With the return of Westworld on the horizon—season three streams weekly on Neon from March 16—Tony Stamp takes stock of where the challenging narrative of the past two seasons has left us. A catch up is definitely welcome at this point, and you should keep an eye out for Tony’s weekly episode recaps that’ll help unpick the events of season three as they unfold.
Let’s be honest: Westworld, Neon’s cowboy-robot saga, can get a bit… complicated. Multiple storylines in multiple time periods, a huge raft of characters (some of whom may not even be real), and stuffed to the gills with ominous clues and red herrings aplenty. On top of that, the end of season two saw some characters popping up in different bodies, just in case you thought things were getting too straightforward.
But the feeling of discombobulation is part of the fun, the result of a show that’s a puzzle within a series of mysteries. Once you get on board it’s addictive. Hopefully, reading this will help bring you up to speed ahead of the arrival of Westworld season three from March 16. And I’ll be here with weekly episode recaps to assist with keeping on top of exactly what the hell is going on from week to week.
The show is helmed by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan—brother to Chris the director. Jonathan helped write some of his bro’s films like The Dark Knight and Interstellar. And it definitely feels Nolan-y: huge widescreen landscapes, an ensemble cast of seriously heavy hitters, and those aforementioned mysteries. Like the symbol of the maze that keeps recurring through the series, watching the show can feel like stumbling around blind till you reach a destination.
And the destination of season two was damn satisfying, emotionally and cerebrally. Even so, (and having watched it twice now), sitting down to recap it does feel daunting, like winding a particularly long piece of string across an overstuffed whiteboard.
Season one set up the framework of the show: at an unspecified point in the future, theme parks populated by very lifelike robots, known as Hosts, exist. One of them is set in the old West. Guests attend, wear cowboy outfits, and watch the Hosts ‘murder’ each other (before being brought back to ‘life’ behind the scenes). Often the Guests join in the murdering. Eventually, thanks to the Hosts’ creator Robert Ford, they start to ‘wake up’ and become self-aware, and at that point are none too chuffed about a life of indentured servitude. And, you know, the murdering.
Season two broadened the scope a lot. While we followed the robot uprising spreading through Westworld, we also learned about the neighbouring parks Shogun World and The Raj, and three locations that deserve their own paragraph breaks:
The Cradle is a virtual world where simulations of The Hosts are run through various potential storylines.
The Forge is a secret facility operated by Westworld’s parent company Delos, that stores years’ worth of data harvested from the park’s guests (without their knowledge). Delos has begun attempting to digitally replicate real people, and placing their digital consciousness into robot bodies. The goal is eternal life. They’ve been working on it for a long time, but haven’t quite cracked it.
The Sublime is a virtual paradise where The Hosts’ souls can live forever, away from humankind. Also known as The Valley Beyond, where a procession of Hosts traveled to (or at least their digital consciousnesses did), at the end of season two, leaving a mass of bodies in their wake.
All these developments seemed to be pointing in a pretty specific direction: if the human mind can be replicated, how are we any more real than these artificial beings? As seen in the (frankly pretty damn jaw-dropping) trailers (watch the most recent one), season three is heading toward a clash between humankind and the handful of Hosts who escaped the park.
As noted, this show can be tricky to follow. So to ease back in, let’s see where we left all the pieces on the board.
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood)
The character who still feels like our main protagonist, Dolores has evolved into, if you were feeling uncharitable, a bit of a psycho. She led the uprising against the guests, doing a lot of killing along the way. Then she transmitted The Sublime, and the Hosts inside it, to “a place no one will find them”. In a flash-forward at the end of the final episode we saw her recreate Bernard on the mainland, after killing him in the park, so we can assume he was one of the four ‘pearls’ containing the hosts’ minds she smuggled out.
Oh also, her mind is in a Host copy of the Delos employee Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) now.
Maeve (Thandie Newton)
The character who had the most to grapple with emotionally during season two met her own robot replacement, said goodbye to her daughter, and visited Shogun World, experiencing its even more violent version of her storyline. Along the way, she developed her psychic powers, but by the end was lying ‘dead’ on a pile of Hosts, waiting to go back to Livestock Management.
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright)
Dolores did him dirty, presumably while he peered over his glasses. Shot in cold blood just as he’d realigned his scrambled memory, and realised that at least some of his visions of Ford were figments of his imagination. Which I guess the Hosts have? As noted above, he’s one of the Hosts confirmed to have escaped to “the real world” for season three, and along with Maeve and Akecheta (the Ghost Nation tribe member whose story was told in heartbreaking season two episode Kiksuya), one of the Hosts whose inner conflict about their identity is perhaps most relatable to the viewer.
Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth)
The least famous Hemsworth got a twist all of his own. The head of security in Westworld was a Host all along, one tasked by Ford to protect the others and make sure Bernard and Dolores made it out ok, all the better to kick off a robot uprising. This sort of came out of nowhere, but it did make me hope he’d stick around for next season.
Teddy (James Marsden)
Last seen in the digital paradise of The Sublime, it seems we can count Teddy out of season three. Having said that, such a fuss was made about where Dolores had beamed everyone off to, I’d bet good money on The Sublime making a reappearance at some point down the line. So never say never.
William / The Man In Black (Ed Harris)
This was the most confusing part of the finale. William was on his way into The Mesa to confront Dolores. He was in the elevator… the doors opened, and then… nothing. Later we see him among the wounded on the beach. Was he just too late, or was there a confrontation we’ll see later? I’m betting the latter, as the show made such a big deal of the moment.
Then, just to throw us even more, post-credits we see William enter The Mesa at some point in the “far, far future”. He talks to a Host version of the daughter he murdered, who implies that he too, is a Host. It’s a tantalizing note to leave on, mainly because it implies we’ll be seeing more of this future soon.
Charlotte (Tessa Thompson)
A calculating character who emerged partway through Westworld‘s first season, Charlotte Hale is a Delos board member tasked with some crucial corporate skullduggery inside the park, with a particular keenness to sideline the work of Westworld mastermind Robert Ford. Charlotte plays a key role in Bernard’s journey throughout season two, much of it revealed in the finale to have been Dolores in a copy of her body all along. With the human Charlotte very much deceased, impersonating this senior Delos employee could prove very useful for Dolores in season three.
Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins)
The man pulling the strings throughout both seasons, despite dying at the end of the first. He lived on as code in The Cradle, implanted his code in Bernard, and popped up in Maeve’s mind too. I’m guessing we’ll get a digital ghost cameo at some point.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward)
She was absent for most of season two, showed up to reteam with Bernard, and was just kind of there for a few episodes, before being callously killed by Charlotte.
Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman)
Walked into a hail of gunfire for his robot crush Maeve. Aw.
As you can see, Westworld prioritised Hosts’ narratives over humans by the time season two concluded. It’s mainly about the birth of sentient AI who aren’t that stoked about being playthings for mankind’s worst impulses. It feels like the table has been set, and season three is going to head full-tilt into new territory. With Aaron Paul!
Are we headed into an all-out future-war? Will we see that ED-209 type thing in the trailer go berserk? Will Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan scramble our brains? Probably. I hope Westworld keeps being a big, bamboozling show that makes its viewers do their share of the brain-work. We’ll find out soon, and I’ll be here each week to discuss what the hell just happened after each season three episode. Can’t wait.