[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 1, “Journey Into Night.”]
A good “Westworld” theory today can easily be a big “Westworld” spoiler tomorrow, as fans of the show know. But while critics were provided with the first five episodes of the season by HBO, these weekly reviews will not be influenced by future knowledge of what’s to come, because they’re being written by someone who hasn’t seen beyond each week’s episode.
We’re all on the same page, friend. Saddle up for a hell of a ride.
Season 2 opens with the mirror of the opening of Season 1 — Bernard telling Dolores about his dream, as opposed to the other way around. Timeline-wise, this scene is a bit nebulous (much like the similar Arnold/Bernard and Dolores scenes were in Season 1), but does continue the show’s ongoing engagement with the nature of reality, in the context of a world where life and death are not such finite concepts.
Then Bernard wakes up on a beach, where a Delos clean-up team led by Karl Strand (new cast member Gustaf Skarsgård) is killing hosts and trying to figure out what happened after Ford’s new narrative launch became a bloodbath (to put it politely, “the incident”).
Strand’s investigation takes place several days after the incident, however — so we return to the night of immediately, to discover the immediate aftermath (hosts killing humans with glee, humans scrambling to escape). Similar mayhem is happening in the Westworld facilities, with Maeve using her new superpowers to take control and enlist Simon to help her find her daughter in the park (even if her daughter may or may not be real).
Dolores, in particular, is embracing her new power (as well as the side of her personality that may be heavily influenced by the Wyatt programming), but whatever she’s planning might have dire consequences, as we see in the final moments of the episode, with hundreds of hosts drowned in a sea that shouldn’t exist, including Teddy.
White Hat or Black Hat?
This section, left over from our Season 1 reviews, was meant to serve as a space to analyze the show’s exploration of morality within the context of Westworld, the park itself. This now seems like a relatively moot question, but it’s worth noting its retirement. “Westworld” the show is no longer interested in simple questions like this. The game is now survival.
In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?
If you watched Season 1 but still have some confusion as to what exactly happened when, Collider has a very clean breakdown of the various timelines. The one aspect we don’t necessarily agree with is that the events of the series began in 2017, as we’ve never gotten hard confirmation on that. No major clues get dropped this week as to how far in the future things may be, except that we know that people are still speaking Japanese, and tablet technology has advanced to a degree.
Oh, while we’re speculating about time, we might as well mention space: On the beach, Strand clearly states that they’re on an island, and it’s likely an island off the coast of China. Good to know!
Perhaps the most famous player piano medley ever underscores a glimpse of the devastation of the Mariposa, followed by the introduction of Dolores hunting humans. “The Entertainer” isn’t specifically tied to the Wild West in our imaginations (after all, it was most famously used in the 1936-set “The Sting”) but it still stands out in delightful contrast to the violent images on display.
These Violent Delights
Anyone count how many headshots we saw over the course of the episode, killing either host or human? Answer has to be easily a dozen, if not more — to the point of inducing numbness. Which is tough to admit, especially when so many of them were so brutal, but it speaks to a blunt approach to the violence this week that may have deprived much of these moments of their power. The most effective and horrifying moment in the episode, by far, was the one kill we didn’t really see: the terrified guest with the shot glass on her head, collapsing to the ground on the other side of the wall.
This Natural Splendor
The vistas remain as beautiful as ever, but let’s focus on this: The discovery of a Bengal tiger! From “Park 6”! We’ve known for a while that there are multiple parks (and were teased with the existence of “Shogun World” at the end of Season 1). Our cursory internet research indicates that while Bengals are Asian in origin, the region they’re found is more specifically in the rainforests of India, so it seems likely that this tiger has nothing to do with samurai.
What would an India-set park be like? A yoga retreat for customers on the “Eat, Pray, Love” tour? An “Indiana Jones”-esque jungle adventure? This will keep us up at night.
Best kiss of the week definitely goes to Maeve and Hector, even if they’re both on the same page about how romance isn’t their highest priority at the moment. Their relationship during Season 1 was sexy as a shiny knife, and it’s a joy to watch them continue, even though her new ability to control other hosts may lead to some interesting questions regarding consent down the line.
Meanwhile, Dolores is trying to pitch Teddy on this violent story of theirs having a happy ending for the two of them, which seems romantic but also manipulative. And, as we learn from the end of the episode, not all that likely.
“What is real?”
“That which is irreplaceable.”
— Dolores and Bernard
It’s a huge idea put simply, which is why it’s fascinating to unpack in the context of the series — and why Dolores was quite right in calling out Bernard for its lack of accuracy. Still, it’s a concept worth thinking about.
The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask
- Maling (Betty Gabriel from “Get Out,” looking like a total badass) has a number of Delos cards listing people with “high priority status,” including Bernard. But what exactly does being “high priority status” imply about Delos’ interest in them?
- At some point during her and Bernard’s escape, Charlotte quite wisely ditched her shiny heels for much more sensible boots. Was there a deleted scene that revealed where she got them?
- Perhaps a more important question: What happens to Charlotte, between the incident and Bernard washing up on the beach?
- While gone from the opening credits, hearing Anthony Hopkins’ voice echo out of the little robot Robert was intriguing — if only because it left us wondering just how gone Ford might actually be? Death on “Westworld,” in case it hasn’t come up, isn’t exactly a permanent state of being.
- The title of the episode, “Journey Into Night,” is also the name of the new narrative Ford was launching just before everything went horribly wrong that night… or is this the narrative he actually designed?
Points to “Journey Into Night” for providing plenty of teases that also brought with them new information — a few actual questions we had from Season 1 got answered, even! In addition, lots of elements were introduced to make clear what kind of alliances we can expect going forward: Simon isn’t exactly a character we crave seeing on screen, but pairing him up with Maeve — and watching her humiliate and abuse him for an hour — was pretty fun.
Performance-wise, there were some incredible moments here: Getting to see Evan Rachel Wood shift personalities between the rancher’s daughter and Wyatt was just incredible. Last season, the actress spoke about the emotional impact of being able “to stay and save the day” — now she’s self-actualized on a whole other level, giving a speech with supervillain flair. (And everyone knows that getting to play a villain from time to time is the best.)
We’ll see what happens in subsequent weeks, but “Journey Into Night” piqued our interest in what’s to come, while also reminding us why Season 1 was such a fascinating journey. Here’s hoping future weeks maintain that quality.