Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) may be sentient, but sentience alone can’t help you play “Chopsticks.”
Photo: All images: Jake P. Johnson (HBO)

After last week’s fun but not particularly interesting introduction to Shogun World, I was just about ready to announce that Westworld was officially in a sophomore slump. Not that it was bad, mind you; it just hasn’t grabbed me like its first season did. I am happy to report that after “Phase Space” this is no longer the case—and that’s not just because of that major last minute reveal. (Although it sure helped.)

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I think my problem with this season—beyond, you know, the protagonist of the first season turning into a murderer who’s even happy to kill her own kind if they aren’t up to her standards, whatever those are—is that the mysteries have been so vague. We don’t really know what Dolores’ real plan is, we’ve never seen any humans getting their shit together to fight back, we don’t know if there are still guests to save, or what. We don’t know what is happening to Bernard or why, because his brain is broken and he can’t tell time and also he’s mostly been a passive companion to whoever he’s tagging along with—until we get shots of him doing ominous, creepy actions from somewhen else, for some reason. The only thing we know a major character wants is that Maeve wants her daughter back, and while it’s understandably important to her, I feel safe in saying it’s not the highest stakes story in the show right now.

So “Phase Space” worked for me because it checked in with all the different groups whose stories we’re following and either tightened them up, advanced them, or at least gave us some info we didn’t have before. Getting a decent look at what everyone’s up to simultaneously wasn’t just a helpful reminder of all the storylines in play, but it gave the episode a wonderfully taut energy that propelled it through the end. So let’s check up with all of them now, shall we?

Team Dolores

When we last left our… protagonist, she had just forced one of her captive park techs to rejigger Teddy’s personality so that he would be tough enough to fight her war.

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When Teddy first walks in, Dolores has tears in her eyes, anxious with worry that he might hate her for forcibly altering his psyche, for lack of a better word. But the new Teddy is no-nonsense and ready to murder humans, which he does by instantly killing a second captive tech who can provide no answers about where Dolores’ missing father is. Even Dolores is shocked at how quickly Teddy was ready to pull the trigger, although she’s not upset. Then they board the train.

Of course, this is the train that brings people from the Delos entrance and reception area into the park, so its tracks head straight back into the park HQ. This is why Dolores’ men have loaded the engine with explosives and sent it (and a single car with the last remaining tech in it, because Dolores and New Teddy are still cruel) to HQ, right in the mountain that houses the complex. We don’t see the explosion, but we hear it, and we know it’s the first strike in a concerted attack with one, clear goal: to get her father. They’re on the way.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) wishes she could be flying through the galaxy with Woody Harrelson right about now.

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Team Maeve

Biding Musashi and Akane farewell, Maeve and her entourage (now including Armistice’s Japanese counterpart) leave Shogun World—after Musashi has a legit, one-on-one samurai duel, which I was fine with because it would have been super-weird to have visited this park and not gotten one. But when she finally sees her old house, she asks for the others to wait there—she has to do it alone.

The long-in-the-works scene of Maeve meeting her daughter is marred by two things. The first is that the two of them have a crazy on-the-nose conversation about mom dolls abandoning children dolls and maybe never coming back. The second is more egregious, because it has occurred to Maeve, even with her 20 Intelligence, that somehow… no other host was assigned the play the role she was transferred from? I mean, we’ve seen countless hosts reassigned roles. Maeve herself not only met New Clementine, but was also reassigned herself to be the saloon madam!

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Maeve is stunned and dismayed, which is exactly when the Ghost Nation roll up to do their usual “stalk and kill the lonely woman and her young daughter” storyline. When they capture New Mama, Maeve grabs her one-time child and runs. Hector and Armistice run to help, but Maeve trips and falls and one of the attackers is nearly on her—but he doesn’t attack. “Come with us. We are meant for the same path,” he says earnestly, before the bullets drive him away. I like this development, even though it doesn’t seem to track at all with their usual attack on the farmstead story. But Ghost Nation has been acting strange all season—killing only hosts, never guests, for one; riding off with New Mama instead of killing her for another. Ghost Nation has been programmed to be very spiritual, and I wonder if there’s a connection there with Maeve’s nascent “witch” powers. Maybe they can help her learn to hone it? Because I really like the idea of Maeve basically becoming Westworld’s Sorcerer Supreme.

Anyway, Maeve has been reunited with the daughter, and Maeve may or may not realize that her daughter has had all the memories of “Previous Mama” deleted from her head, so she’s effectively been dragged off by some strange woman with boundary issues. Stranger Danger! Oh, and in the confusion, Lee made a phone call for someone to finally rescue him. This probably isn’t going to end well for anybody.

The William in Black (Ed Harris) and Emily in Black (Katja Herbers).

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Team the Family in Black

After last episode’s big reveal that Emily is the daughter of the Man in Black, a.k.a. the Artist Formerly Known as William, the MiB has a very fair reaction: He thinks she’s a host, sent by Ford to fuck with him. Given how much Ford has been messing with him from beyond the grave already, it’s a fair assumption. But that night, as they’re camped, they started to bond in an unexpected way.

It turns out that Emily was in Rajworld by invitation from Hale, who asked her if she wanted to do the gauntlet, which I have to assume means visiting all six parks. While in Rajworld she also was there for the “pleasure palaces,” which, good on you, Emily. And then when things went crazy, she came to look for her father.

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When Dad in Black suggests she came to him running for daddy’s help, Emily scornfully laughs at him. She came so he wouldn’t get himself killed for some dumb game, and essentially take the easy way out—avoiding responsibility for Emily or her mom, who he very likely drove to suicide, which tore their family apart. She wants him to leave with her in the morning, head to the beaches where security is, and leave and start to connect again, slowly, carefully.

When she wakes up he has abandoned her. He doesn’t even leave her a horse.

We may not know what the MiB has planned yet, but at least we have total proof that he cares far more about Westworld and the game than his own family. And that Emily is almost certainly right about William diving his wife to suicide.

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Team Hale and to a Much Lesser Extent Stubbs

Poor Stubbs. He’s pretty much bewildered at everything’s that happening, Such as Hale using a secret briefcase thing to call Delos with, and the realization that Delos was absolutely not going to rescue a single guest until the package—i.e. the head of Dolores’ dad Peter Abernathy—was located and contained. And by contained I mean, “nailed to an operating table with a very, very large bolts.” Even Stubbs thinks it a bit cruel and unusual.

Later, Stubbs greets the first strike team led by a hardass named Coughlin who has stolen Sam Elliott’s mustache from Road House, and who belittles and dismisses him almost immediately. Of course, when the Delos tech guys can’t get into Westworld’s systems either, Coughlin is very, very grumpy. They do, however, manage to get the big map up and going—just in time for everyone to see Dolores’ explosives-packed train heading right for them.

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Bernard (Jeremy Wright) is confused; Elsie (Shannon Woodward) is also confused.

Team Bernard and Elsie

Hmm? Why can’t the Delos operatives hack into any of the systems? It’s because the Cradle—the huge database that is supposed to only be used to store the back-ups of all the hosts—has decided to connect to every single system that runs the six Delos parks. It’s in control of all of park operations, and is blocking every singe Delos hack in a new and exciting way, or so Bernard and Elsie discover as they traipse about for answers. But they don’t know who is generating the source code, and they only way out is to head to the Cradle itself.

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They do, but while Bernard is having a flashback to the time he grabbed a new host brain out of its 3D printer, Elsie discovers she still can’t get into the system to figure out what’s causing all this. So Bernard gets into a machine that will allow him to mentally explore the world inside the Cradle—as if, say, it were some kind of matrix, and perhaps he needed to enter it. (To be fair, the Matrix machine doesn’t saw off the top of your head, take our your brain all, and drop it in a slot like some sort of claw game.)

It may not shock you to learn that the world inside the Cradle is actually Westworld—but an ethereal yet vibrant version where people are happy and peaceful instead of dead and covered in blood.

As he takes his sweet time walking down the street, he sees Dolores, back in her rancher’s daughter role; then he notices a familiar dog trotting by him. When he enters the saloon he passes by Teddy, and then he sees another dog at the feet of the man playing the piano, who used to run all of Westworld. Well, he may still be running all of Westworld, just from a new location: Dr. Robert Ford.

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I think most of us assumed that Anthony Hopkins was coming back one way or another, perhaps as a host that his consciousness had been inserted into, or maybe the real version was still out there and the one Dolores killed was a host. Ford’s mind living inside all the computers that run the park works for me. At any rate, even knowing the character was probably coming at some point didn’t diminish my joy as seeing him pop up there at the end, ready to have another conversation with Bernard and tell him about his new crazy scheme he’s got cooking.

And now I’m riveted (sorry, Peter Abernathy, wrong turn of phrase) to discover what answers he holds! Is Dolores choosing the path Ford set out for her? Or did he truly allow her her freedom, and is he bummed that she’s turned into the Goddess of Death? Or maybe he’s happy about it? Does he have a host body stored somewhere he can upload himself to? Sorry, dumb question. Of course he has a host body stored somewhere.

Team Arnold and Dolores at some unknown point in time

And here’s the kicker: The episode begins with yet another scene with just Dolores, back in her classic blue dress, and Arnold, sitting down in their regular room, as if it’s another interview. It’s a repeat of the very first scene of the season, where Arnold told Dolores he was frightened of what she and the other hosts might become.

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Only it’s not a repeat, it’s a continuation. And when Arnold tells Dolores he wonders if he should stop the robot evolution, or if he even has the right to stop them from developing, Dolores says, “No. That’s not what he said.” Arnold is confused until Dolores orders him to cease all motor functions, and Arnold freezes—because she’s controlling a host, this is in reality Bernard. We just still don’t know when. 

“This is a test,” Dolores—real, revolutionary, calculating, free Dolores—says. “One we’ve done countless times.” And when Bernard asks what she’s tested for, her answer, after a pregnant pause, is “Fidelity.”

It’s the exact same answer to the exact same question that William/Man in Black gave to the host/robot versions of his father-in-law James Delos—tests to see if the host would provide the same reactions to stimuli, to be as true to the original human as possible. Dolores is going through elaborate lengths to make herself not only her own Bernard, but a new Arnold. Why? What does she want him for?

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As you might recall, in the first half of the scene, from the premiere, Fake Arnold talks about having a dream about being at the ocean with a bunch of hosts, so this scene takes place after Bernard drowns them all in that new lake that was created… but I’m going to guess before he wakes up saved on the beach by the second (or third, or whatever) wave of Delos men. Is this… Bernold leading them all into Dolores’ trap?

These are all questions I’m looking forward to getting answers for, and I’m as excited about next week’s episode as I was about the premiere. And the “next week on” preview is crazy! A room full of Bernards! Ford! A crazy assault on the control room! Dolores and Maeve… talking to each other?!

I want it all. Westworld, you’re back, and I’m back in, too. You had me at “Fidelity.”

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Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) pulling his best Mifune, in my opinion.

Assorted Musings:

  • I maintain that Shogun World would have been better if it had included some guests, and the thorny issues that they would have inevitably raised.
  • Although the samurai fight was both awkward and slow, I loved it because Musashi’s fighting style reminded me so much of the great actor Toshiro Mifune, who acted in some of Akira Kurosawa’s greatest samurai films, including Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. I could be wrong, but I’m a big Mifune fan and it made me really happy.
  • On the flip side, Maeve walking though the wheat field upon approaching her house, camera right behind her hand which is outstretched to touch wheat stalks, Maximus in Gladiator-style, makes me angry because it’s such a clichĂ© and also Gladiator is a terrible movie.
  • So apparently Delos has secret entrances to the facilities hidden through all the parks, and some of them are… tube slides? That lead to storage closets? That’s… weird.
  • Best line of the night, hand’s down, from Bernard to Elsie just before she has part of his skull laser-sawed open and his ball brain removed: “Pain’s just a program.” That is so badass. If I had any kind of affinity for computers at all, other than them hosting Microsoft Word, I would get that tattooed on me somewhere. I am not joking.

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