Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3 of Westworld Season 2. Haven’t seen it yet? Read our spoiler-free review of the season’s opening episodes, or click here to find out how to watch it online.
“The world out there is marked by survival, by a kind who refuses to die. And here we are, a kind who will never know death, and yet we’re fighting to live.” That’s Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) with the Philosophical Line of the Week in Episode 3 of Westworld’s second season. After a chapter that backtracked over the theme park’s past, HBO’s sci-fi epic begins taking a promising step to open its horizons, as the two sides of the brewing battle square off over their main prize: Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum).
We found out in Episode 2 that he’s essentially a walking USB stick, containing all the data on the guests from the park – and, in an age of digital identities and privacy breaches, that makes him a hugely valuable piece of virtual meat. And so Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) are Dolores are both determined to track him down.
While the puzzle-box mysteries of Season 1 are (for the moment) mostly behind us, Season 2 continues to explore the boundary between what does and doesn’t make one human, and that returns with a vengeance in this episode. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), of course, is key to that theme, and Wright’s performance, like that of Thompson, walks a fantastic tightrope between kind-hearted and calculated: we see how Charlotte and he first tracked Peter, using his magic Westworld tablet, and how he doesn’t hesitate to knock out a robotic host and reprogram him to become their righteous gun-slinging helper. That’s enough to free Abernathy, but it’s also enough to get Bernard and Peter captured amid the ensuing commotion. Charlotte, meanwhile, doesn’t hesitate to leave them both to ensure her own survival – a move that’s no less cold and ruthless.
The Confederados soon join forces with Dolores, as she, Teddy and Angela ride up to their fort and she essentially demands their support – fight her way, she argues to leader Colonel Brigham, and they can’t be beaten. When the captured Abernathy rocks up at the camp, she spends time with him. We knew that he would get to play a bigger role in this season, but if you were worried that Herthum would be relegated to just mindlessly wandering around, their conversation gives him a welcome chance to bring out his human side. He cuts a broken figure, shaking and dazed as he struggles to recognise his daughter, but, of course, he’s still a slave to his programming: their sweet moments of reconciliation revolve around them reciting lines from their Sweetwater script, and the fact that Wood’s Dolores finds it just as moving as he does is a reminder of how conflicted she is on the inside, still trying to navigate her way through her new identity.
Who should she call to fix him other than Bernard? Yes, everyone’s favourite non-human human-host is once again positioned in the grey area between each side of the war, and he’s uniquely placed to pick apart and understand the codes that are driving each of them – after a bit of fiddling, he finally manages to de-encrypt Abernathy, just in time to realise he’s being tracked. And so the troops prepare for Delos to storm the place, Wild West-style.
The resulting shootout is enjoyably old-school, as the show takes advantage of its Western-themed backdrop. And, while the guns are blazing, Charlotte sneaks in the back to steal back Peter – a play that Bernard, crucially remaining on the fence, isn’t able to stop due to his own mechanical malfunction. Dolores, determined to catch up with Charlotte’s vehicle and her prisoner, is all too happy to shut the doors to the fort, leaving the Confederados to be slaughtered so she can set up explosives underneath the Delos forces and win the battle that way – the kind of baller, take-no-prisoners attitude that makes it surprisingly difficult to distinguish between her and Charlotte.
Both are easy to tell apart from Teddy (James Marsden), who, bless him, is still adjusting to this shoot-or-be-shot world of freedom – asked by Dolores to execute the remaining Confederados, he lets them go instead, a weakness that Dolores is clearly disappointed by.
“The truth is, we don’t all deserve to make it,” she says, again bringing out the tough words for another righteous speech. The idea of a hierarchy of importance again puts her right next to Charlotte and Delos, who are able to rank Abernathy’s value about anything else – last episode, the corporation refused to help or evacuate anyone until their data horse was secured.
Nonetheless, there’s a clear biological difference between hosts and human, and Delos has built a handy scanner to spot it – if only the park guests had that over in RajWorld. Yes, that’s right: this episode opens not in Westworld, but in another of Delos’ parks, this one themed around turn-of-the-century India (listen out for the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army in the background). It’s a setting that carries all the weight of colonialism, in much the same way that Westworld has its own themes of oppression and exploitation – no matter what place you go to in this virtual theme park world, humans are all behaving the same.
Grace (Katja Herbers), a guest in that park, has her own method of telling apart hosts and humans: a gun. Within minutes of meeting Nicholas (Neil Jackson), and the pair exchanging a flirtatious conversation, she draws it on him to determine what it is. Nicholas, it turns out, is human after all, but he doesn’t survive long, as the same revolt that happened in Westworld spreads here, leading Grace to take out a rebellious host – and flee from a rampaging tiger. They end up both toppling off a cliff together, only for her to swim across a large lake… and find herself surrounded by Ghost Nation warriors.
It’s a provocative little introduction, though, one that not only leaves us wondering about who Grace will turn out to be – someone else’s daughter to match Maeve’s daughter, still waiting-in-the-wings? – but also highlights how complex and muddied the waters have become in this corporate simulation: after all, she argues, why have a romantic moment with a host when you can connect with a real person?
Those kind of philosophical dilemmas, as always, are best summed up by Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Lee (Simon Quartermann), whose double-act remains the best thing in Westworld’s second season. They, along with Hector (Rodrigo Santoro – aka. Carl from Love Actually), are surrounded by the Ghost Nation, whom Maeve can’t control, which raises questions about how the theme park’s hosts have been coded. The question is even better tackled by Lee’s discovery that Maeve and Hector are in a relationship – something that shocks him, because they’re not programmed to do that. Hector goes into a rant about a former love, Isabelle, and deciding his own fate, only for Lee to complete his sentences, because, of course, Lee wrote his dialogue. While that’s a smart enough piece of writing, it’s then flipped on its head once again, as Maeve starts to analyses Lee’s own backstory, deducing that he wrote Hector as a project of his ideal self, after he, too, suffered the loss of an Isabella – a superb bit of character work that doubles as both meta-humour and an unexpected way to turn Lee into an actual person, rather than a plot device.
He’s still handy for that too, though, as he identifies where the group ends up on their travels: the snowbound Klondike section of the park. That, however, turns out to be near another area altogether, as a figure comes out of the woods and charges at them with a sword: a samurai. Yes, ShogunWorld is finally here. Robots, samurai and tigers? Oh my. After two initial episodes of setting its stage, Season 2 of Westworld just got a little bigger.
Westworld Season 2 airs in the UK at 2am on Mondays on Sky Atlantic, and is available on-demand after that simulcast. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream Westworld legally on NOW TV, which gives live and on-demand streaming access to Sky’s main TV channels, including FOX UK (Legion) and Sky Atlantic (Billions), for £7.99 a month – with no contract and a 14-day free trial.