WESTWORLD: SEASON 2, EPISODE 2: REUNION
Here they’re free. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s judging. At least that’s what we tell them. This is the only place in the world where you get to see people for who they really are. – William
Despite continuing along the pathway of not really knowing what the heck is going on half the time, I still find a great deal of enjoyment within the mind bender that is Westworld. Rather than try to understand the mysteries and clues within the dialogue, I’ve increasingly retreated into the depths of the morality play taking place each week. Within that construct, I’ve found my purpose within this series.
Regardless of the obnoxious manner in which the puzzles are laid out and the heavy handed words that sound more important than they actually are is the basic tenet of this show as I choose to view it. Westworld is the kind of place that breeds the worst in people, because contrary to the way the Man in Black explains it, there’s a duality to his “reflection” question. We may all want to see our own reflection, because we love ourselves and our egos take control more than they should, but there’s another side of it where we’d rather see anything BUT ourselves, because deep down, we know our blemishes better than anyone else.
Much of “Reunion” focused on judgment, whether it’s Dolores and her not-so-merry band of murderers hellbent on revenge and freedom, the Man in Black and his discussion with Gus Fring…errrrr El Lazo, or the idea of the park itself and its complete absense of said accountability. By the way, so cool to see Giancarlo Esposito pop up this week for that sequence. Tread lightly, El Lazo.
In addition to Esposito, we got Peter Mullan as James Delos, and he’s always good. After watching him in Quarry, he’s hit another level for me. Zahn McClarnon, thanks to Fargo’s second season, also adds something to the cast as he debuted tonight as Akecheta. He’s terrific. These are two tremendous Westworld additions, even if neither turns out to be a major character. That’s yet to be determined of course. Both could be enormously important.
“I used to see the beauty in this world, and now I see the truth,” Dolores says before threatening one of the tuxedo-clad survivors of the massacre. This statement resonates because it contradicts what she believed when she first laid eyes on the real world. She tells Bernard she could never get tired of viewing it after he mentions how quickly it loses its luster for a species that may not deserve something so beautiful and fully realized.
When we’re born, everything is both amazing and frightening, or at least that’s what I assume I thought when I was an infant. My memories are a little fuzzy of my pre-speaking days. When we first see a cartoon, when we first go down a slide, when we first tie our shoes properly, when we first take a vacation, when we first understand love, when we step foot in our first college class, or when we see the girl of our dreams. Firsts are always special, even if our recollections are often clouded and we forget about how awkward portions of those moments can be.
Everything I just listed were positives, but not every first is a good thing. The first cigarette, the first insult, the first time you saw your parents fight, the first time you stole a candy bar, the first time you hoped something bad might happen to somebody else, or the first time you had a selfish or dark thought. Now, we head back to Westworld, where the entire purpose is to create a fantasy land where people have to answer to no one but themselves.
The Man in Black asks Lawrence whether Ford “saddled” him with the “particular affliction” of believing in God. He then says the park exists to be a refuge FROM GOD. It’s that concept we now know he was instrumental in creating and using to get funding, because it’s impossible not to see the money in eliminating the moral side of the equation. You’re not having sex in the real world? Come to Westworld and meet Clementine. Not only is she drop dead gorgeous, you can also beat her, rape her, or even slit her throat after you’ve done with her.
Remember, as William tells Dolores late in the episode, “You’re not even a thing.” Whatever desire you have, however deplorable it may be, indulge it. Whoever you want to be you can be. Whatever you want to do you can do. Pay a fee and escape responsibility and dignity in favor of debauchery and proposed freedom. The hosts are your play things. They prostitute themselves, but there’s no harm here, because they don’t exist.
When you stop and begin to think about the consciousness and the cassette tape overwriting mentality that leaves Maeve damaged and countless other hosts confused or feeling strange senses of random deja vu, you feel bad for them, but it’s the idea of the park that keeps me intrigued in where we’re headed. There’s a revolution now, and Dolores and her combined personalities that include Arnold and Wyatt (who I believe may well end up being a man that actually existed in the form of Peter Abernathy, but whose consciousness and data were given to Dolores) are planning to take over the world.
Meanwhile, young Robert Ford told the Man in Black last week that a new game has begun, and this one was created just for him to play. He also said the game would find him, and that’s what we see in the confrontation with El Lazo and the mass orchestrated and programmed suicide that ensures our onyx-hatted friend and Lawrence will be traveling to that place in the west on their own.
Dolores and the Man in Black are on different paths to the same place, one to win a game and appeal a figurative judgment imposed by Ford (who represents the god he doesn’t love), and the other to drop an atomic bomb on Westworld and escape into a permanent reality. Again, through all of this we get the fun flashbacks of Logan Delos discovering what a host is in the private demonstration, which was a fantastic scene, also later of the same Logan now an addict and a drunk spilling to Dolores what an empty existence he and all the “fiddling fools” now have as they’ve begun to burn their own species down.
You see, there’s a penalty for immorality, and it comes long before death and whatever punishment you believe exists in the afterlife. It takes a toll on the mind, the heart, and the soul, or the first two if you don’t buy into the third. Some of the goodness and innocence is overwritten with a kind of mental static television channel that then implants the sin and changes how you observe the world. If you create and are responsible for a fake world that permits one to live the nastiest and most selfish of fantasies, often at someone else’s expense (even if that person isn’t real, they FEEL real), it wears on you. Sin is selfish, but it’s also terminal, and that’s irrespective of religion.
“Do you know what saved me? I realized it wasn’t about you at all. You didn’t make me interested in you and you didn’t make me interested in me. Turns out you aren’t even a thing. You’re a reflection.” William thinks he’s got it all figured out, but all he’s come to understand is how to achieve power and money, using the mistake of falling in love with Dolores to rationalize his psychological descent not into madness, but into a unique brand of broken narcissism.
Who renders judgment in this show? What is the difference NOW between Dolores Abernathy and the Man in Black? Both have been driven to believe they alone hold the keys to survival and success. Recall her saying her way is the only way that can work, that she must be in control. The Man in Black never listens to anyone, always feeling that he has the answer no matter what, and thus he has no respect for another voice in Westworld.
Not much from Maeve this week, but the meeting of her group with Dolores’ was eye opening. Both are strong women (hosts) and both have agendas, but they’re not friendly. They want different things. Ultimately, Maeve wants her daughter, even if that’s not possible to achieve. Dolores wants to go back to the place where the stars appear to have been dropped to the ground, but not just to see it again, but presumably to take it over.
This was a fascinating episode, and a good one, but another example of Westworld being content to leave its audience not just scratching its collective temple, but requiring headache medication after the initial viewing. Once again, there’s a tremendous amount going on, and we’re seeing pieces of a puzzle, but some of them aren’t interlocking. We’ve got a few corners and a lot of pieces in the center, and some things are coming together. At the same time, we just looked on the floor and realized about 25 other pieces fell off the table and we didn’t include them.
That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that we then realize those pieces were in the newly opened box, but actually aren’t part of the current puzzle. That’s Westworld. It’s relentlessly confusing, sometimes heavy on style and diction but light on logic, but this is the mystery we’ve chosen. William takes Dolores to what the Man in Black now knows was his greatest mistake, and it’s that memory she’s using as the fulcrum for her plan. She says it’s a weapon and she’ll use it to destroy all of the survivors, the park, and everything it represents.
What we know from that is it’s going to be one hell of a confrontation once we get there. Until then, we just watch and let Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy tell us their story. One final thing to mention this week is Evan Rachel Wood, who may never have been better than she was this week playing the various versions of Dolores. She can play heartless killer well, she can play artificial intelligence well, and she can play sort-of-normal human at a party well. She’s being asked to do more with her character, by far, than anyone else in the cast, and she’s been stellar.
This episode alone is worthy of another Emmy nomination for her, and we’ve still got a long way to go this season. “Reunion” was fun and it was trippy and it was at times discombobulated, but this is Westworld.
We’d have it no other way.