In Westworld’s second-season premiere, The Man In black (Ed Harris) fixes his flinty glare on a host. Having survived the robot-led slaughter of season 1, he has questions. “Even now, you all still talk in code?” he growls. “Everything is code here, William,” the host replies calmly. “You know that more than anyone.”
As if we could ever forget. Westworld is an epic robot Western wrapped in multiple timelines and stuffed inside concentric Easter eggs — and its pleasures remain as extensive (and baffling) in season 2, which expands the world with new parks, new faces, new mysteries, and new details about characters that raise new questions.
The supersize season opener picks up about two weeks after Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) killed her maker, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), sparking the hosts’ bloody revolution against their captors. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) — who recently learned he’s a host — washes up on a beach and is “rescued” by the soldiers from Delos, the park’s parent company, who are deep into coordinating a counterattack on their uncooperative merchandise. The execs want Bernard to explain what happened at the massacre — but his memory is glitchy, and what he can recall (smash-cut to him mowing down someone with a machine gun) isn’t safe to divulge.
After kidnapping the park’s head writer, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), Maeve (Thandie Newton) treks across Westworld in search of her daughter. Dolores also traverses the park, finding enterprising new ways to murder humans and galloping toward her manifest destiny: world domination. As for the Man in Black, he’s on a world-destroying mission, but first he has to find something called “the Door.”
Though the characters’ paths are different, they’re ultimately all on the same quest: To master the reality of their choosing. Woven through these narratives — which take place in timelines I managed to identify as “past,” “present,” and “???” — are subplots that deepen our understanding of the core group and the world they inhabit. A flashback with Dolores and Arnold (also played by Wright) explains how Delos came to invest in Ford’s technology, and also holds a clue as to where the park was actually built.
(That is, parks: Episode 3 takes us inside a new attraction — not Shogun World — where a mysterious guest is almost eaten by a tiger, though she escapes, thanks to survival skills that rival those of the Man in Black.)
Bernard, meanwhile, is beset by memories that reveal a secret project involving user data that might be Delos’ true endgame. (And no, it’s not Facebook.)
How does all this tie together? That’s for the writers to know, and Reddit to try to find out. But Westworld is enthralling even for those who prefer a passive viewing experience. The sweeping shots of big-sky grandeur! The endlessly creative violence! (Three words: Human railroad crossties.) And the performances — Wood slips seamlessly between characters (Dolores, Rancher’s Daughter, Wyatt), the construction of her porcelain face morphing to match the rage, awe, and love roiling beneath her myriad identities. Newton brings a menacing composure and wry humor to Maeve, suffused with flashes of tremulous vulnerability and wry humor. She and Delores briefly cross paths in episode 2 — a preview, one hopes, of an eventual partnership.
“What is real?” Dolores asks Bernard early on. He responds, “That which is irreplaceable.” If he’s right, then Westworld is about as real as it gets. Grade: A-