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The Statesman


“Westworld” season two thrills fans with mind-bending plot

A photo of actress Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden in an episode of “Westworld.” The HBO show premiered its second season on Sunday, April 22. JOHN P. JOHNSON/HBO

HBO aired the premiere of the second season of Emmy award-winning show “Westworld” on April 22, inviting fans to jump back into the fray of mind-bending plot, action and soundtrack.

Season one introduced a park named Westworld where the ultra-rich go to indulge in all the vices that would be criminal in the real world. They can manipulate, torture, rape and murder the inhabitants of a land recreating the American Wild West; the catch is that the victims of the guest’s illicit actions aren’t human at all. They are “hosts:” machines created to look and feel more human than the guests themselves, but unable to hurt their rich patrons in any way.

But as the season two premiere opens, this is no longer the case. The hosts have overcome their benign programming.

Park founder Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, created a code update in season one that allowed the hosts to have more life-like memories.

As one might expect, events spiral out of control as two women on separate character loops begin to piece together their flashbacks, and unknowingly walk toward the center of a maze of true consciousness.

The convoluted timeline and corresponding twists of season one led to some of the most riveting moments of the show. Leading both the characters and audience to unhinging conclusions about scripted reality, the season finale brought the supposedly innocent Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood, and the local brothel madam, Maeve, played by Thandie Newton, to the realization that the humans who had complete control over their world could only be overthrown through their own dirty tactics — manipulation and a well-aimed gun.

This premiere kept viewers on their toes by continuing that trend, showing us several different time points in scrambled order during the two-week period between when the hosts take over the park and a rescue plane comes from the mainland.

The season opens to the hosts no longer responding to commands; the panicked yelling of “freeze all motor functions,” which disabled all movement in season one, has no effect on the self-aware machines. The relationship between host and human seems to have completely flipped. The hosts wander the park, playing games of death with any human they come across, and ironically employ the same tropes that are ingrained in their character loops while murdering.

Wood gives a chilling monologue as her character, Dolores, prepares to hang guests. By asking humans “What are your drives?” a question that once confirmed hosts would stay in their closed narratives, she makes it clear that her newfound consciousness and ability to remember every grisly detail of her past has purpose. She is ready to break out of her corporate cage and exact her own revenge. But this won’t be easy as Delos, the corporation that technically still owns her, is coming to retake control of Westworld.

This episode may feel lackluster in that it simply lays the groundwork for the season, and establishes the new state of affairs in the chaos of the park. A few unlikely alliances have formed, with clear stated reconnaissance missions that will play out over the next few episodes. The premiere was riveting due to the role reversal that viewers anticipated throughout season one, and yet there was a lack of meaningful interactions between characters and therefore in moving the plot forward throughout the hour.

The interactions that did occur were both predictable and atypical to the show. Dolores tells her scripted lover Teddy that they would make it together, and Maeve asks her sharpshooter paramour to help find her scripted daughter. Neither of these moments felt like they needed the screen time they were given, but time will tell if there is a deeper meaning behind their words.

The first episode of season one also had seemingly meaningless dialogue; yet several episodes later, the chilling depth of those scenes was revealed. In an early scene, the Man in Black, played by Ed Harris, assaults Dolores and tells her that they are old friends. The audience has no context for this line until the season one finale when the audience finds out that Dolores was his first and only true love from 30 years before and her inability to remember him after a memory wipe is what left him a bitter old man.

Based on a few breadcrumbs that creators Jonathan Nolan, brother and frequent collaborator of Christopher Nolan, and his wife Lisa Joy have laid out, this season will likely bring a chaotic union of different “worlds.” The subtle reveal of a “Shogun world” at the end of last season and a dead host-tiger in the Westworld park during the premiere hints at the clash of many different parks. This raises questions for viewers: are the hosts in other parks also becoming self-aware? If so, will hosts be able to communicate with one another and prevent further enslavement?

Season two of “Westworld” seems to be ready to pack a punch from trailers and interviews, but for now, fans will be left biting their nails trying to theorize the violent twists and intellectual turns. But the impatient should remember what one human character in the season premiere says about curiosity: “It’s the folly of my kind.”

“Westworld” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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