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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Phase Space’ Keeps the Plot Moving, but Doesn’t Take Our Breath Away

Season 2, Episode 6 does manage to juggle a lot of balls simultaneously, and does it well.

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HBO

[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 6, “Phase Space.”]

Programming Update

In case you were curious, HBO is no longer providing screeners for “Westworld,” which means this humble reviewer has no idea what happens beyond this week’s episode, and any speculation is thus based on pure theory. Only four episodes left before the season finale. And what a ride it’s been already.

Diagnostic Report

While the past two episodes have demonstrated immense focus on specific storylines, “Phase Space” plays catch-up with nearly all of the show’s main players, moving the football forward for each of their storylines to at least a small degree. This means we see Maeve and her crew make their way out of Shogun World, following a badass samurai swordfight between Musashi and Tanaka and an emotional moment for Akane, as she says goodbye to surrogate daughter Sakura. And Maeve even makes it as far as the homesteads of Westworld, where she finds the little girl she recognizes as her daughter… even though her daughter is calling another woman “mother.”

Dolores, with the support of a now-ruthless Teddy, gets the train operational and riding to the edge of the park, for as-yet-unclear purposes. But they’re not the only ones on the move: the Man in Black, after an in-depth conversation with his estranged daughter where they almost find themselves coming to something like an understanding, ditches Grace (or is it Emily?) to continue pursuing his quest. And Charlotte manages to bring in the reinforcements previously denied her and her fellow human survivors, who are a ruthless bunch.

Bernard, accompanied by Elsie, is also on his own quest for answers, which draws them to the Cradle, a backup system that Bernard chooses to plug into directly (after some very painful “brain” surgery that transplants his memory core into the mainframe). There, he finds himself in a pristine copy of the baseline Sweetwater experience, though with one additional resident: good ol’ Robert Ford, as he lives and breathes.

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In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

Perhaps the most nebulous element of this episode is the opening conversation between Dolores and Bernard. These scenes have always seemed to exist out of sync with the established timeline, but never more so than in this case, as we’re left to wonder when exactly this particular communication is happening. Far in the past? Well into the future?

Beyond that, the bulk of the episode seems to take place during the rebellion, prior to Bernard and Charlotte reuniting and the mass death of hosts that includes Teddy. Which is more than fine by us. Things are plenty complicated as they stand.

Paired Off

Given how much was going on in this episode, it’s understandable that romance took a backseat for pretty much all the characters concerned. Maeve and Hector got to smooch a bit, but it was mostly an afterthought, and Dolores and Teddy were all business. That latter relationship is going to be the interesting one to track, given how Teddy’s new brutal attitude is entirely Dolores’s (or is it Wyatt’s?) doing. It’s unlikely that we’ll see her express real regret over it, but who knows?

These Violent Delights

It’s always nice to see “Westworld” deliver when it comes to the spectacle promised by the premise, in this case, an elegantly choreographed swordfight that proves clean, easy to follow, and punctuated by the sort of bloodshed that keeps the stakes of the series clear.

Beyond that, perhaps the most disturbing moment of the episode was Bernard’s choice to cut open his own head. Even if “the pain’s just a program,” it’s still a brutal moment that may prove hard to come back from. Hopefully, the sacrifice is worth it.

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This Natural Splendor

We get not one but two magnificent vistas in this episode, as Maeve and her compatriots reach the picturesque Snow Lake of Shogun World, while the rolling hills of Westworld are nearly everpresent in the background for the rest of the episode. Confession: More than once while watching this episode, we were reminded of one of the better jokes in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”: “You know what’s remarkable? Is how much England looks in no way like Southern California.”

Best Quote

“No, he didn’t say that… he said I’m not sure what choice to make. He didn’t question whether or not he had agency, whether or not he had the right to end me or himself. But whether he should.”
— Dolores

As mentioned previously, it’s not totally clear when this confrontation between Dolores and Bernard takes place (though upon further reflection, the future seems more likely than the past, given how many times she says she’s administered this test to Bernard). It seems like she’s not talking about Bernard here, really, but Arnold (the real-life man upon whom Bernard is modeled). What’s striking about the line is the emphasis on agency, about how character motivations impact decision-making, and how the ability to make a decision is almost as important as the decision itself. It’s almost shocking we don’t hear the word “agency” used more often on this show, given how fundamental it is to the issues being explored.

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • Okay, is Katja Herberts’ character named Emily or Grace? Sure, the name “Grace” was likely a part of the early press materials as a misdirection, but now that we know her identity, should we be calling her Emily instead? This might be nitpicky, but just a quick mention in some dialogue would clear this issue up.
  • Also, Emily/Grace is clearly trying to get a rise out of her father by mentioning her days spent in “the pleasure palaces,” but as we saw in her initial introduction she was actually pretty particular about not sleeping with any hosts, given how they couldn’t really consent. Which is the lie?
  • Is this the last we’ll see of Shogun World? Hopefully not, especially as it’d be a shame if Rinko Kikuchi’s time on the show was done, but things in Westworld seem pretty busy as is without adding new complications.
  • That said, there are still three other parks to be revealed, and if Season 2 manages to drop a reference to at least one more of them, that’ll be fun indeed.

Final Reveries

An episode like this is tricky to pull off, especially given just how many different narratives were being touched upon, but writer Carly Wray and director Tarik Saleh did manage to keep things from feeling too cluttered or chaotic. The catch, though, is that there was a lack of thematic focus, as well as an absence of any stand-out set pieces that might keep the episode memorable on its own merits, beyond what it contributed to moving the plot forward. There were plenty of character moments that proved interesting — William and his daughter, Charlotte’s brutal commands, Teddy’s own slide into cruelty — and without a doubt we’re excited for what the return of Anthony Hopkins means for our understanding of what the hell is going on here. But “Phase Space” is a workhorse of an episode, not a show pony. It did its job well, but it lacked the elements that keep us captivated.

Grade: B+

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