The rabid fanaticism of Westworld had its rapture last night with the premiere of the second season of HBO’s show about cowboys, robots, and bad decisions. The first season, despite turning into a haphazard stew of anime-level navel-gazing after a tremendous and perfectly taut pilot, has roused enough rabble, after all, for the network to have turned a spit of Texas land into a recreation of the titular theme park for SXSW. And now we’re back to question the nature of our reality.
Last we left off, the inmates had taken over the asylum with extraordinary and understandable malice. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) had killed park director Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) at the premiere of his latest narrative, Maeve (Thandie Newton) chose to find her potentially nonexistent daughter in the park over escaping into the real world, and we found out that every Nolan loves time dilation with the reveal that the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is just an aged William (Jimmi Simpson). And this first episodes picks up right there in the aftermath.
Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) are riding around the hills killing any visitors they find, much like the rest of the hosts, but with an awareness and purpose everyone else seems to be lacking. In fact, they’ll kill hosts, too, if they’re not a part of Dolores’ grander plans. And Maeve is still rolling around the control center, trying to find a way to find her daughter. But most importantly, Delos is at the park in force trying to take back control of the situation with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) hazily pointing the way.
Obviously, the Internet will kill me if I spoil anything, so let’s instead talk big picture, since that’s what the show aims to be. For all the problems the first season had, it at least had the grit to see its themes through to the end. It bore the overarching title of “The Maze,” superficially meant to represent the Man in Black’s search for the meaning of the maze thing he managed to find under the scalp of the hosts. But it also and more poignantly meant reflect the nature of all the characters’ journeys.
A maze, most obviously, is a puzzle of traversal that obscures the path from point A to point B, but the key attribute is that you don’t particularly know what’s at the center. You just know that there’s a center. This concept maps directly onto the narrative threads of not only the Man in Black and his literal voyage through the maze Ford’s partner Arnold had established but also Dolores’ trickling awareness and Maeve’s loosening chains. They don’t know what’s at the end, but they are all going through the walls of their own maze regardless.
This, unfortunately, also maps well with the audience’s experience of watching the first season. There are some incredible twists and reveals that are truly shocking, but they often look less shiny in retrospect. Surprise for the sake of surprise, let’s say, as we wind down turn after turn unsure of where the season is leading us. But you throw a Nolan and an Abrams at a problem and you know what you get at this point.
The second season has earned the title of “The Door,” another both superficially and deep mantle. It most likely calls to mind the door that Bernard couldn’t see in Ford’s cabin, but it also represents the desires of the season’s overall arc. Now that they’ve all made it to the center of the maze, what they’ve all found is a metaphorical door. The question the second season is going to answer (and the premiere episode establishes) is what’s on the other side.
That, perhaps, is why William’s story is the only satisfying bunch of the first season. His maze is a more conventional one, sure, what with his conflicting wants and needs of kowtowing to business and familial obligations over his then-unearthed personal desires, but he’s the only one to walk through his door by the end of the season. And the other side is Ed Harris, a dark but natural conclusion to his story.
This then extends to the Man in Black being kicked through his own door after the hosts are loosed from their chains. His fantasy of the it all being real is made way too real by the end and now he’s living the Wild West rogue life he’s always wanted. Which makes the start of his second season arc a bit disappointing when he’s presented immediately with another door. I won’t say more than that, but it’s not as compelling as you or the writers would hope.
Of course, this is as much prospective proselytizing of an entire season based on a single episode as I said was problematic with the first season. And without going into spoiler territory, that’s all we can really get into. But know that based on last night’s episode, it’s on par with what where we ended up late 2016. And for the most part, that’s a perfectly good place to be, which is just fine by me.