3.5 out of 5 stars

The second season of Westworld continues with “Reunion”, an instalment that predictably finds many characters being reacquainted, while broadening the scope of the story to encompass what happened outside of the park long ago… setting us down this path to a robot uprising…

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It looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground. Have you ever seen anything so full of splendour?—Dolores.

It was clear from the trailers we’d be spending time in the “real world” this year, beyond the various parks, and “Reunion” spent half its hour explaining more about how Westworld came to exist. The teaser was another sequence with co-founder Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) and his favourite creation, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), revealing he used to bring her to the real world occasionally. If only to enjoy her wide-eyed reaction to being shown modern skyscrapers. She’s like an adorable child and Arnold even compares her to his own son, Charlie, while showing her round the family home he’s having built close to work.

“It looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground. Have you ever seen anything so full of splendour?” says Dolores, of the twinkling city before her. It’s a poetic and seemingly heartfelt moment Arnold appreciates, later hinting he thinks the beauty of it’s wasted on humanity (so the seeds of his desire for Hosts to become self-aware and rebel were planted around this time). However, after Dolores later repeats her stars comment, Arnold’s suddenly reminded she’s still just a machine following complex behaviour patterns, no matter how convincing the illusion can appear. She needs more work…

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I used to see the beauty in this world… and now I see the truth.—Dolores

Things are certainly very different decades later for Dolores. She’s self-aware and now leading the Host rebellion inside Westworld that Arnold surreptitiously made happen. In a surprise development, Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) have already found a way out of the park to off-limits areas of the Delos facility, entering an area where humans deal with broken Host bodies retrieved from the park for repair.

Teddy’s shown proof he’s died many times in the past, and a lab technician’s tortured by Angela (Talulah Riley) by having his face dunked in the white goo they used to create Host skin. The man tells them Delos have a tactical response team of 600-800 men primed to end the robot mutiny, meaning Dolores needs an equal number of allies to defeat then. So they reactivate a confederado who can help them find a confederate Colonel, via his subordinate Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker), who isn’t particularly open to the idea of following a woman like Dolores. Well, not until her posse blow him and his men to smithereens at their dinner table. One presumes Dolores took the opportunity to force the lab tech to increase their skills, much as Maeve (Thandie Newton) insists on last season.

Speaking of whom, Dolores and Maeve crossed paths during this episode, however briefly, and the moment underlined some differences in their approach to the mutiny. Maeve doesn’t want revenge because it’s “…. just a different prayer at their altar, darling, and I’m well off my knees”, before making a cutting remark to Teddy that his newfound freedom seems to involve blindly following Dolores around — suggesting he’ll go against her later in the season.

Anyway, back to Craddock and his murdered men. He duly falls into line once Dolores “resurrects” him thanks to the technician she’s brought along, of course. And it’s interesting to note Westworld now has two strong female characters who appear “divine” to the other Hosts, many of whom have been programmed to see women as second-class citizens. The drama is operating on two levels, with a women-vs.men and robot-vs.-mankind battle taking place simultaneously.

In the episode’s final shot, Dolores and Teddy are riding to get the help of the Colonel to fight the Delos army, and it’s mentioned that “the valley beyond… isn’t a place, it’s a weapon.” But more on what she could mean later…

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In 20 years, this will be the only reality that matters. Half of your marketing budget goes to trying to figure out what people want, because they don’t know. Here they’re free, nobody’s watching, nobody’s judging… at least that’s what we tell them. This is the only place in the world where you get to see people for who they really are.—William

There are still secrets to discover about Westworld’s origins. “Reunion” dug into some of that this week with Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) returning to the narrative, last seen tied naked to a horse and sent into the wilderness by his brother-in-law William (Jimmi Simpson). But this earlier flashback saw them in slightly happier times.

Logan is still an arrogant playboy, being schmoozed in this episode by representatives from the Argos Initiative, that included Angela. Argos want him to invest in a more “tangible” leisure experience than he usually gets asked to endorse, and Logan’s impressed by their private demonstration to guess which partygoer is actually a robot.

I think we all knew where this scene was headed, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Logan correctly spotting that Angela’s stiff composure marked her out as an artificial being… before being astonished that everyone in the room isn’t human after they all freeze in unison. This technology’s highly advanced and decades ahead of the curve, but of course Logan immediately uses it to have group sex with Angela and some other attractive Hosts… watched by Dolores in a doorway.

Some time later, Logan’s Scottish father James (Peter Mullan) makes his debut on the series. Mullan’s a great actor known for many gritty roles, but James feels quite cliched. He’s another example of the hard-nosed businessman who has no interest in the product he’s been asked to invest in, but can only be persuaded if he’s convinced there’s money to be made. It also seems he’s terminally ill, with a telltale cough. I hope Mullan gets a little more to play with as the story develops.

Interestingly, it’s William who’s the real advocate of Westworld, giving James a tour of Sweetwater amidst all the frozen Hosts as their helicopter arrives. But he knows to push the business advantages of bankrolling these fantasy parks, and we get some confirmation of last week’s suggestion that the wealthy clientele are being spied on. It’s not clear how or why just yet, but we already know their DNA is also being harvested. My assumption is that clients participating in Westworld can’t help revealing their innermost desires and darkest impulses (raping, killing), and footage of what they got up to is used to blackmail them later? But that’s quite a generic masterplan, and would mean the loss of repeat business every time they blackmailed someone afterwards. Hopefully we’ll gain more understanding of what Delos are really interested in achieving with the parks. It’s the taking over DNA that has me worried…

It should also be noted that William was extolling the virtues of the parks to James Delos, despite initially being very unsure of Westworld. It was always Logan who was very keen on what the parks deliver as the world’s greatest fantasy indulgence for sex and violence. So the pitching scene with James Delos must have happened after William became a Westworld devotee. Maybe even after he sent Logan into the great beyond on horseback? I’m slightly unsure, because wasn’t the park already under Delos financing when William first stepped inside? I guess it was only Logan bankrolling the parks himself, so once he was gone William knew he had to get Logan’s father to take over? That does make sense, but I’d love to know what James thinks happened to his son…

A little later, Dolores is playing piano at a Delos party, where we’re introduced to William’s daughter Emily and his wife for the first time. We know from the first season that William’s wife will eventually commits suicide, souring his relationship with Emily, who blames him for her mother’s death. This is what prompted him to spend more and more time in Westworld looking for its hidden meaning. It’ll be interesting to discover why William’s wife took her own life, and if it’s tied into Dolores — whom she doesn’t seem to react kindly towards. Did she discover her husband had feelings for Dolores? Or will they have a “real world” affair further into this timeline?

Later still, William activates Dolores in one of the glass rooms inside the Mesa Hub. “You really are just a thing. I can’t believe I fell in love with you,” he says rather coldly. Maybe this is happening soon after the dinner party, so he’s trying to convince himself he doesn’t love Dolores so he can focus on his marriage? William does seem to be trying to convince himself, as Dolores’s memories of this entire moment will be erased when she’s put back on her loop. We also get the first hint of William (who’ll obviously become the ‘Man in Black’ in later life) starting to theorise about there being something else happening at the heart of Westworld; a “a question no-one’s even dreamed of asking.”

As an echo of the opening scene, William then takes Dolores to see enormous terraforming machines creating a new section of the park, which he describes as a “splendour” — echoing her own sentiment about the real world. It crossed my mind that the machine Dolores was shown, capable of changing the very environment she lives in, might be “the weapon” she later spoke of with Teddy. Possibly the thing that builds the uncharted ocean Bernard and the Delos team discovered last week?

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That’s why your world exists. They wanted a place hidden from God. A place they could sin in peace. But we were watching them. We were tallying up all their sins… all their choices. Of course, judgement wasn’t the point… we had something else in mind entirely.—Man in Black.

This episode was partly about characters trying to assemble strong teams to help them achieve their goals. Dolores and Teddy hope to find the Colonel to amass an army capable of defeating the Delos tactical team, and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is similarly trying to recruit a gang of likeminded individuals.

He quickly finds his old friend Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), suspended upside-down over an ant’s nest by a bunch outlaws, and together they rode to a bar to retrieve a mysterious red package from behind a wall panel (which was described as “cheating”), before setting off for the town of Pariah.

The MIB’s speech (quoted above) also suggests the intention of the park wasn’t to blackmail misbehaving guests over what they got up to inside, so it must be something far more nefarious involving their DNA. Maybe the gradual replacement of humanity with their robots, once they achieved sentience?

Regardless of those bigger mysteries, at Pariah they met with El Lazo (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito), who was offered “a real ending… the truth” by the MIB, now his narrative has ended in the fictional world and he serves no purpose. Interestingly, once the MIB was forced to hold a gun to El Lazo’s head and order the loyalty of his men, it seemed that El Lazo was briefly possessed by the ‘ghost in the machine’ of park co-creator Robert Ford — stating the familiar phrase “this game was meant for you, William, but you must play it alone” before El Lazo’s men committed suicide.

This is more evidence that Robert Ford isn’t quite dead, in the same way Arnold isn’t. They’re both written into the code of the robots they’ve created, nudging events along posthumously. And while Arnold seems to have a keen interest in Dolores, it seems Ford has backed the MIB? It’s rather amusing that everything is now playing out like a twisted game between Westworld’s creators, even after their deaths, with each founder picking the longest-running “player” of the game from opposing sides.

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In Summation:

It seems like Westworld is stick to its format of spending half its time in the past, only that fact isn’t being kept secret from the audience for the purposes of a twist. It’s fun seeing how Delos invested in the Argos Initiative to create the parks, and the writers have avoided it being a tedious experience because there’s added mystery about the specifics of why someone like James Delos (who hates fantasy) was convinced to keep bankrolling them. It also means we have a reason to keep Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes on the show, for a little while longer, although I’m less sure where the latter’s story could be headed.

It’s of greater interest that Arnold took Dolores for trips into the real world, which was something his partner Robert Ford wasn’t against. It makes sense their robots weren’t locked away, of course, but for some reason it never crossed my mind they would be allowed to explore the outside world so openly. It also suggests they never really wanted to create an experience like Westworld, exactly, but it was a means to end and the only way to finance their real interest in making artificial intelligence.

Inside the park, it was really more of a piece-moving episode, with various characters preparing themselves for what’s to come. Dolores needs an army, the Man in Black wants a posse, and it seems clearer than ever they’re opposing figureheads of what’s going down. Of course, last week’s closing shot appears to have taken place in “the future”, with Bernard claiming responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Hosts found floating lifeless on an ocean… so one can assume whatever battle we’re headed towards doesn’t go the way Dolores expects. Or perhaps the way Teddy expects, as he was the only person we saw “dead”, so there’s a chance he may part ways with Dolores soon. Maybe that last shot was unrelated to what Dolores is planning to do, and more something Teddy cooks up with Maeve?

As usual with Westworld, everything about it invites speculation and begs even more questions, but I’ve learned from experience that things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes you’re led down the wrong path intentionally, thanks to misleading dialogue and scenes, when in fact there could be many other explanations because information is often being withheld. However, “Reunion” seems to prove there’s still much to explore in this story…

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