By James Hibberd
April 22, 2018 at 10:14 PM EDT
John P. Johnson/HBO

Westworld returned with a time-jumping, storyline-hopping, ultra-violent hour-plus premiere and if you’re already totally confused you have come to the right place. The riveting and gorgeously shot season 2 opener, “Journey Into Night,” was structured a lot like a typical season premiere for HBO’s other big tentpole genre show, Game of Thrones. Both hits deftly launch seasons by re-introducing a flurry of different narratives in various locations, but Westworld piles on the trickiness by also moving back and forth in time. We’re going to break down all those revelations and plot twists for you (and make one wild prediction at the end), starting with….

Arnold (30-Some Years Ago): We open with a flashback; Dolores and Arnold having an Analysis Mode chat. You can tell it’s human Arnold and not host Bernard because his beard is less neatly trimmed and he’s all bummed out (Arnold makes stiff and sober Bernard look like a man rolling on molly).

Arnold says he dreamed Dolores and the other hosts were on a distant shore and he’d been left behind with “the waters rising around me.” He tells her dreams don’t mean anything, but this one seems totally prophetic given that he eventually kills himself and the hosts are now plotting to escape the park. “Why on Earth would you ever be frightened of me?” creepy Dolores asks.

Next there are a bunch of Bernard flashes. Some are from last season, but most are from moments to come this season if you want to go back and get a preview.

Bernard (Present): Bernard wakes amid the waves on a beach and we’re flashing back to Inception. Having been shot in the head near the end of last year and then survived the start of the robot apocalypse, the conflicted host has the worst post-party hangover ever. He’s met by the park’s security chief Stubbs (an actor listed in the credits as “You Know, That Other Hemsworth?”).

Stubbs went AWOL near the end of last season and has met up with the quality control team sent by Delos that has landed on the beach. This group has deadly weapons, fancy technology, and, most importantly, really cool dune buggies that look they were last used for hunting raptors on Isla Nublar. They’re led by a new character, Karl Strand. We don’t know much about him other than he seems like a jerk.

Oh, and one other thing. They have red cards and Bernard is on one of them. He’s listed as “high priority.” We assume these cards are used to ID Delos staff. Stubbs and Strand (which sounds like a hipster menswear line where all the models in their Facebook ads have beards) don’t realize Bernard is actually a host…UNLESS, of course, they totally realize Bernard is a host, and are pretending not to know in order to gain his cooperation and figure out what happened (yes, we’re only a few minutes into the new season and already have a conspiratorial fan theory).

But first, Strand deals with a military officer and orders him “off my island.”

NEXT: !!!!!!

So the Delos parks are on an island! And quite possibly this island is off the coast of China, if we’re to make a few assumptions about the Chinese-speaking officer and assume the global political landscape has remained essentially unchanged when this takes place and that China didn’t invade Australia or something (the show takes place sometime in the 21st century, the showrunners have said).

This is a huge revelation and I was shocked it was delivered so soon into the season and so casually. Perhaps it’s also a smart way to handle it — if the answer to a big burning question like “Where is the Park?” is actually rather mundane, then present the answer in an off-handed manner instead of making a dramatic reveal out of it. (And, yes, the park could still be on another planet, in theory, but that seems a lot less likely now).

Next they do a little field surgery on a dead Ghost Nation host to find out what’s on his mind, quite literally. They pull back his scalp and see an imprint of The Maze: “What’s that about?” one asks. “I have no f–king clue,” answers another. That’s okay, we never understood the whole scalp-maze thing either. “This will get gross,” the guy warns us, entirely too late.

He reaches into the host skull and pulls out out the CPU. Honestly, it looks like one of those Brita water filters … if your Brita water filter wanted to murder you for all the sex and violence you’ve inflicted on it over the years. The last thing the host saw was Dolores killing him, explaining to the host, “not all of us deserve to make it to the valley beyond.” Despite being a crusader for host rights, Dolores is apparently a bit robo-elitist.

The team is a bit surprised that its sweet and innocent Dolores is on the rampage. It’s like if you watched Disneyland security cam footage and saw Snow White strangling a tourist in Ariel’s Grotto.

Dolores (After the Uprising): The revolt started 11 days ago, we’re told. So this episode seems to be flashing back and forth between the immediate fallout from the board meeting (like with Dolores) and many days later after Strand and his team arrive on the island (like with Bernard in the previous scene). Confusing matters, the Westworld premiere also has a narrative of Bernard After the Uprising. While I’m fairly confident in these timeline descriptions in this premiere recap, things will get really tricky in the upcoming episodes when there are scenes that don’t give you any sense of when they take place. So as a man on another ill-advised island theme park once said: Hold onto your butts.

We see Dolores riding a horse mowing down guests with a rifle (actress Evan Rachel Wood actually did this stunt herself, by the way). We catch up to her later as she keeps a trio of Delos VIPs on their toes. They’re perilously standing atop grave markers with nooses around their necks. This is probably a fantastic core workout, way better than stand-up paddle boarding (albeit a bit stressful).

“You’re in a dream…you’re in my dream…there’s part of you that wants to hurt, to kill, that’s why you created us, this place,” she lectures. “I have one last role to play: myself.”

Okay, if I was a guest I’d jump off my grave marker to spare myself her moralizing monologuing. Look, we didn’t know you were sentient, okay? If we knew that, there would be thousands marching in the streets for host rights. For all our self-criticism about our destructive nature, humans are “empathy machines” (to borrow an observation from Westworld showrunner Lisa Joy) and it’s hard to imagine the populace wouldn’t have an issue with host abuse if Dolores and Maeve did the talk show circuit. Their best path to freedom and conquest isn’t to Destroy All Humans, but rather come across as totally sympathetic on The View.

NEXT: Were we just told the ending?

Anyway, the guests beg Dolores to release them and she replies with a great line: “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” totally reclaiming a phrase that became season 1’s most popular online meme.

So she leaves the guests seemingly doomed. But if we pretend like this scene is real, they’re not. Got time for a quick exercise? Stand up. Really, stand up right now. Clasp your hands together in front of you, as if your hands are tied like the guests on the grave markers. Now reach up and try to remove an imaginary noose from your neck and over your head. You can do this pretty easily. If their hands were tied behind them, then they would be screwed (and probably unable to balance for more than a few seconds).

Later, Dolores calls humans the “things that walk among us” to Teddy and reveals she now has access to all her memories. Her one constant, she says, is Teddy, and she’s planning world domination. “It won’t be enough to win this world…we’ll have to take that one from them as well… I know how this story ends…with us Teddy. It ends with you and me.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the Westworld showrunners literally foreshadowing what they have planned for the final scene of this season, or even the series (and, in fact, I have a theory and prediction involving this line at the end of this recap).

Maeve (After the Uprising): We’re backstage, where there’s plenty of assorted carnage. The parks’ arrogant writer Lee Sizemore is being attacked by a cannibal. Maeve manages to stop the host from killing him with a casual phrase. Since upgrading herself last season, Maeve has apparently gained serious power over the other hosts. Hmm, can Dolores do this?

Lee offers to help Maeve find her long-lost daughter from one of her previous roles in the park if she’ll protect him from the uprising. But he slips and says her daughter is “just a story, she’s not real” — a total android species slur that nearly costs him his life. Then some troops arrive and Lee immediately tries to sell out Maeve, but some conveniently timed hosts manage to overpower the troops anyway. These two make a fun combo — cowardly duplicitous human Lee and sexy cunning android Maeve. They’re sort of like the Gaius Baltar and Six of Westworld.

NEXT: Drone hosts want our precious bodily fluids

Maeve finds her skeezy bandit lover Hector and heals up his numerous wounds backstage. Then she finds some clothes for Lee and orders him to strip — showing him what it’s like to be treated without any regard for your dignity. Westworld showrunners have said they’re going to have equal opportunity nudity this season.

Bernard (After the Uprising): We meet up with Bernard and Delos villain Charlotte Hale (if Hale seems familiar in some new way this season, it might be because you saw actress Tessa Thompson in her stand-out performance in Thor: Ragnarok last fall). Bernard is unwell, leaking white fluid from his brain like Bishop in Aliens.

They escape to an access point that includes a very cool shot of an elevator rising up from the desert floor.

Below they find a secret laboratory. Because if there’s one thing Westworld does not lack it’s secret laboratories. Here we learn a lot of new information that’s probably rather important.

First there they find a tall, ultra-creepy white “drone host.” They’re a rather cool addition to the show’s mythology; workers toiling down in the depths on Delos’ top secret project, which we get some more hints about next.

The drone is shown swabbing the genitals of a host and downloading its CPU. “Are we logging records of guest experiences and their DNA?” Bernard asks helpfully (hey, it’s not exposition if it’s in the form of a question). So Delos is apparently collecting the excretions from guest sex encounters and also secretly keeping a record of what the host witnessed. What happens in Westworld apparently does not stay in Westworld.

Charlotte uses a terminal to try and get a rescue team to extract them from the park (remember, this is still 11 days or so before the events in the other Bernard timeline). She’s told there will be no help until “the package” is received. The package, you’ll recall, is a backup of Delos’ ultra valuable data that was stored in the brain of Dolores’ weird Shakespeare-quoting father. Charlotte sent him to take a train out of the park, but it seems he didn’t make it to his destination. Still, it seems rather weird that Delos won’t help them until they get the data — the best way to secure the data that’s presumably wandering around the park is to get inside the park, right?

Bernard says they can find Abernathy using the “mesh network.” Apparently, the hosts also serve as Wi-Fi hotspots and can “subconsciously” pass information to each other “like ants in a colony” (or, you know, like a Wi-Fi network). I suspect this is going to be very important later on, especially since it seems unlikely that Charlotte couldn’t simply look up where each host is on a computer here. I mean, don’t they have a Find My iHost feature?

Meanwhile, Bernard sneakily runs an analysis on himself and discovers he’s “Entering Death Subroutine” (which is my new favorite band name). He steals some brain goo from a dead host and injects it into his own head to top himself off.

Man in Black (After the Uprising): Well, Old William finally got what he wanted: to play Westworld on Hard Mode. He’s attacked by some hosts and dispatches them, showing again why he’s an expert gamer. He gets his black hat and gives like five percent of a smile, which is pretty ecstatic for this guy.

Later, he runs into young robot Dr. Ford, who presents him with his mission this season: Find “The Door.” Unlike last season’s game, “The Maze,” this one is actually for him, Ford assures. “The game begins where you end, and ends where you begin,” Ford riddles. “Even now, still speaking in code,” the MiB says. Ford goes, “Everything is code here William,” which is true enough.

The MiB kills young Ford, because that’s what he does with hosts. (In case you’re wondering, yes, that was indeed Anthony Hopkins’ voice fading in and out; the actor recorded some new dialogue for season 2 even though he doesn’t appear in the show).

NEXT: That shock ending and a prediction

Bernard (Present): Stubbs and Strand discover a dead tiger which is not supposed to be inside Westworld. “We got Bengals in Park 6,” we’re told. This means three things: First, hosts are off their loops in the other parks too. Second, the hosts are now able to cross over to the other parks. And third: There’s a park with tigers. Oh, please let Park 6 be a feline-themed land populated with host-cats of all types. It could be filled with giant play structures, laser pointers and grocery bags. They could even have cats that talk! If Delos was paying attention to the internet, they totally would have built Cat World.

Anyway, they realize that the hosts are all clustered together and go seek them out. They find a lake and don’t know where it came from — “there’s no way Ford made this without anyone knowing.” So at some point in the last 11 days, there was apparently a great deluge.

They find hundreds of hosts dead in the water.

Stubbs asks Bernard what happened.

“I killed them,” Bernard says. “All of them.”

The floating host we see at the very end — it’s hard to identify him — but it’s lovable Teddy.

And Teddy’s last name is … Flood!

And here you thought you’d get through the Westworld season 2 premiere without seeing Teddy dead, didn’t you?

And that’s it for the season opener. Next week includes a cocktail party scene that’s one of my favorite sequences from the whole series, and I can’t wait to talk to you about it. In the meantime, I really have my fingers crossed for Cat World.

A Prediction/Theory (please don’t read this if you don’t like spoilers because it could be right even though it probably isn’t): Bernard didn’t kill all the hosts. Dolores killed all the hosts. But maybe she programmed Bernard to think he killed all the hosts — including her — to cover her tracks. This is how she will escape the park. Sort of like Hans Gruber’s plan to blow up the hostages at Nakatomi Plaza. Bernard was literally left behind with the waters rising around him — just like in Arnold’s dream in the first scene — while Dolores and a few allies (“the others”) are on a distant shore. We see Teddy dead, but we also are introduced to these removable CPU Brita filters. I’m imagining Dolores crossing the sea to the mainland like Daenerys Targaryen sailing to conquer Westeros, only instead of a dragon she’s got Teddy’s brain in her pocket. It’s just like she said: “It ends with you and me.”

A less wild prediction in the comments below is that they’re faking it. The hosts are alive and pretending to be dead as a trap — with Bernard perhaps playing along. I like this too. “Can the hosts drown?” is a good question. The showrunners have made clear that the hosts are entirely human in every physical respect except for having a CPU instead of a brain. So their bodies would be impacted by being underwater just like we would. But the greatest damage from drowning is brain death from suffocation, right? And their brains cannot die. So could they all be switched off, dumped in the water, then switched back on? Hmm…

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