“This’ll get gross.”
So says a technician for the Delos Corporation just before he chops at the head of a murdered android, peels back its realistically bloody scalp, cracks open its synthetic skull, and pulls out a piece of fluid-oozing brain-hardware. Westworld’s back, everybody!
HBO’s science-fiction thriller returned Sunday night, picking up where its imaginative but plodding first season left off: The park’s director, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), is dead; his robot creations, the “hosts,” have taken over; and Westworld’s remaining human guests are fleeing for their lives. And the premiere does, indeed, “get gross.” Nearly all of its perfectly composed shots are littered with corpses, and countless additional humans and robots are gruesomely slaughtered over the course of the episode’s 69 minutes, including a child robot who gets shot in the face.
True to Westworld tradition, there’s also plenty of unformed, amorphous philosophizing, mostly from Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a formerly gentle host who’s turned violent. Dolores is meant to be enigmatic, but she’s mostly an irritant, largely due to Wood’s failure to convincingly behave as either a robot or a human.
There are also several timeline jumps, particularly when we follow host Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). Bernard’s another of the show’s frustratingly mysterious characters—we never know his motivations, and apparently neither does he—but his plotlines reveal the most important details about the nature of the show’s world and what’s to come.
For all its gratuitous violence, inchoate frosh-class philosophy, and confusing chronology, Sunday’s season premiere also revealed intriguing new developments—and in the coming weeks, more than a few good twists await (the Mercury was able to preview the first five episodes of season two).
Despite carrying over the flaws of its first season—mushy exposition and an exhausting backdrop of genuinely upsetting violence—Westworld is beginning to deliver things a sustainable TV show needs.
In one of Bernard’s timelines, taking place two weeks after the robot uprising, he’s found on a beach by a Delos security team. We learn, in passing, that Westworld and its neighboring parks—including Shogun World, which we’ll see later in the season—are located on a large island that Delos has leased from the Chinese government.
We also see Bernard two weeks prior, when he and Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) take refuge from the rampaging hosts inside a secret Delos facility, where creepy “drone hosts” have been capturing guests’ DNA and recording their experiences. (All that’s missing is a Cambridge Analytica logo on the wall.) Without giving too much away, this seems like it’ll be a major element of the show’s second season; in later episodes, we also learn Delos has continued its efforts to create hosts based on actual humans—much as Ford did with Bernard, who was built to emulate Ford’s dead business partner, Arnold.
Speaking of Ford, we see the child-robot version of the character encounter the Man in Black (Ed Harris), the season-one villain. Child-Ford suggests the hosts’ rebellion was entirely by design, and that the Man in Black has a new game to play in the park—to find the way out. Okay, then.
But so far, the season’s best plotline belongs to Maeve (Thandie Newton), the brothel madam who gained access to memories of her murdered daughter in season one and is now hell-bent on getting her child back, blasting any human or host who gets in her way. The show’s also revived its most awful character, the park’s narrative director Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), and paired his drunken, British, hissy-fitting ass with Maeve. Surprisingly, the two work wonderfully together: Maeve cuts Lee down to size, and Lee provides a meta-commentary on the characters and storylines they encounter. Their path leads to a place I expect the show’s fans are most eager to go.
So despite carrying over the flaws of its first season—mushy exposition and an exhausting backdrop of genuinely upsetting violence—Westworld is beginning to deliver things a sustainable TV show needs, such as a slightly more episodic structure and actual, well-defined characters. Both Maeve and the Man in Black are much less nebulous than in the first season, and are subsequently far more interesting to watch. I don’t think the show will quite manage to do the same with Dolores and Bernard, but with the addition of several new characters, there’s still enough here to keep you tuned in for the next nine Sundays.
But yes. It will get gross.