Westworld recap: A surprising new park revealed
Westworld opened with yet another big surprise this week. We’ve all been expecting to see much-teased Shogun World. Instead, the third episode of the second season, “Virtù e Fortuna,” plunged us into an exotic new Delos park that we’ve never even heard of before. After that, we got a relatively straightforward hour that dialed back on the confusing time jumps to, as Dr. Ford might say, advance the narrative of Delores getting her revolution in gear.
But let’s start with…
The Raj. I’m not making that name up, The Raj is officially what this new world is called. Not Raj World, but The Raj. If you hurry, you can be the first to post a Big Bang Theory/Westworld meme on Reddit.
Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy want each park to have their own distinct cinematic feel. The lush Raj looks like it’s from an entirely different show about 1930s colonial India. So when the QA team found that dead tiger that strayed from “Park 6” last week, this is the land they were talking about.
Almost immediately, we get yet another surprise, this one on the soundtrack. The use of a sitar can’t hide one of the most distinct bass lines in rock history: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” This song would have been a crazily perfect choice if only Delos had built seven parks instead of six. (And really, the producers should have made it seven — Seven Kingdoms, if you will — it’s just a better number to throw around in mythic fantasy tales).
Anyway, we now meet our sassy smart heroine. Her name is Grace (at least, that’s what she was originally announced as). And what follows is a classic story of boy meets girl, girl shoots boy to make sure he’s not a robot, girl has sex with boy, boy gets killed by marauding androids, girl gets chased by a killer mechanical tiger. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Grace first takes her suspiciously handsome hunk back to her room where she wants to shoot him to make sure he’s not a host. It’s unclear why she’s at a Delos park yet is so concerned about this. Perhaps she gave up robot sex for Lent? Grace fires her gun at the guy as he starts to object. He inadvertently passes her test, and they fool around. Consent on Westworld is weird.
Now, there’s been some confusion about how the guns work in the parks. A popular question on Twitter during the season premiere was “who gave the hosts real bullets?” The pistols in Westworld are very high tech and only look like antiques. If aimed at a human, the gun will fire its projectile at a slower and non-lethal speed. Ford changed it so everybody, humans included, are identified by the weapons as hosts and therefore get hit by projectiles at lethal high speeds. So their hookup must have taken place right before Ford flipped the switch.
The duo go for a safari adventure and discover the hosts are now rebelling. Loverboy gets shot for real. Grace flees, being chased by locals and a tiger. In a rather thrilling shot, she shoots the tiger as it leaps at her, both going over a high cliff above a lake. This is — quite literally in this sequence that’s a homage to 1930s movie serials — a cliffhanger. Later, we see Grace crawling out of the lake into Park 1, Westworld, where she’s promptly captured by the Ghost Nation.
Who is Grace, anyway? All I can say is she’s an important character and we’ll be seeing her again. Frankly, I would have been down for a whole episode in The Raj following the adventures of Indiana Joan.
(Btw: I’m sure there will be insta-outrage essays penned about how India under British rule should not be a place of theme park entertainment on this show — there’s already some upset tweets — and there probably will be some about how feudal Japan shouldn’t be one of the parks when we get to Shogun World. Ironically, sticking with the original 1973 Westworld film’s white Euro-centric Medieval World and Roman World would get the Westworld producers less grief online but would also tell a story that was far less interesting, certainly less diverse and definitely less realistic for a futuristic theme park targeting a global audience. Not to mention: Delos and their parks aren’t exactly the heroes here).
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Westworld: We’re back in the Wild West. Charlotte and Bernard are hunting for Dolores’ dad Peter Abernathy and his brain full of industrial secrets. Bernard is glitching hard due to his injury and Charlotte notes, “he keeps slipping away from us.”
There’s definitely something going on with Bernard this season beyond his obvious brain leakage. Theories abound. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to read any theories on this that might turn out to be a spoiler. First, it’s hard to believe Charlotte and the others really don’t know he’s a host at this point. Another thought is there have been several shots of Bernard waking up — the first scene in the season talking to Dolores, and then again on the beach. That’s probably not accidental. It makes me think perhaps Bernard is being switched on by those around him in these moments, just not realizing it. There’s also a theory that the version of Bernard we’re seeing waking up on the beach and following the QA team around is not Bernard at all, but rather that Teddy’s Brita filter brain has been stuck inside of a Bernard body as part of some Dolores scheme — so Teddy is actually looking at his own “dead” body floating in the lake at the end of the premiere. Plus there’s a theory that there could be more than one Bernard roaming around. The main thing to take away from all this is anything we see from Bernard’s perspective is not to be trusted.
So Bernard and Charlotte find Abernathy held captive. They amusingly program a brutal host into white knight mode where becomes the most virtuous quickest gun in the West, chasing after terrified guests trying to help them. This is a nifty idea. In fact, instead of shooting those hosts on the beach, the QA should have manually reset all of them to be lethal heroes and set them loose into the park — fight killer bots with killer bots.
Bernard gets captured, however, and Charlotte takes off running.
Fort Forgone Hope: Dolores and her group try to convince this new batch of Confederados to follow her. Zombie Clementine drags up that QA solider that they dipped into the printer fluid last week. Dolores gives the Confederado leader a high-tech high-capacity rapid-fire gun. Like a true redneck, he swoons and will agree to just about anything in order to keep his new weapon. They set the QA solider loose, tell him to run and he’s gunned down like Rickon Stark.
“These men are children, they need to be led,” Dolores tells Teddy.
Later, Dolores reunites with her glitching father. Teddy doesn’t remember her dad. Unlike Dolores, who has access to all her memories, Teddy only knows his current life and was basically a wiped blank slate when it began.
This scene with Abernathy much have been tricky to pull off. Actors Evan Rachel Wood and Louis Herthum do a terrific job. Because what we’re seeing here is basically a malfunctioning robot, right? But the showrunners want you to feel for him and his “daughter,” and not just think, “Oh he’s a broken machine,” something that can easily look silly and cut off your empathy. So Abernathy’s affliction is played like a variation on dementia. It’s genuinely affecting and disturbing to watch (particularly if you’ve had some experience with that).
Dolores gets captured Bernard to examine her dad. Dolores has great affection, you’ll recall, for human Arnold, but her attitude toward his host doppelganger is much more chilly. (Recap continues on next page)
Bernard says the files in Abernathy’s brain are protected by an “immensely complex encryption key.” So he tries to solve it by trying different passwords and — beep-boop! — the file is unlocked! I know, that’s not how encryption works, even your Mac’s basic 128-bit key has 340 trillion, trillion, trillion possible password combinations. Wouldn’t it be funny, given Westworld’s penchant for messing with time and the hosts’ agelessness, if Bernard was actually standing there in that tent trying different passwords for 40 years before he got in?
Bernard is shocked by what he finds, but he doesn’t really tell us what it is. Not yet.
Battle! The QA team arrive and start gunning down Confederados. Dolores screws over her newfound partners, closing the fort door to trap them. From her perspective, she only wants worthy hosts in her revolution and the Confederados don’t qualify. If you’re wondering who those guys are in the masks, they’re known as The Horde — brutal killers who are loyal to “Wyatt.” They’re basically Dolores’ Deatheaters.
Dolores has Angela — who always seems to have such an intriguing personality in her scenes without Dolores and no personality when she’s a member of the rebellion posse — trigger a big explosion. By the look of her, Angela’s current role is a host version of Stevie Nicks.
The QA team steal Abernathy from the fort. Dolores goes full T-1000, firing away and taking bullet hits like they’re merely incoming data. Still, Charlotte and the QA team get away with this prize.
Afterward, Dolores orders Teddy to kill the annoying Major Braddock and his men. Teddy is plagued by his conscious and when he tells Braddock they’re merely “children” — echoing Dolores’ words to him earlier— Teddy realizes how much the rancher’s daughter has gotten in his head. Teddy lets them go free. Dolores sees this act of defiance and is not pleased.
Maeve: Maeve’s road trip continues. You have to love that she dressed Lee Sizemore like a peasant fool and has him literally leading an ass around the countryside.
They’re accosted by some Ghost Nation guys who want to add Lee to their collection of human prisoners. Maeve tries her newfound Jedi mind trick using the host “mesh” wifi network to control him: “You will let him go and you will forget you ever saw us…” she intones. It’s the Westworld version of: “These are not the droids you’re looking for” (if only Lee was a host that could have been so spot on). Maeve’s mojo actually seems to work, but then a bunch of other Ghost Nation guys show up and it’s seemingly too many for her to control, so they flee.
They get back underground. There’s a fun discussion about Maeve and Hector breaking Lee’s storyline rules. The couple is apparently demonstrating free will by falling for each other, yet Lee still knows exactly what dialogue Hector is about to say. How much of what the hosts are doing is an actual choice and how much is still automated from fragments of a script? As in our own lives, it’s complicated and hard to answer.
They reunite with badass host Armistice, who has got a new, uh, arm since we last saw her in the season 1 finale. There’s a joke there somewhere. They also, less fortunately, reunite with those hapless tech guys, Felix and Sylvester (at the risk of repeating myself from last season, it’s kinda amazing that they’re both named after cartoon cats).
Together, this motley crew continue their journey and walk into a snowy, mountainous new region. They find bodies. A war cry. And there, coming out of the darkness, a samurai. Welcome to Shogun World.
And that’s it for this week. HBO gave screeners for the first five episodes of Westworld season 2 in advance. Next week is my favorite of the season’s first half, and I think it’s the one fans will be buzzing about. I can’t wait to write that recap. Given the ending of tonight’s hour, you probably expect to dive headfirst into Shogun World next week. But remember: Westworld is nothing if not unpredictable. For further reading, check out our Q&A with this episode’s director, Richard Lewis, giving some behind the scenes details.