The journey into night starts now.
HBO’s most popular series is Game of Thrones, but with that epic fantasy romp coming to an end next year the prestige network was on the lookout for something else to capture viewers’ hearts, minds, and sex drives. They found it in Westworld, a new adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 feature film that goes far deeper into the park and “lives” of its android hosts than the famed writer ever imagined. The second season premieres Sunday, April 22nd, and we can hardly wait to see what new antics our favorite characters — both human and otherwise — will be up to this time.
One of the many aspects of Westworld (the park and the show) is that things that occur can appear to have great consequence only to be revealed as an illusion of sorts. Its most obvious form is in the killing and re-killing of the hosts. Death’s impact is lessened when the deceased can be back up and “breathing” in the very next scene. Similarly, various story beats that visitors enjoy appear to offer finality but are instead simply set up again and re-staged for the next guest.
Two things happened in season one’s finale that can’t be undone, and both set the stage for big changes heading into season two. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), co-founder and director of the park, was shot in the head and killed by Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and while the show could technically write around that claiming it was merely an android version of Ford his death instead seems quite permanent as Hopkins was only signed for that first season. That murder also served as one part of an android rebellion as numerous hosts, from unnamed chattel to characters including Maeve (Thandie Newton), Teddy (James Marsden), Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and — my personal favorite — Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) unleash bloody hell on their human oppressors both in the park’s headquarters and at the outdoor celebration with high society guests and board members from the outside world. All of them (aside from the aforementioned Hopkins) are returning for season two, but they’re not all necessarily fighting for the same thing.
In an effort to prepare for what’s to come we decided to remind ourselves where each character stands as season two starts. The easy dividing line sees the androids as protagonists and humans as antagonists, but this is Westworld where what you see isn’t always what you get.
Dolores is the show’s center, and we expect that to continue. She was the first android host built for the park and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) marked her as special from the very beginning. Ultimately both Ford and Bernard helped shape her together with the maze, the threat of Wyatt, and her repeated cycle of suffering and abuse all playing a role in “waking” her into sentience. Rather than be a physical destination or additional game for guests to enjoy, that maze was always a metaphor for the host’s journey towards evolution and consciousness. Dolores reaches its center when she realizes that not only are the inner commands she’s been obeying her own but also that the legendary outlaw Wyatt is… her. It means as season two begins she’s both conscious *and* ruthless as hell. The question now becomes will she remain an evolving hero, or has she become an avenging villain?
Maeve is instrumental to the rebellion and was in fact programmed to escape the park and head to the outside world for “mainland infiltration,” but she instead chose to leave the train at the last second and go in search of her daughter. (Quick aside, that infiltration is something I’d love more detail on as a single host in the wild seems fairly limited. She can’t reproduce, so was the plan for her to become a terrorist of some sort or to get a job in the Delos Corporation mailroom?) She knows intellectually that the girl isn’t actually her daughter, but it’s important that her first truly free choice is one of empathy and connection. Maeve’s unshackled now for the first time, and with a singular goal in mind, it should be thrilling to see her pursue it.
We first met Bernard as a technical assistant to Ford, but it was revealed that he was actually an android version of the park’s co-creator Arnold. Flashbacks showed him as a man buried beneath the grief of his young son’s death to the point that not only did he want the hosts to grow their consciousness, but he also set in motion his own death at Dolores/Wyatt’s hand. Where Ford wanted control, Bernard is leaning closer to chaos if it means the hosts can evolve and spread. It turned out that both men were on different paths toward the same goal, and what Arnold started Ford completes with the orchestrated assault against the humans, but it’s unclear where he now stands. He committed violent acts at Ford’s request, but on his own Bernard seems more of a thinker and philosopher than a fighter. We know he wants the hosts to be free, but will he go along with their newly violent means or continue to work behind the scenes?
Poor Teddy, meanwhile, still seems a ways off from his own awakening. His story arc within the park has always been to pair up with Dolores and seek out a life of happiness, but it’s a tale eternally destined to violent failure. She’s no longer following the script, and while his programmed love for her has seen him follow her lead one wonders what it will take for him find his own consciousness and self-interest. And when he does, will he still care about Dolores?
Those are the four main hosts still wandering the park, but one of their biggest threats remains too. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) was revealed to be young William all grown up and the single biggest financial investor in Westworld. Season one ends with him depressed and defeated thinking he’d seen, diddled, and killed all there was to see, diddle, and kill in the park, but as the hosts attack the outdoor gathering and Clementine shoots him in his arm a smile comes over his face. He may have started as an angry little man furious because a lady robot forgot his name, but he’s become a man looking for a high he has yet to achieve. This is what he’s wanted — an unpredictable, truly dangerous “game” with real stakes.
One of last season’s other character-related mysteries was the fate of both Elsie (Shannon Woodward) the tech and Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) the security lead. Elsie got too close to the truth and Ford had Bernard dispatch her, and Ashley was jumped by a group of misbehaving Native Americans — but we didn’t see either of them actually die. The other clue that they’re both returning? IMDB says so. Tessa Thompson‘s Delos executive Charlotte is returning too, so we know she survives the party assault. She thought she was being handed the reins to Westworld in an orderly manner, but now she’s left in charge of absolute mayhem. Does the park stay open while guests are being slaughtered? Here’s hoping.
Some familiar faces are joining the cast this season too with Rinko Kikuchi, Betty Gabriel, and Peter Mullan all coming aboard for an episode or more. Kikuchi’s presence could be as another Delos representative — Mullan’s actually playing someone named James Delos — but my money’s on her being part of the introduction to Samuraiworld. This additional park was teased at the end of season one, and we know it’ll play a bigger role this time around. How big is unclear, although recent interviews with the show’s creators (as well as the second season’s IMDB page) suggest it’s substantial.
“These violent delights have violent ends” is the Shakespeare line repeated more than a few times last season, and it bookended the episodes by having Dolores hear it early on and Bernard repeat it at the end. It would be foolish to think, though, that either the delights or the violence have run their course at Westworld.
The journey into night starts when Westworld returns for season two on April 22nd, 2018 on HBO.