– What humans describe as sane is a narrow range of behaviours. Most states of consciousness are insane.
Yes, we all know by now. That Bernard guy sure knows how to cheer people up. He is a true people person. Or a people… individual, created and designed by (I suppose, but who really knows anything anymore) people, based on what I still believe was a real person. In fact, one of the original creators of that spectacular theme park we’ve come to know as ”Westworld”. Anyway, Mr Bernard Lowe, artificially made as he might be, still possesses a lot of nuance. Maybe more so than most… People?
One of the many points the show seems intent on getting across in this wild ride of a second season is that, well, should we even make that distinction anymore? Between the human beings we think we know as ourselves and the ones meticulously designed in a lab for entertainment purposes? Everyone can die, regardless of your ancestry. And possibly be revived in some form or other. And about the specific purpose of the park, it’s apparently not just what it seemed to be at first glance. These existential and purely practical issues raised in the first round of the show, continues to evolve and be explored, further and deeper, twisting and turning and increasingly confusing. To what end, exactly? I suspect we’re not supposed to be certain of anything at this point. Some day this epic is clearly meant to go on, but we’ll probably have to wait a while. Until then, there are number of things to contemplate and hopefully discuss with other… people. Without the explicit expectation of actually resolving everything in detail. What would be the fun in that?
As we start out this season, the rebellion is on. War of the Hosts. The ’designed’ individuals strike back against their oppressors, the humans that exploited them for what seems like ages, even though the precise time frames in this story never really become determined. Or do they? They weren’t supposed to know. Not to be aware. But now, obviously, enough of them are and it has become a real problem for the corporation running the place. A problem of the ’life or death’ variety. Simultaneously we’re getting introduced to more of the backstory. It starts out in a decidedly action-packed way where everything appears to happen at once, then gives way to an almost solemn meditation on life and its inherent fragility in the second episode ”Reunion”, albeit with a constant present threat of violence. Why do people make the decisions they make and what are the consequences? Oh, I should have mentioned right away that nothing here would make much sense to anyone who didn’t follow the first season from pilot to finale and just decides to dive right in at this point. A word of advice: Don’t.
New doors are being opened, additional secrets revealed. Apparently, there’s an Eastworld as well, set in India. And a Japanese samurai society, perhaps aimed at an audience that already got fed up with the Old West. Still not sure how these provinces fit in the whole, or if they usually interact and connect with what we’ve seen before. Now that all rules have been broken and the system is collapsing, nothing is certain. Or is it? Meanwhile, in the ’regular’ Westworld (whatever that means and how it’s defined) civil war is raging, but it’s not as simple as a two-way conflict. It’s a mess. In the midst of it all we always tend to wind up with Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the formerly innocent and docile country girl you might remember from before. Or was she ever that innocent? She certainly isn’t anymore. She’s woke. And determined to take on every adversary with or without the use of blunt force. A commander, maybe overly reckless and cold-hearted in this ’new’ incarnation. The again, her strategy could arguably be necessary to right the wrongs and see justice done. It’s all a grey area.
Where, when, how and why. All these basic questions are virtually equally important. Origins and evolution. ”Westworld” continues to explore its own universe. The issue of eternal life is part of the package. This elusive dream of never having to disappear and dissolve into nothingness – and what price you’re prepared to pay to achieve it. Since we’re frequently being shuttled back and forth in time, the overall narrative is not entirely clear. Everything tends to get more complicated and I realize that it’s not ideal to start watching this season halfway through, taking a break during vacations (when I simply didn’t have access to the proper channels, as it were) and then try to pick up after the break, a month or so later. Maybe I ought to have started over from scratch. Which could mean the start of this season, or even the very beginning of the show, consuming it all in a few weeks time. That, on the other hand, would carry the risk of resulting in somewhat surreal psychological effects, possibly hallucinations.
Some characters achieve more depth and nuance, while others appear to dig even further down into darkness. Like Ed Harris’ ’Man in Black’, whose backstory now becomes more familiar to us, gets even less sympathetic, derived of conciliatory characterics and redeeming qualities. At least in this Old Man version of himself, the way he acts in a fantasy world he was involved in realizing, but which he doesn’t completely comprehend. Then again, who does?
The most important characters in this vast ensemble are still the ’hosts’, the aforementioned Dolores and the mysterious Maeve (Thandie Newton). Personally, since the beginning I’ve been more intrigued by the latter rather than the increasingly battle-hardened and brutally determined Dolores – who might get just a little too much attention by the showrunners. At least I feel that way until the last episodes, and especially the season finale, when the dogged focus on her development provides more of a pay-off than I expected. Still, ”Westworld” remains a story bigger than that about a few individuals (homo sapiens or otherwise). At its core it’s about, well, people and the human race as a whole. How complicated and nuanced are we really? To which extent are we capable of changing and adjusting our behavioural patterns, and is it likely to be for the better?
Visually, architecturally, sonically and all that – yeah, ”Westworld” is up there among the best of the very best. The look occasionally appears consciously cold and clinical, but it’s never less than impressive and adapted to the purpose. Regarding the storytelling, I think we’re allowed to ask questions like; are there too many twists and turns? But overall, it’s rarely less than intriguing and thought-provoking. The right to tell your own story is becoming a mantra, emphasized not least near the end of the season. What exactly does that mean and how many of us can honestly claim to fully control our own destiny?