Westworld Season Two, Episode Nine

west9I have to say, Westworld season two certainly seems to be saving its best episodes until last (which makes the wait for next week’s finale all the more intriguing/exciting). Whether its good for a show to risk alienating its fans until eventually coming up with the goods is subject to debate, I suppose, but that said, the odd thing about shows such as this is that very often you shouldn’t really judge a season until you’ve seen it as a whole. Binge-watching, in particular, has made it interesting how one evaluates a show now, and once this series has ended its weekly run and becomes available on-demand and on disc, it will become some other animal, I suspect.

Anyhow, for now we’re stuck with weekly airings. This episode centered mostly upon our favourite villain, MIB William, played by Ed Harris, whose chiseled, life-worn face so perfectly encapsulates the character he plays its like he was born for the role (he also reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Unforgiven, no small achievement for a Western, nevermind a sci-fi Westerrn). Tonight we saw more of MIB William’s background, his life away from the park,  his dysfunctional family and his despairing, alcoholic wife Juliet. A glimpse behind the curtain and perhaps an indication of why he is so obsessed with escaping into his second-life inside the park- or perhaps more directly an indication of how much that second-life impacted on his life at home.

It also offered some tantalizing possibilities. So here’s this weeks theory, likely to be debunked next week: what if MIB William is unknowingly a host, or at least a simulacra of the real William, and that the data card/drive that Ford hands him not only shows the grim ‘highlights’ of his dark deeds in the park, but also ultimately reveals that he isn’t actually human, but a host copy? It’d certainly explain why his wife was suddenly racked with suicidal despair upon accessing it- the knowledge that she’d been living/sleeping with a machine copy of her husband would send anyone clutching for any kind of escape. Maybe its too obvious-  indeed, as this episode draws to a close, William himself seems to be cutting into his arm as if doubting that there’s simple blood and tissue under his skin. Could he be everything he’s been trying to destroy? And if so, whatever happened to the ‘real’ William? We cut from him before we see what truth he uncovers from his wound, the revelation left until next week.

Elsewhere, Delores finally unravels. No matter his reprogramming, Teddy’s true nature wins out, an interesting comment on individuality, freewill and fate as he finally reasons the only way out is to end himself with a bullet to his AI-brain. Its a remarkable moment  when Delores collapses in grief and horror, the soundtrack becoming awash with white-noise/static as if she is having a literal breakdown. What remains of Delores after this is anyone’s guess. With the Cradle gone, I assume Teddy is also gone- all deaths are final, now, I think. Bye bye Teddy then.

Meanwhile, back in the Delos labs, Maeve lingers on borrowed time, the labrats having discovered how she has been controlling other hosts and thus weaponizing Clementine as a way of getting the rogue hosts to kill each other. With her secret out, Maeve is worthless to them and scheduled for destruction. The virtual ghost of Robert Ford, however, pays her a visit and tinkers with her settings, likely offering her a way out of her predicament and ensuring she’s around for season three.

Who else survives into season three seems open to conjecture. To me, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins are the secret heart of Westworld (evidenced by the feeling that ‘something’ was missing for the first half of this season until Ford returned) and if either of them left the show I’d be devastated, frankly. Lets just hope William can keep on surviving being riddled with bullets and that Ford can somehow continue cheating virtual death. These two guys are great and really chew the scenery with aplomb.

I guess all (or most, anyway) will be revealed next week. Here’s hoping there’s not too many deaths coming up…

Westworld Season Two, Episodes Six & Seven

westw7c.jpgIllness precluded me from watching episode six of Westworld last week, so today here’s a double-review following a catch-up session alongside episode seven last night…

There I go. moaning about the show missing God (Anthony Hopkin’s brilliant genius, Robert Ford) and boom, here he is, back from the dead. And there I go moaning about the disparate timelines being annoying and boom,  there they go getting all tied up as season two finally begins to, if not make sense, then at least coalesce into a single story-line and build towards a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. While it’d be wrong to suggest that season two has been a terrible mess and that these two episodes finally start to save the day, its certainly no stretch to say that they are a step in the right direction after a messy, frustrating season so far.

Not everything works though. I’ve always been a bit concerned that the series seems as hazy about geography as it is about time (just where does it take place – an Island has been hinted at- and just how bloody big are the theme parks?). Maeve has left the central Mesa, wandered across the Western landscape and taken a sojourn in Shogun-World and then after popping back underground comes back up in the West where her old original story-line takes place. She finds her old homestead and, at last, her daughter, but immediately some Ghost Nation warriors turn up and attack, the old scenario from decades ago repeating as if on a whim. We see a host that has taken Maeve’s place in the old story-line but to what end is that story-line being played out, without a human visitor to entertain? It seems too convenient, as is the sudden appearance of MIB William and his sudden ability to apparently soak up bullets and still crawl off like some unkillable bastard. It all feels too simple and sudden and convenient, even unearned.There is, after all, no emotional connect between Maeve and her daughter. And after all her adventures this season, Maeve is ultimately stretchered off back to where she began the season , back at the Mesa, only this time crippled from gunshot her wounds (and didn’t that rescue team just appear out of nowhere?). It rather negates her whole arc this season and feels forced and unsatisfying. Unless, of course, it all leads somewhere next week.

Likewise, one has to wonder what was the point of that whole b-story in Shogun World, fun that it was while it lasted, it seems to have been signed-off without really impacting the whole series. And are really meant to believe MIB WIlliam could just rustle up all his posse and leave without disturbing his sleeping daughter in the camp?

westw7bAlso, the Cradle is a fascinating concept and seemed to offer all sorts of virtual possibilities but no sooner is it revealed than boom that’s suddenly gone, it feels something of a waste. What if it had been suggested that some of the events we’ve seen in the past two seasons were inside the Cradle, i.e. never REALLY happened at all? A lost opportunity I fear.

More successful though is the arc with Bernard meeting his maker, Ford, with Anthony Hopkins proving, again, to be the center of the show. Some of the banter and the asides to the episodes referring to James Delos’ failed bid for immortality are delicious. The hints regards what Delos has really been up to (the whole theme park biz is just a cover for their real experiment) will confirm many viewer’s suspicions/theories, vindicating quite a few of my own that I have written about in previous posts. That said, the ‘reveal’ at the start of episode six, when we realise that Delores has been testing Bernard during all their interview flashbacks rather than the other way around, was wonderful and keyed into those earlier James Delos episodes brilliantly: “a fidelity test” indeed.

You have to love a show that can pull off stunts like that, and I remain hopeful that the final three episodes can bring about a satisfying conclusion. At its best, Westworld is fascinating science fiction and a thought-provoking examination of identity and memory and what is human. Its almost like watching an alternate Blade Runner, so clearly are some of the themes shared.

I also, quite surprisingly, loved seeing what the show did with the new, reprogrammed, thoroughly Terminator-like Teddy. Even Delores seemed surprised by what he got up to.

Its just a pity that it all seems so, well, messy. But art can be like that, and I suppose we should be thankful that this series does, at its best, seem to be performing the same trick as its two big-screen Blade Runner cousins- arthouse masquerading as entertainment.

 

 

 

Westworld Season Two, Episode Four

ep4Well, this episode was just utterly fascinating, from start to finish.

At its worst, Westworld is infuriating and apparently deliberately obtuse, throwing multiple timelines at the viewer as if inviting confusion and reduced audience figures. But at its best, the show is something else- its genuinely captivating science fiction with all kinds of subtext and philosophical pondering to leave the viewer ruminating over for days after. Episode four is Westworld at its best.

The fantastic actor Peter Mullan, who I feared had been wasted in a previous episode, returns as James Delos, founder of Delos, the company that runs Westworld and the other parks. Mullan is absolutely terrific in this episode and plays his scenes brilliantly. James wakes in a slick, slightly futuristic-looking apartment, and is told he has a visitor- young William, the one that we know from season one’s main storyline. James wants out of his apartment but William tells him he has to take some more tests. This scene is repeated several times, and decades are evidently passing for in the last version of the scene, William is MIB William played by Ed Harris. James is obviously confused at William appearing so old (as Delos has not aged a day since we initially saw him). We learn that James is a host in which they have implanted the memories/brain patterns of the dying James Delos who since died many years ago. As suggested in the second episode of this season, Delos buying the Westworld tech was partly a stab at the terminally-ill  James using the technology to cheat death and gain immortality.

Unfortunately the technology doesn’t really work, no matter how many years and great expense is taken. The last version of James is the 149th build- each one prior has broken down, the mind apparently rejecting reality and the psyche fragmenting. They have achieved greater success with each build but although the latest hosts manage to ‘live’ for weeks rather than days, they all suffer the same broken state. William has decided that the experiments were a mistake, that trying to achieve immortality for James was wrong and that it might never work. The ‘real’ James is dead, has been for decades, and he should remain dead. Abandoning the project, William instructs a technician to leave this last build operational (all others were incinerated) and sometime later, it is this version of James that Bernard and Elsie (yes, Elsie’s back, tying up a loose thread  from season one!) discover when they enter the lab. Bernard has broken memories of being in the lab earlier (in scenes we saw in the first episode of this season and events prior to that- multiple timelines again rearing their confusing/infuriating/fascinating head).

There’s some really interesting stuff going on here. Host James is only a copy- the ‘real’ James is dead so one has to wonder if the technology ensures real immortality or just a reflection that lingers forever. But if the host James feels that he is real, and thinks and remembers what the original James would, is he in fact ‘real’ after all? What is real? What is self? What is soul?

This is great stuff, and exactly the kind of Philip K Dick philosophising that I find endlessly interesting and really unusual in mainstream material. Indeed, I have to wonder just how long (and how deep) Westworld can go into all this without Joe Public deserting the show in droves. Its funny- originally when this series was announced I expected a simple, violent and gaudy series about robots in theme parks running amok but there is clearly much more than that here.

 

I might have been right about MIB William becoming a surprise hero of this show. The reprehensible bastard of season one suddenly has a world-weary agenda of destroying everything he helped to create, and in particular a secret project that may have something to do with a weapon sought after by Delores. Part of this might be the sheer charisma of Ed Harris, his age-lined face worn and beaten by the sun and the disappointments of his life. But hey ho, here comes yet another twist at the end of the episode- the woman who impressed me so much in the India prelude of episode three turns out to be his daughter.

Events seem to be coming together and hopefully some of the confusion will be sorted. I appreciate that some of the mysteries are being explained, unfolding rather than just left hanging there, and while some stuff still irritates (just how long was Elsie left in that cave, and how the hell does MIB’s daughter escape so easily from the Ghost Nation?) but the rest of the show is so great I’ll continue to cut it some slack and hope for the best. With episodes like this one, Westworld is genuinely great.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Three

ep3This episode begins brilliantly, with a glimpse of one of the four other parks- Colonial India, sidestepping the tease about Samurai Japan from season one that we all now is surely coming (in fact it comes at the end of this very episode). We see new characters enjoying this attractions dubious pleasures in its call-back to the non-PC glory days of British Empire, until the anarchy of the hosts here (slaughtering visitors just as they are doing in Westworld) reveals that the madness is not limited to Westworld alone. All hell is clearly breaking out everywhere.

Infact, I could have stayed in this setting, and with the human protagonist trying to survive, all episode. Unfortunately this section was limited to just the pre-credit sequence, leaving me feeling rather frustrated and wondering what happened next to our damsel in distress. We do find out, sort of, and it does dovetail nicely to a scene from episode one when a dead tiger was found on a riverbank, but the fact that I was so irritated by the escapades of our series regulars does spell a bit of trouble for the show. I found the new character more interesting than our regulars, and that has to be wrong, surely. Mind, it does also indicate a strength of the show that it could one day exploit.

Meanwhile, back in Westworld, Delores is still in ‘avenging robot angel’ mode (this time hosts seem as expendable as humans in her schemes), and Bernard is still acting oddly (although we do learn why, as he has clearly downloaded  Peter Abernathy’s mysteriously important files that the Delos operatives seem to be after). So while there is lots of action in this episode that action only serves to disguise the fact that the show is maintaining its endless tease.

Which is fine I guess, but we are still evidently seeing different timelines here and if part of the fun of the show is unravelling the sense out of them then that is also part of the shows frustrations. In fact, it finally occurred to me during this episode that I’m missing Anthony Hopkins. I don’t know if we’ll see him ‘proper’ in this season rather than have him alluded to or shown in glimpses in the background during flashbacks etc but his presence was an important one in season one and I think he leaves something of a void, currently.  Westworld is curiously Godless.