Free of the park, Westworld has a hell of a lot of fun in episode 2

Westworld continues loosening up a bit, including more than a passing reference to a certain other HBO mega-show. Tony Stamp’s detailed Westworld episode recaps continue here, full of serious spoilers, of course. If you want to read more about events on Westworld prior to season three, check out Tony’s catch-up piece, and there’s also his recap of episode one.

The most shocking moment in this week’s episode of Westworld had nothing to do with virtual simulations, or technician robots run amok, or even Nazis. No, it was a cheeky grin plastered across the face of one Bernard Lowe. Seeing this, and clocking that it wasn’t a wan smile, or a smirk, but a proper, toothy grin, was kind of a relief. Bernard, saving the world though he may be, is having fun. And Westworld, unshackled from the park structure of seasons one and two, is having a hell of a lot of fun too.

See also
All new movies & series on Neon
All new streaming movies & series
* All our Westworld coverage

Bernard flashes those beautiful chompers in response to a remark from Stubbs, of course. And Stubbs, the once stoic security chief, newly outed as a Host and living his best life, has loosened up a lot too. In fact, he almost seems like a different character, as if Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan realised they had a Hemsworth brother on their hands and should feed him wisecracks accordingly. Granted when we meet him he’s attempted to self de-commission, and he goes on to murder (or at least brutalise) a bunch of people, but he does it with a very sweary joie de vivre we haven’t seen before.

It’s a frothy episode all round, with a serious focus. The prospect of war hangs over proceedings, be it Maeve’s adventures in Nazi-occupied Italy (or a simulation thereof), Bernard’s ominous warnings about Dolores, or Serac’s declaration that a war is already underway.

He shows up near the end, played by A-list French actor Vincent Cassel, to recruit Maeve after her successful escape from the War World simulation. Her story began frustratingly—waking up in another ‘loop’ and trying to find the exit brought all the widescreen vistas and swooping music we got from the Western storylines, but as with them, we know it’s all a ruse. I did raise an eyebrow seeing a damn plane swooping around (like, man these theme parks are out of control), but later events reveal it’s all happening in a computer somewhere. There’s also the cognitive dissonance of knowing, as per last week, that the parks are shut down—reiterated by Stubbs this week. To the show’s credit then, it’s not long til Maeve figures out what’s up—but not before we get the very satisfying death of a Nazi Officer as Maeve stuffs a suicide pill into his eye (a Chekhov’s Gun-type scenario in miniature, and with a twist).

She encounters her old pals Felix and Sylvester, who don’t seem to recognise her (so Serac created their familiar faces but didn’t know they had history with Maeve?), and then a cane-assisted Lee Sizemore (or a facsimile thereof), who leads her to The Forge and tells her to input the coordinates for The Sublime so she can escape there. With the benefit of hindsight, was the whole thing Serac’s way of trying to find the escaped Hosts? To what end? I assume he wants to eliminate them before Dolores can enlist them into her war, and I’m more certain we’ll be seeing Teddy and the rest of the gang before the season is up.

Maeve proceeds to hack her way out of War World and its associated backstage via tablet, because its creators “applied the same code inside the simulation as they used to build the simulation itself”.

Some Matrix-y time-freezing shenanigans ensue, thanks to this world’s “limited processing power” (throwing an entire lab of programmed people into disarray via an impossible math problem was a nice touch), and then Maeve is able to see through the security cameras in the real world and locate the future-USB stick that houses her consciousness.

I feel like italics are necessary here because this is, conceptually, completely bonkers. It makes my head hurt, and I love it. Joy and Nolan really are throwing caution to the wind. Pretty soon Maeve has taken control of the lab tech robot and programmed it to scarper off with her USB brain in tow. After it’s downed in a hail of bullets, Maeve wakes up in a brand new replica of her old bod, and with five minutes to spare we get to the real meat of the episode.

Serac is the man ominously referred to last week by Pom Klementieff: the one who’s really in control of Incite. It’s telegraphed when Maeve wakes up to see a hanging portrait of Rehoboam’s data wheel. “I don’t concern myself with the present. My business is the future” he tells her, going on to underline his point: “An oracle would merely predict the future. Our work is to create it”, then in case you still hadn’t caught his drift, “History is like the ravings of lunatics. But we’ve changed that. For the first time history has an author”.

The eerie descending melody plays (the one that accompanies the code wheel), and Serac explains why he put Maeve through all this: his system has detected something it can’t predict. He thought it was Maeve. But now he thinks it’s Dolores, and he wants Maeve to kill her. He tells her they’re in the middle of a war, and I think he means they’re about to be. According to Serac, the future is fixed. Free will doesn’t exist. Sarah Connor would be horrified.

The back half of season two went on about this idea quite a bit: humans are incapable of change, but Hosts aren’t. Of the two species, it’s actually us that are predictable, and they who are unknowingly complex. It’s a neat idea, one that could define the story going forward.

But I was left wondering what the point of War World was, exactly. Was it to test Maeve, or just taunt her with visions of her past? And if the Host technology was a breakthrough for Delos, how is Serac able to make Maeve a new body? Perhaps the Hosts have gone open source.

This new body of hers has a failsafe built in—she tries to stab Serac (just as fearsome in her quest for freedom as Dolores), but Serac freezes her (with a button similar to Bernard’s), and hints they’ll meet again. If he doesn’t win this war it’ll mean “the end of humanity”, after all.

Bernard made similar predictions earlier. He predicts that Dolores is out to destroy the human race, or enslave it (I’m pretty keen on seeing that second option, to be honest), and his short term objective is the same as Serac’s: enlist Maeve. The series is setting up these two women for a robot battle royale, and while that’s exciting, this is a show renowned for its rug-pulls, so I’m guessing there might be a different outcome.

In the meantime let’s hope for plenty more buddy comedy from this unlikely Bernard/Stubbs pairing. As mentioned, I love what they’ve done with Luke Hemsworth, who’s suddenly a disgruntled yin to Bernard’s anxious yang. “You’re one of them… of us I mean” splutters the latter.

“No shit” replies the former.

It’s weirdly touching when he explains how Ford programmed him: “It was my job to protect every host in the park. I guess you could say I was made redundant”, and he gets a great moment as Bernard carries out some digital introspection, lit with neon and swinging an axe at Delos employees as the synths on the soundtrack really fire up.

This, of course, happens in Park Four, which turns out to be a big cheeky Game of Thrones reference, complete with that show’s creators about to dismantle a robot dragon with a circular saw. It’s another example of Westworld loosening up a bit, skating right up to the edge of silliness before reining itself in.

By the end, our new odd couple are headed back to the mainland in search of Liam Dempsey, once Bernard’s digital sleuthing has revealed Dolores’ fascination with the Incite figurehead.

Episode two was nowhere near as dense as the first, which really did cram in a whopping amount of information. But it positioned two of our main players on the board, sending them toward a confrontation with Dolores. Still no Man In Black this week, but I’m sure we’ll see him soon: according to Serac, war is inevitable, and someone with the might of Delos behind him is sure to play a part. With six episodes to go, our characters are all on a trajectory toward each other, and Westworld’s writers keep showing a newfound willingness to get freaky.

I hope we see Bernard grin again. But the way things are heading, I kind of doubt it.