Sunday, April 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - Bernard Tries to Make Sense of His Memories as Dolores Leads the Uprising in 'Journey into Night'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 2.01 "Journey into Night"

The puppet show is over, and we are coming for you and the rest of your kind. Welcome back to Westworld.

In its first season, Westworld was about the puzzle box mystery of its narrative. It was a show filled with twists and cryptic clues that would only become clear once everything was revealed to the audience in the end. At times, it was so agonizing to watch the show be so repetitive while talking around certain key details. It was also apparent that the audience got out ahead of the show in regards to a couple of the twists. William and the Man in Black were the same person. Bernard was actually a host. Ford's grand final story was getting some of the hosts to become sentient and turn on their human captors just like Arnold always envisioned. It was a story that went around in circles a lot of the time in order to keep the audience guessing about the true nature of the reality of this world. It was a show that played around with time. Various scenes sometimes occurred decades apart from one another. That's what makes it so refreshing upfront in "Journey into Night" that the show seems to be playing things much more straightforward this year. The first season was all building up to that moment where Dolores solved the maze and killed Ford. She was leading the host uprising against the villainous corporation that has controlled them for all of these years. Meanwhile, Maeve turned back to return to the park after realizing she truly did care about her daughter from her previous story and needed to save her from this violent world. And now, the show picks up in the immediate aftermath of that fateful night. It still has a couple of twists up its sleeve in regards to timelines and cryptic details. But those are much fewer than they were in the first season. As such, it's much easier to be in the moment with these stories and understand them as exactly as what they are presenting to be.

"Journey into Night" follows two distinct time periods. The first is the night and following day of Ford's grand narrative of the host uprising. The second is 12 days in the future where the Delos official response has arrived to clean up this mess. Bernard proves to be key to understanding both of these respective timelines as well. In the future, he wakes up on a beach as the Delos operatives are ready to eliminate him as a threat. He only survives because Stubbs is also miraculously still alive and able to recognize him as the boss. Bernard is still the highest ranking official from the programming team who is still alive. He was in the park when this disaster occurred. He was there for everything that happened with the uprising. But now, his memory is hazy. The premiere opens with a flashback to either Bernard or Arnold talking to Dolores about dreams. He talks about being surrounded by the hosts in water. It's an eery visual that he dismisses as nothing. Dolores ponders what dreams mean. She isn't satisfied by his response. But it's also clear that Bernard is having trouble figuring out if he is in the present, the future or the past. He did shoot himself in the head last season after all. In the near future, his cover identity is still intact. No one from Delos apparently knows that he is a host. They are looking to him for guidance and understanding for what happened here. They want to know what Ford did to make the hosts act this way. Instead, all they get is a cryptic tease that Bernard may be responsible for ending this uprising and killing many of the hosts in the process - including poor, doomed Teddy.

In the present though, Bernard is simply seeking shelter with the rest of the Delos representatives. Dolores has opened fire on them and the rest of the hosts are simply following their programming. Now, the stakes of the world just happen to be real. Humans can actually die in Westworld now. Ford altered the programming so that the guns fired real bullets that could injure humans while deactivating the vocal instructions to shut the hosts down. They are completely operating on their own. Of course, not all of them are sentient. Only a select handful are that way. Dolores and Maeve are the prime examples. They have their own independent thoughts of escaping this world and getting their vengeance on the creatures who have hurt them for so many years. Bernard seems to have full awareness of the nature of his reality as well. And yet, his consciousness is experiencing a severe malfunction. He's more than capable of helping get Charlotte Hale to safety. In fact, she takes him to a previously unknown part of the park where Delos is conducting surveillance on the guests. That's certainly ominous while creating an interesting tease for the future. Right now, it's just more important for the two of them to track down Peter Abernathy. He's the host Delos is expecting with the code Ford refused to give them. They aren't willing to send help until the package has been delivered. Bernard has the skill set to track down the host. But he's shutting down and trembling. It gets to the point where he needs to inject himself with fluid from another host. He's embracing his true reality. He understands what's going on. But he keeps finding himself out of place in time. He knows that these violent delights have violent ends. But he doesn't know what's coming or how to piece together this narrative quite yet.

Meanwhile, it's fascinating to see Dolores and Maeve continue to have such different plans for their futures. Maeve does see Dolores as a potential ally. She sees whomever has caused this chaos throughout this park as someone whose interests may line up with hers. And yet, she just wants to reunite with her daughter. That's her sole drive right now. That's the reason she came back to the park when she was already free. It leads to one of the most unexpected but rewarding character pairings of the new season. Maeve rescues Lee Sizemore before a host kills him. It's such an amusing relationship because Sizemore sees himself as the creator of the stories of this world. He is the one who shaped the narratives. That's the position he always saw himself in even though Ford was the true creator who had the inspired vision for the various storylines of the park. Sizemore was just tasked with writing the dialogue that would comprise the hosts' code. He wasn't an entertaining character last season. He was just a sleazy character on the sidelines pointing out the various cliches of these stories. And now, he finds himself as a part of an actual story. He is still commenting on it from a writing perspective. He proves himself to be very helpful in Maeve's plan to find and rescue her daughter. But he also points out to her that those emotions weren't real. That relationship was just a creation of the humans who gave her life. It was just a way to entertain the humans. Plus, the prairie setting wasn't the most ideal place for her. She truly came into her own as a madame. That was the place where she could rise up and form this new personality. And yet, her desire to find her daughter is the clearest motivation of any character arc in this premiere. As such, it makes Maeve once again the most entertaining and compelling character upfront.

But it's also just as rewarding to spend time with Dolores now that she has full access to all of her memories and sees this world for what it truly is. It's so creepy and sinister to watch her monologue about this being her dream where all of the humans are paying for the crimes they committed against her for decades. It's her finally taking her revenge on the humans who have abused the hosts. It's a key role reversal. In the first season, it was all about the depravity of abusing these hosts so that they could become sympathetic to the audience as they rose up against their human oppressors. And now, the hosts are the ones doing the tormenting. Dolores fired that first bullet. She killed Ford and sent this whole world into chaos. Now, she's enjoying all the various ways she gets to kill people. It's her relying on the various different narratives she has played over the years in the park. She has empathy as the daughter of the local rancher. But she also has fear, intimidation and skepticism as the leader of a gang of outlaws. She has been deadly in the past. And now, she is choosing to embrace that mentality once more. She is proclaiming this as her true self. Those personalities don't define who she is. They just informed the various characteristics she was capable of being. Now, she's delving into new parts of her personality as she aspires to rid the world of these creatures who have abused them for far too long. It's a journey she wishes to take with Teddy by her side. He questions if this is truly the life that she wants. It is because she is aware of the rich history and false reality of the park. He still sees it exactly as it is. He hasn't been challenged by the unexplainable world just yet. But that's coming. Every human in the park should fear for their safety because of what Dolores and Maeve have planned. The only one who is actually enjoying this twist is William. But even then, it still seems like he is playing a game that has less to do with everything else that is currently going on. And that is yet another intriguing tease for the future of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Journey into Night" was written by Lisa Joy & Roberto Patino and directed by Richard J. Lewis.
  • New series regulars introduced here include Gustaf Skarsgård as Karl Strand, the new head of operations who has come in to clean up the mess in the park, and Fares Fares as Antoine Costa, the new head of behavioral who has to solve the mystery of what is going on in the code of the hosts. Both are promising additions to the new season. And yet, Bernard remains the central focus of their scenes together. He's the one whose reaction is key.
  • While tending to his injuries, William is greeted by the young host who serves as a stand-in for a young Ford. It's clear that Ford is still playing games with this world. He still has a few more tricks up his sleeve. He warned William that the maze wasn't designed for him. He may know where to look for it but he could never unlock it. He already had his consciousness. But now, Ford teases this new adventure that is solely for William. That's bound to intersect with the other characters in some crucial way.
  • It's fascinating to see the two sentient hosts still acting on their loves for hosts who haven't yet reached their level of consciousness. Teddy and Hector are mostly just along for the ride. They are willing to follow wherever Dolores and Maeve lead them. But it's also clear that these relationships are passionate and personal for Dolores and Maeve. They will push for their men to become aware of the world just as they have started to dream and think.
  • Karl's team is taking note of all the anachronisms that are now present in Westworld. It seems clear that a lot of mysterious things go down in the twelve days that are bound to be the core spine of the season. They stumble upon a Bengal tiger who belongs in one of the other parks. That tease proves that there are at least six parks as a part of this experience. But it's more daunting that an entire lake has been created and so many hosts are floating dead in it.
  • The show goes the extra mile to prove to the audience that Ford really was a human and is now dead. It has a close-up shot of Ford's decaying head as Karl's team stumbles upon the site of the initial massacre. It's so gross to see all of the rotting bodies being destroyed by this cruel and unforgiving world. But it's confirmation that Anthony Hopkins and Ford are now gone from this world. And yet, William's story confirms that Ford's influence will still be felt this year.