“These violent delights have violent ends”
This is the phrase uttered by Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) right as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) takes her slow walk up to shoot Ford (Anthony Hopkins) at the finale in season one. Taken from the infamous play of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, the “violent” delights refer to Romeo’s passion for Juliet, though serving as an ominous warning to their demise. The quote here bears similar meaning, albeit in different context. The violent delights of the people who have abused them; the investors, visitors and even Ford himself, by virtue of satiating their own lust, they meet their untimely end – retribution through the awaking of Dolores and her fellow hosts.
And as Ford takes a bullet to the head, chaos erupts, and chaos is how the season ended. “Chaos Takes Control”, harks the ominous official promo poster for season 2 of the show. Its a little ironic, seeing as how there is so little happening from the get go. I think chaos here could mean many things, but really a chaos of the mind, of ideologies and beliefs – so many things clash upon each other in a frenzy to take control.
SPOILER WARNINGS FOR EPISODE I AHEAD
The episode starts off pensively with Dolores and Arnold in a flashback scene from season 1, a conversation midway as they talk about their hopes and dreams in the lab. They face one another, in a quiet dimly lit room. She still has the coy smile of an innocent child, one who is still learning,curious and adapting as she goes. Arnold adores Dolores and we could tell – in a charming, subdued relationship that of a creator and their creation, a parallel to creationism and religious subtext. Dolores is told dreams aren’t real – then “What is real?” she asks. “Real is when you’re irreplaceable”, an answer she is notably not satisfied with, and one Arnold is not thrilled to give either.
“Sometimes you frighten me Dolores. Not you as you are right now. I’m frightened of what you might become”
-Bernard to Dolores at the opening scene of Episode I
It’s a brilliant and quiet opening that calls back to the themes of existentialism, a constant longing for answer and questions the hosts have. The hosts are back, stronger, more resilient and more ‘real’ than ever and most of them are here for revenge, all except for one- at least until we know how things progress, it’s still a little early to say.
Bernard takes up a majority of screen time in this first episode. After the opening between Arnold and Dolores, we follow through his point of view, waking up on a deserted beach somewhere, lost and confused amoung the waves. He’s…more quiet than usual. As if a changed man, his personality, much like Dolores in this episode, takes a huge step in a different direction that harks back to the central question proposed earlier – What is real? Upon learning the truth of his existence last season, Bernard seems to almost regress, playing the role of the quiet observer upon the cruel killings of his fellow hosts. Is this to save his own skin or does he still not acknowledge his being? We can’t even tell – but he looks visibly distraught.
Male and female hosts are executed on the spot without much regard or pity, and throughout the journey all the ‘humans’ in the show portray a very self-preserving narrative – “Kill the machines” I remember one of them saying. The stranded party guests beat and murder a harmless host stable boy after witnessing the brutal demise of another woman right outside the barn. Without realizing that ‘one of them’ (Bernard) was already among their ranks, save for the more modern attire – it’s a gory parallel, humanity through violence is such an odd thing to see, but it works. Like a spectacle, you want to look away but drawn to it at the same time, the violence only strengthening the similarities in how we hurt each other human to human, man to host.
At one point, Bernard even witnesses another host having their ‘brain’ forcefully extracted from their head postmortem, their core sense of being. This is the first time we take a good look at the device that bring these hosts to life, and serves once again as a cruel reminder to Bernard for what he is. Sitting in a cloudy mess of whitish fluid, underneath a skull and a fake bit of brain, a little white machine – with all the information in the world that makes them who they are – “A Billions dollars worth of IP” as one of them says.
The act is visceral, implying the feeling of flesh onto these hosts is not anything new, and amidst all the other instances of corpses strewn about in the wake of the massacre, the tone has changed. This is no longer a theme park, this is different, evolved, consequences are cemented in stone and the weight of bloodshed is more than just the weight in one person. Even William (played by Ed Harris), makes a brief but conceit appearance midway through, he is alive among the corpses – like the survivor he is and always wanted to be, he bears witness the repercussion of his own wishes. I think the all so slight smirk in his last scene of episode 1 says it all – “it’s all real” and he is ecstatic – the drive for humanity in violence and feeling alive shown across his blood covered face.
Dolores, right next to Bernard, tops the game in an almost full 180 in her personality – not that we didn’t see this coming. By the end of season 1,her awakening and upon finding ‘the maze’, she carries on the archetype of a jaded vengeful person who has probably seen too much and experienced too much for one lifetime. There is no longer any programming for her to follow – and if that is the case, how can we expect to see her character develop from here? One of the medic detectives on the scene even remarked this, “The rancher’s daughter? Isn’t she the sunshine type?” – I’m paraphrasing here.
Her cold demeanor, unwavering resolve for revenge, and brutal methods of execution are both cathartic and alarming. You can’t help but root for her, for all the pain she had to go through. She says it herself, “I can see clearly now, I remember all the good things, all the terrible things”. It’s a nagging sensation at the back of my head, but the feel and vibe she gives is that of a potential villain. Teddy, played by James Marsden, even notices this – “Are you sure this is what you really want Dolores?”, he is unsure how to feel. A vigilante of the hosts enacting revenge upon the party guests and investors who exploited their race. She is punishing those who are not directly guilty of her suffering. Will we just have to see how this plays out in future episodes.
Moving on to a mother, a fighter and a relentless lover. Maeve (Thandie Newton), the woman who never gave up on a child she can’t remember, a child who was not even hers to begin with. An example where bonds and emotional attachment triumph over facts. She threatens to murder the Story Director, Lee Sizemore (played by Simon Quarterman) for his direct, albeit off-putting remarks about her child not being ‘real’. After choosing to return instead of escaping, she now embarks on a quest to look for her daughter, perhaps the strongest depiction of love I’ve seen in the show yet, and towards a character we have not yet personally met. Newton consistently brings her acting game and knocks it out of the park, forcing us to confront the mother’s grief. In my eyes, she (Maeve) is real in every way a person can be considered real. She feels, she makes her own decisions, and now autonomous – she breaks away from her programming the same way humans desire to break out of our predetermined fate.
What being ‘Real’ means, is something the hosts are angry about, and what everyone else fights to preserve.
It’s a slow start to the season, but despite it being so, brings old themes with new approaches to the table. Characters come back from the previous season with new sense of purpose and Dolores’ remarks about taking over the real world is the very least, foreboding. The aftermath of the bullet massacre is only the beginning. Place after place, scene after scene, everyone both human and host die the same way – strewn across the battlefield, causalities for the ‘real’ war – pun intended. I suspect the action could only go up from here.
In season 1, the hosts fought for a chance to be real. In season 2, it seems like they will fight for the right to be real. Let’s catch up with Episode 2!
**Westworld Season II has begun airing on April 22nd