‘Westworld’ recap: The social network
Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Reunion,” the second episode of the second season of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Since “Westworld” began, it has presumed loudly that, when certain that no one is watching, all human beings turn into the bad guy from “Seven.” For the show to work, you have to buy into that idea. If you’re the kind of person who would take your family to the park to watch Dolores paint landscapes, there are other shows for you, none of them on HBO.
But what if someone was watching?
Though none were on the Bernard’s-a-robot-copy-of-Arnold level, the numerous revelations in “Reunion” were all smart and smoothly delivered, none more so than the one about the park’s business model. Delos, it turns out, is running the same graft as Facebook — promising privacy, then taking your secrets to a back room to be product-ized.
Once again, we open with a chat between Arnold and Dolores, though this time pre-title sequence, for some reason. (I remain convinced that last episode’s Arnold-Dolores chat was actually a Bernard-Dolores chat. I will die on this stupid hill. Don’t bother trying to save me.) This time, also, the context is new. Dolores is gazing out a hotel window at a modern city with lights and skyscrapers and such, and is typically pre-woke Dolores about it. “Have you ever seen something so full of splendor?” she asks, not for the last time.
Ford — off camera, voiced by a crack Anthony Hopkins impersonator — gently scolds Arnold for favoring Dolores. Arnold is sparing Dolores some horrible task. Having convinced Ford that her services are not necessary for the night’s, Arnold takes Dolores on a short walk to his house. Yes, his house.
So we now know, based on the city we see Arnold and Dolores walk through and the arrival last week of the military personnel, that the park is apparently near Japan, as Arnold tells Dolores that he is building a home there so that he can have his family closer to the park. This doesn’t yet have a major impact on the story. But whereas the season premiere gave us veiled glimpses at what the world outside the park is, “Reunion” gives us some good, long looks.
After a brief stop to check in on revenge-mode Dolores in the uprising timeline, we venture again to the past, where we find Logan and pre-MiB William at a swanky bar. From the beginning of the scene, we can tell that this is prior to their vacation together that played out over season one, because their relationship is mutual exasperation rather than full-on hate. William, because he dislikes Logan and fun, leaves, and Logan accompanies Angela and a rep from “Project Argus” — who we know is probably a host, because he’s with Angela — to a demonstration, where he is shown the firepower of this fully operational battle station, then f–ks it. What Dolores was spared, apparently, was sex with Logan.
Because we’re so used to seeing Logan act like a scumbag, it’s almost sweet to watch him be floored at interacting with the hosts for the first time. When he mutters “We’re not here yet,” it’s a solid sign that “Westworld” takes place in a near future, not some faraway one.
Back in the uprising, Teddy looks at a slideshow of all his deaths, then loses it for all of four seconds before reverting to milquetoast mode. (James Marsden has, at this point in the show, been the actor least well fed by the writers). Dolores, Angela, and Teddy then torture a security guy and learn that Delos will enter the park with roughly 800 soldiers at a particular location. When Teddy says that they will need an army to counter the Delos forces, Dolores resolves to get one, and off they go.
Dolores, Teddy, and Angela find the Confederados, then tame them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. (Actually they kill the Confederados, then wake them back up to show them that their reality is bananas.) But the real action comes prior to the Confederado recruitment drive, when Dolores and Maeve cross paths.
Maeve wandering into a Dolores episode is a rare treat, because Thandie Newton makes everything in “Westworld” better. But the show has kept the two characters apart. This is only the second face-to-face Dolores and Maeve have had in the series so far. The tension between the two is immediate, and the difference between their two paths made explicit. Dolores is styling herself as a revolutionary leader, maybe even a messiah. Maeve has no time for that. She’s looking to take care of herself and her family (Hector, her daughter), and get clear of any danger presented by either party in the war to come. They represent legitimate and opposing responses to a messed-up world.
While Dolores and crew are heading for the Confederados, MiB-William and Lawrence are looking to steer clear of them, trying to get to some secret destination with minimal trouble. MiB-William is, as is his wont, frustratingly vague about where they’re headed. Seeing Lawrence again is great, because like Newton, Clifton Collins Jr. elevates every scene that he’s in. But we’re reminded of the unfortunate pattern that Lawrence and MiB-William tend to fall into, where the latter talks past the former and the former just kind of goes along with it for some reason. Together they ride to Pariah, where MiB-William’s efforts to raise a personal army go somewhat less well than Dolores’.
The rest of the episode’s action takes place in flashback — three scenes that take place at different times after William sends Logan riding naked off into the wilderness tied to a horse.
In the first we meet Mr. Delos — who is actually named Mr. Delos and is the most entertaining filthy-rich Scotsman to grace television since Scrooge McDuck. William is all business, having climbed over Logan in the Delos pecking order, but still having yet to sell the old man fully on himself or the park. He manages to do both is a scene that merges tight acting and writing. The real money in the park will not be made in a model that offers expensive entertainment and comes with high overhead. It will in surreptitiously gathering data on customer behavior. “This is the only place in the world where you get to see people for who they really are,” William tells Mr. Delos. “And if you don’t see the business in that, then you’re not the businessman I thought you were.” Squint, and you can almost imagine that Jimmi Simpson is playing an alternate-reality Mark Zuckerberg who can dress well and talk smooth.
The second flashback is less important, though it establishes that William became heir to the Delos empire, which we knew, and Logan became a drug addict, which we did not. In the third flashback, William and Dolores are reunited. We see the beginnings of William’s weird habit of having long, one-sided conversations with hosts for no obvious reason. William takes her out into the park where he shows her — something. It looks like two big machines digging. Whatever it is, it’s very important, and we learn later that it is where Dolores and MiB-William are racing to during the uprising.
“It’s a weapon,” Dolores tells Teddy. “And I’m going to use it to destroy them.” Dollars to donuts the weapon involves all that user data. Presumably we meet someone from Cambridge Analytica in next week’s episode.
Some more thoughts:
• Hi, Giancarlo Esposito. Bye, Giancarlo Esposito.
• Jokes aside, the Esposito casting worked. It added dramatic weight to the Pariah scene. And the moment when Esposito’s character says, “This game was meant for you, William, but you must play it alone,” might be the episode’s best. It continues to be creepy and effective when the hosts break character, something we’ll probably see less and less of now that they’re all being woke.
• Something else that worked — cutting back and forth between Angela in flashback and Angela as Dolores’ henchman. The hosts all presumably have histories with one another, and it will be interesting to see how far the show leans into that as the season progresses.