Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Westworld? Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1.
With Westworld firmly in the second half of its first season, we know that the two halves of its universe – the upstairs and the downstairs, if you like – have to collide. Sure enough, the final moments of Episode 5 promised as much, with Maeve waking up in the lab to address “butcher” Felix. Episode 6 delivers on that promise, but it’s not the collision of the show’s halves that amazes; it’s the way that it happens.
Thandie Newton has delivered a barnstorming performance throughout these episodes, but she reaches a new pinnacle here, as she emerges in the real world as playful and provocative as her theme park persona. That combination has only become more powerful the more self-aware she gets. But while a lot of the fascination in the series lies in watching the faces of the hosts (hello Evan Rachel Wood) downstairs for signs of flickering change, as the scientists upstairs invent new storylines and alter attributes at will, here we see Maeve literally change herself – she convinces Felix (and his colleague, Sylvester) to give her access to her configuration. Her own programming, of course, tells her to be so forthright and independent, and also gives her that ability to read and manipulate others – a self-fulfilling recipe for forging her own consciousness. How much of that was predestined when she was first designed?
It’s a bravura moment for the show: on top of that mind-boggling meta-narrative is the realisation that she’s now dying downstairs so that she can wake up again upstairs. Her seemingly reckless willingness to die, that male fantasy of a woman who enjoys being mistreated, emerges as a habit that’s not a genre trope, but a narrative under her own control; each death gives Maeve a chance to advance further in the lab. Thandie Newton acts all of this with the same knack for shifting facial expressions as Rachel Wood, not to mention bravery when it comes to the frank nudity on display – and, to top it all off, is doing this with a convincing American accent. If you ever doubted her skills as an actress, prepare to have your mind fully blown.
The rest of the episode lives up to that standard, as we continue our exploration of Westworld away from the main zones of the park: we learn that Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has a private piece of the park off the central radar, which he’s used to preserve some of the original hosts first built by him and Arnold. Those hosts are programmed to relive his childhood memories of a holiday, something that confirms that Ford is as emotionally attached to the park as Bernard is – and also underlines, once and for all, just how creepy Ford is.
Even here, though, the influence of Arnold is tangible, as Ford’s Young Boy (effectively himself) ends up killing his pet dog, because the voices in his head told him to do it. Ford’s personal hosts may not be hooked up to the mainframe in the same way as the newer generation, but that ghost in the machine is everywhere.
In another dark corner, meanwhile, we discover another mystery, as Elsie tracks the signals being sent from that head-smashing host from a few episodes ago to an abandoned building – because there’s always an abandoned to wander around with a torch. There, she finds a transmitter, hidden under the floorboards – because there are always floorboards to hide things under. That’s being used to send data outside of Westworld, an act of corporate sabotage – but it’s also being used to broadcast messages into the minds of the hosts, a la Arnold’s voice. That begs the question: Is Arnold really alive? Or is his legacy begin used by someone else? (Ok, that’s two questions. But still. Questions.)
Also downstairs, we catch up with The Man in Black and Teddy, who continue their quest to find out more about Arnold – or, if you’re Teddy, to track down Wyatt and rescue Dolores. Bless. As with the previous few episodes, their encounter with a Union army in the desert mostly means that they get the chance to bring some action set pieces to the table (the sight of James Marsden’s Teddy wielding a gatling gun is a striking contrast to his gentle former self, before Ford’s new storyline was uploaded). But it also gives us some more tidbits in the Arnold puzzle, namely the idea that the Maze is a legendary labyrinth that holds a man in its middle who can never die. (Hello to Arnold being alive in the middle of the park.)
As the intrigue builds in the park, the plot also thickens upstairs, as we spend a little more time with everyone’s favourite bitter writer, Lee Sizemore. Taken to peeing on the gigantic map of the park and drunkenly ranting about his bosses to the nearest beautiful woman, he’s the weakest character of the programme by some distance, but his ranting does introduce us to new executive Charlotte Hale, who is being brought in by Theresa, as the momentum seems to turn increasingly against the god-like Ford.
Speaking of Theresa, who should Elsie realise is behind the data being beamed out of the park? That’s right, Bernard’s lover and everyone’s favourite suspicious company bigwig. She splits up with Bernard, who is tragically unaware of her conspiratorial actions – is that why she was with him in the first place? And, more importantly, is she behind the kidnapping of Elsie at the end of the episode?
That’s more than enough double-crossing for any show to be getting on with, but it’s testament to how good Westworld is that it not only dishes up the corporate evils, but also manages to convey that in human terms – without barely using a word. The episode climaxes with Maeve walking, silently, through the halls of Westworld’s laboratories, as she witnesses the slaughter, the disposal and the creation of hosts. Soundtracked by Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack, whose No Surprises makes an appearance on the good old saloon piano early in the episode, it’s a striking sequence that’s full of heart-wrenching pain and anger. Not bad going, given it centres around a robot. (The fact that nobody seems to notice her on CCTV or stop her random trek through the corridors is a huge plot hole – but, again, credit to the show for being so effective that you don’t even think about it until afterwards.)
The cruellest blow of all, though, comes as she reaches the entrance of the park, where she sees the “dreams” of her daughter – the one who was attacked back in Episode 1 and 2’s flashbacks – up on a gigantic screen as a trailer for the park. It’s the confirmation that not only did her past life really happen, but that it was all crafted by the park’s engineers. No wonder she asks for her “loyalty” and “pain” to be turned down by Felix, and her intelligence to be pumped all the way up. The cliffhanger is a simple statement: she’s readying for battle.
But wait, there’s more.
Underneath all that sits the tiniest hint that one of the most popular fan theories about the show is true: the logo when Maeve reaches Westworld’s entrance is the new, white branding for the park. Compare that to the logo when we see William and Logan enter the park back in Episode 1 (as some people on Reddit have handily done) and you’ll notice the older, black-and-white icon. The theory? William is The Man in Black, with all of his scenes with Logan showing him visiting the park for the first time 30 years ago. The Man in the Black, meanwhile, is in the present day. Which goes some way to explain the unexpectedly nice side to Ed Harris’ scowling gunslinger – William, as we’ve had pointed out to us repeatedly, is a decent sort, although we’re seeing him gradually become corrupted – and also explains why someone thanked him for being a hero in Episode 4. What did he do? Did he, as last episode mentioned, increase his stake in the park, or invest money in it to keep it going? Perhaps he introduced a charitable arm using the company’s expertise in artificial limbs? If The Man in Black really is William grown up, that would also explain the respect, and existing familiarity, between The Man and Ford, when they met in Episode 5. (Dolores, meanwhile, is one of the oldest units in the park and, in the present day, could easily be remembering the time she first met William – when The Man in Black saw her in Episode 1, did he actually just reprogram her to stimulate those memories and awaken the ghost of Arnold?)
Presuming all that is accurate, we end up with two story strands, each following a similar path of hunting for, and trying to solve, the mysterious maze at the heart of the park. While the two halves of Westworld’s universe collide, its two timelines are separating – and the result is mesmerising TV.
Westworld Season 1 is available to watch on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) and FOX UK (The Walking Dead) to Sky Living (Divorce) and Sky Atlantic (Westworld, The Young Pope). A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.
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Photos: ©2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.