[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2 through Episode 5, “Akane No Mai.”]
The maze is no more, but “Westworld” viewers are halfway through the new game after Episode 5, “Akane No Mai.” While there are plenty of questions to be answered — “Is Maeve really awake?” and “Is Bernard actually Teddy?” spring to mind — one of the most crucial components of the series’ success has nothing to do with timelines and separate worlds. Rather than focus on how the puzzle box is coming together, let’s look at how the characters are developing.
The first season of “Westworld” offered plenty of evolution for the main cast; their introduction led to a basic understanding of their roles. Dolores was a damsel in distress, Teddy was her would-be hero, Maeve was a servant, Bernard was an all-too-loyal Delos employee, and The Man in Black was, of course, a villain. By the end of Season 1, everyone had upended their preexisting objectives: Dolores rebels against the guests, Teddy helps her, Maeve commits to her own mission of motherhood, Bernard discovers he’s a host, and The Man in Black gets what he wants (sort of).
So as Season 2 began, audiences were eager to see how their favorite players might continue to change. Yet so far, some of the character arcs are flat while others are surprisingly high. Dolores is fully embracing her role as Wyatt, but she’s sliding ever so slowly down a dark path. Teddy fell victim to her larger plan — doing what he does best — while Maeve is only now starting to discover her potential. Bernard is fun to watch but largely confused, and The Man in Black is on a mission of… redemption?
Everyone reacts differently — especially to “Westworld” — so in this week’s episode of Very Good Television Podcast, Host (and IndieWire’s TV Editor) Liz Shannon Miller and Guest (and TV Critic) Ben Travers discuss what characters are clicking for them in Season 2 and why. Listen to the episode below, and take a look at a brief summary for each of the most notable characters — ranked from least to most rewarding.
- Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman): He’s funny, sure, and Maeve’s repeated degradation is satisfying as hell, but Lee is mainly a delivery device for exposition as he explains the new worlds to his captors and is humorously diminished as a silly human sidekick. But he is funnier in Season 2 than Season 1, so we’ll consider it an upgrade.
- Maeve (Thandie Newton): She’s still searching for her daughter, and her powers are developing… but she’s not developing. No one in Maeve’s immediate group is able to challenge her as she needs to be challenged. Her core drive remains the same — to find her daughter, and thus, her humanity — which is fine, except watching her powers develop through her…just…saying…words is getting rather repetitive. She’s about one more beckoning hand wave from becoming Neo in “The Matrix,” and that’s an all-too-familiar narrative arc for Maeve.
- Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood): Wyatt’s desire for vengeance has only been strengthened; they kidnapped her father, she killed Teddy, and she only sees the worst in people. Wyatt is taking over Dolores, and that’s not far removed from where she ended Season 1. Even if the flashbacks to Dolores’ trips outside the park illustrate how much she’s changed, they only frame her transition from years past to the end of Season 1, not significant growth in Season 2.
- Bernard (Jeffrey Wright): This year, Bernard is the observer; a stand-in for the audience who’s trying to put all the pieces together and come to terms with what’s going on — what he did, who he is, who he identifies with. Ideally, Bernard would come to represent a future where the best hosts and guests get along; fighting back against the repressive elements and tyrannical power structure that holds society back as a whole. In actuality, he’s just very confused and is building up to a big decision: human, host, or both?
- Teddy (James Marsden): Teddy’s dead, baby. Teddy’s dead. His mind has been utterly erased, so he could come back as literally anyone — will he return? As who? As what? After that love scene, Teddy felt more human than ever; it made his death all the more tragic, but makes his potential return an enticing possibility.
- Elsie (Shannon Woodward): She’s alive! She doesn’t trust Bernard! That’s pretty much all we know, but give her time — Elsie’s great.
- Akane (Rinko Kikuchi): An instant fan favorite because she’s a) a counterpart to Maeve, and b) played by the great Rinko Kikuchi, her one-episode arc is emotionally strong, if purposefully familiar. Hopefully, there’s more coming from this one.
- The Man in Black (Ed Harris): Though much of his motivation is being held back, The Man in Black is arguably the furthest from who he was in Season 1. A heartless villain who’d stop at nothing to solve the maze has become a thoughtful, borderline compassionate father figure who’s trying to right a wrong from his past. Instead of cruelly killing hosts left and right (or worse), he’s considerate of their feelings, wants, and goals — like when he protected his new pseudo-buddy Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) and his family in Episode 4, before letting the threatened father kill Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker). Given the flashbacks to William confronting his father-in-law and dealing with his wife’s suicide, the writers have built up a considerable amount of empathy for a man you’d never root for a year ago. That being said, interest may vary, depending on how far gone viewers felt William was after his Season 1 sins.
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“Westworld” Season 2 airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.