Delos programmers.
The science of this setup thus doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the main narrative application is clear. Once inside the Cradle, Bernard is able to interact with recorded information from the other hosts in their proper loops, including Dolores and Teddy in Sweetwater. But the most intriguing element is, of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Robert freaking Ford.
Yep! Tony’s returned, and like a supercharge of highly refined English stage energy, we didn’t realize how much we missed him until he refilled our batteries for the series in a matter of seconds. Even with one line—a mere salutation to his favorite creation (Dolores is Arnold’s)—it feels like all is right in the Westworld home. That is because Ford never left us not really. This is affirmation that there is a god, and he comes Hannibal Lecter-shaped.
Indeed, this confirms my main theory that I’ve been hinting at the last few weeks: the weapon is not an identity for a host, but an identity for electronic and digital systems. The personality pod Bernard was programmed to steal (and murder) for by Ford in James Delos’ Sisyphean Hell was not intended for a robot copy of some politician or president; it is a host “copy” of Ford that is meant to be everywhere. Because it is, after all, so limiting to be trapped merely in the body of a host that we know is incredibly susceptible to destruction in spite of Dolores’ boasts.
Hence we have had hints that Ford’s been continuing to pull the strings throughout this season. He took over Clementine’s body and forced her to drag Bernard to Elsie, so that she could fix his leaking cortical fluid; he has assumed the hosting visage of Lawrence’s daughter as well as his own childlike self in previous episodes—all the better to haunt Old Man William about his general weakness of integrity; and he forced some hosts to commit suicide. He is essentially everywhere. Through the Cradle, where a replica of his mind is fending off Delos hackers trying to regain “control of the park,” Ford is what he always wanted to be: God. He is the voice of the divine, whispering in the robots’ ear. The Bicameral Mind’s commanding tenor, telling them where to go. And if these hosts can take over the world, then Ford has done far better than James Delos, because he has really cheated the Devil to become a deity on earth, one who will remake it in his own image. (Expect a lot of black hats.) If we only live as long as the last person who remembers us, Ford will live forever among a subservient species that cannot truly die.
Perhaps this is why Dolores is attempting to recreate Arnold. Fight fire with fire? Who knows, and frankly I don’t really care about that element. But confirmation that Ford pulls all the strings and is that last personality pod (and the probable weapon) is more than enough. Plus the promise of more Anthony Hopkins is just chianti on top of the fava beans.
Yet it would seem all roads lead to the Mesa this week, albeit the other two are less satisfying. On the one hand, Ashley Stubs and Charlotte Hale are finally able to get proper Delos backup support into the park by retrieving the Peter Abernathy host. Albeit, no one has seemed to bother to check whether he still has the data they desire stored inside his processors. (I am generally curious, given it is unclear whether Bernard stole it all or not when he inspected Abernathy in this year’s third episode.)
Still, Hale and Ashley are fine with seeing the cavalry parachute in like a group of Weyland-Yutani-hired marine stooges who are in way over their heads. In this vein, we’re introduced to a man named Coughlin, who is amusing in how much shading he gives to Ashley Stubs. This is not entirely undeserved either considering Stubs was head of security when hundreds of tourists got massacred. Yet other than further confirming Karl Strand isn’t who he told Bernard he is in the future-most timeline, these gun-nuts primarily exist to get skewered by Dolores and company.
Aye, almost everything is converging on the Mesa, including Dolores’ ever stalled narrative. She, Angela, and Teddy 2.0 begin their assault on the visitor’s entrance of Westworld, in which Charlotte Hale, Ashley Stubs, Bernard, and Elsie are all hanging out. And I have genuine fear for Elsie given that, unlike Charlotte and Ashley, we haven’t seen her in the future-most timeline. And Dolores is on the warpath, along with her compatriots, who unwisely attach the one human chopper they’ve been dragging along like a pet since season 2’s second episode to the explosives in the locomotive.
Atop being another striking contrast between Dolores and Maeve—the latter of whom has developed a genuine friendship with Felix and has something resembling affection for Lee Sizemore—Dolores killed the human she’s been keeping around for leverage. And her leverage was greater than Maeve’s. This man has the tools and equipment to fix broken hosts in the field. Dolores used it cruelly to transform Teddy into a living tool, and she might need him again if she is ever injured. Maeve and Akane sure as hell would have liked to have had him for repairing Sakura (we’ll get to that later). Instead she and Teddy kill him because… well, they’re just kind of assholes these days.
Indeed, Teddy is everything Dolores wanted. Gruff, rude, and unpleasant to be around, he calls the lovestruck gunslinger we know from previous seasons “weak” and gone. He was built to fail, and Teddy 2.0 is built to kill. It’s really a shame that the genuinely sweet character James Marsden constructed over about 15 episodes is dead. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Dolores killed the man she loved to get one more ruthless soldier. There appears to be a mild sense of regret in her eyes when she glimpses his synthetic soul to be completely devoid of romance. It’s been replaced by wrath. However, she got what she asked for.
So what are they going to do at the Mesa besides attempt to retrieve Peter Abernathy? Well, I personally hope that the weapon she covets is also there, as I again suspect it is Ford’s ghost in the machine. But perhaps she and William chase another phantom? One that, like Bernard, is in the shape of Arnold Weber?
Food for thought, because the two best narratives of the night from an emotional standpoint were far and away separate from the events unspooling inside of the Mesa.
In fact, just outside of it, William and his daughter finally get their heart to heart. I’m still not entirely sure if we should call her Emily or Grace, so I’ll assume it is one of those two first name deals. Emily-Grace’s inclusion into William’s story is absolutely delicious. Only two weeks ago, William got to fool himself into thinking he was the goddamn Man with No Name. Mr. Clint Eastwood himself as he gunned down all those bad desperados threatening Lawrence’s family. But this week, the illusion is shattered and he’s forced to face the reality of his daughter staring him in the face.
Amusingly, he initially dismisses her as nothing more than another host made in the image of his progeny by Ford. It is certainly a conceit wicked enough to be Ford’s, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Still, you never can be truly sure in this park, can you? Westworld breeds an unusual type of paranoia, indeed. It also breeds a new class of man-child weakness.
In the duo’s campfire heart-to-heart, Katja Herbers more than holds her own against Ed Harris—she brings the best out of him. It is in the subtle ticks and darting eyes that I feel like Harris is incorporating elements of Jimmi Simpson into his performance. It’s the younger man that once fathered this girl. But if Old Man William is any indication of his paternal instincts, he must have always sucked as a dad.
After mocking Big Jim Delos for not facing reality, even as a cyborg, in this season’s finest hour, and then straight out stating “Logan couldn’t face reality either,” we see William crumble like bear skin rug in front of his own reality. Emily-Grace gives William some solace by saying that she doesn’t blame him for her mother’s death. It’s a kind gesture considering that it is very obvious William drove Juliet to her grave. Emily-Grace even says that her mom couldn’t reconcile “Nice Guy William” with who he really was in the park. That double life is enough to ruin any marriage. And it poisoned the well of this relationship too.
Emily-Grace amusingly notes the hypocrisy of William, the teetotaler in the real world who drinks and swears in Westworld; she also picks up on his not remembering whether it was his wife or daughter who liked the elephants in the Raj. But he all too easily crumbles into the man-child his daughter has long evaluated him as being. As a child she loved Westworld for the freedom, but as an adult, she only is experiencing the pleasure of the Raj to make her father grimace (and because Charlotte Hale demanded the whole family come to the park). She also sees how pathetic her father is that, as an old man, he is still living a child’s fantasy. He still is obsessed with playing Cowboys and Indians, and devouring the glee of running over and abusing the faux-flesh.
He’s a bastard and he confirms his weakness when he leaves his daughter to continue in the fantasy. He’s run off and joined the circus even though his daughter is also trapped in this park with real stakes and real danger. She could die, but all William cares about is playing the game to the bone. She may not have desired the protection of Papa Bear’s wing, but his awfulness stems from not feeling compelled to offer it. This lets us know the answer to a question William posed Lawrence a few weeks ago: What kind of men are we?
None at all. But at least Lawrence is willing to die for his family instead of abandoning them for his vices.
Still, the strongest element of tonight’s episode, which along with William’s narrative is what pushed this into a more positive review, is the continuation of Maeve’s journey through Shogun World and into the homestead she’s craved.
The conclusion to Shogun World is both satisfying and yet anti-climactic. Maeve has seen Bernard repaired from a gunshot wound to the head, so she knows that Sakura could be saved for Akane. However, even though Felix and Sylvester are there, they don’t have the equipment necessary for a clean fix. So is it just a case of letting sleeping robots lie? Akane takes the choice away by offering a burial ceremony I’m entirely oblivious to. I would be very curious if the removal of the heart is based on any actual ancient Japanese or specific geisha customs.
Either way, it is a bit odd for Maeve to not try to resurrect Sakura, but I can let it slide as she doesn’t have the technology at her fingertips… and overlook the rickety narrative hole, because the scene is so well-played. It even overcomes, to an extent, how mildly anti-climactic Shogun World’s exit is.
The sequence ends with a burial at a tea garden, as well as samurai-on-samurai action as Musashi gets to dominate in the best kind of fan service: the awesome kind. While we totally did not need a Samurai battle, complete with seppuku, I’m more than happy it is here.
It also is a nice segue into the theme of the episode for Maeve. It is better to let someone choose their own fate, even if it leads to death. It is a fact that Dolores has totally failed to observe in her abuse of Teddy, and it is a human choice that befits the increasing moral heart of the show personified by Thandie Newton. She and Lee Sizemore even enjoy something approaching friendship when they reach the homestead portion of Westworld, and Maeve’s daughter.
This also makes Lee’s choice to call for backup an interesting one. He is aware that abandoning Maeve while she is in need—the Ghost Nation is attacking her and her semi-daughter—but he is a human who is being asked to place his neck on the line for an appliance. And yet, this machine he gave narrative function and dialogue prompts to is no longer just a character. He looks at her as a real woman when they stand on that hill, and he feels like crap as Felix judges him and runs off to help Maeve.
The only silver lining is that I’m not too worried about help coming to Sizemore and Sylvester, considering Dolores is about to slaughter Charlotte Hale’s cavalry.
In the meantime though, Maeve needs more than a little help. For in the homestead she meets yet another doppelganger. Like most, I anticipated that she’d run into a little girl with no recollection of Maeve, and another mother to boot. So it’s perhaps too convenient that the Ghost Nation shows up at that moment. However, I don’t think they killed the child’s mother; they are trying to recruit hosts to an unseen cause, not kill them. So Maeve will face a dilemma soon enough. Even so, she has a child in her arms and a new complete cloud of mystery surrounding her.
Now what? How does she get out of the park with the trains stopped? And if this little girl doesn’t remember her, is she still even the mother she has chosen to be? Ultimately, this is probably going to end in calamity for Maeve. She doesn’t really have a bigger plan, which is a virtue Dolores has over the other “enlightened” host. Yet if this is to end in desolation, or even death, at least Maeve has chosen her own fate.
There may be an unseen god among the hosts named Robert Ford. But he is reintroduced tonight playing the player piano… just like Dolores is in the same episode. Both are still playing games, even if one might be oblivious that she’s still hitting the preprogrammed keys… Maeve is living. And it’s that life which makes this episode worthwhile.