TL;DR – This first episode is like watching an oncoming storm approach. It is beautiful but also full of trepidation as it unleashes its torrent.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
I didn’t get the chance to see Westworld Season One when it first aired because it was locked away on the only cable provider here in Australia and I just simply couldn’t afford to access it. So for me, it was just this show that was rumbling across the internet each week. Well a year later, and that same provider finally had to compete with something and they put out a half-ass streaming service for Game of Thrones (see review) and one of the bonuses was Westworld was watchable for the first time. So I sat down to see what it was all about and I was entranced. There were these fascinating stories that encapsulated you and that is before you realise that we are dealing with different timelines. There is the look at what makes something alive and how far you will go to make something sentient. There was a hunt for a child that you can’t remember, the greed of corporations, nudity that is first used for titillation but then used to make you deeply uncomfortable with the whole scenario. Now all of this was captivating but then that episode happened and everything changes, and at that point, I knew I was hooked. Well, today Season Two starts and I happy I get to see them live with everyone else, so let’s go back to the universe of Westworld and deal with the fall out of The Bicameral Mind.
So to set the scene, at the end of last season we discovered the maze that was added into the game was not some deep secret for the best players to find and concur, it was a way of helping the hosts at the park find their sentience. At the end of last season, the final act of that maze was when Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) sacrificed his life to help Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) finally wake up. This happened at a party with some of the most important financial backers of the park in attendance, and then all hell broke loose as the hosts started targeting the guests with real bullets. Well at the opening of this episode we find out it has been two weeks since the slaughter and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) has washed ashore on the coast where he is woken by a security operation led by Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth). Help is finally being sent to the park to rescue the guests and staff (though as we can tell at least in Westworld and the control centre that help came far too late for most). Everything is now being overseen by Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) who politely tells the local navy officer to get the hell of his island (side note: this means the six parks are all on an island, that’s a big bloomin island). He is in charge of fixing this mess, however as we see this is not the only timeline that we are following, as we jump back to the moments after the revolution, we see some people are not what they seem to be. Now as we move on just a warning that we will be looking at the episode as a whole, and especially because it jumps around in the timeline there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
One of the key things about Season One that made the show as captivating as it was, was the fantastic characters and the amazing acting and writing used to bring them alive. The other things that are amazing to watch are how many strong female characters they have in the show. Thandie Newton was captivating in Season One and here in that first episode, I am fascinated to see where her story goes. She is a mother on a mission, and she is prepared to do whatever she needs to be reunited with her daughter. To make all of this believable you need to have an incredible range and frankly there are few people working at the moment that could come close to the job Thandie is doing. On the other side of this, we have Evan Rachel Wood who in many ways has to encapsulate all of Westworld in her performance, jumping from multiple past personalities into something new for this new season. Each shift feels real, feels visceral, and it such amazing joy to watch someone so talented apply her craft. It was great to see some new faces and Gustaf Skarsgård immediately brought a new energy to the show. Also, we should be casting Tessa Thompson in all the things.
At the core of it this first episode revolves around the stories of Maeve (Thandie Newton) in the aftermath, Dolores as she charts her revolution, Bernard, both in the aftermath with Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) and two weeks later with Ashley and Karl, also a little of the Man in Black (Ed Harris) as he plays his new game and kills the last vestige of Robert (Oliver Bell). So at the end of last season, Maeve had a choice and jumped off the train maybe showing that she had escaped her story, or not, maybe, ok I don’t know. This is in the immediate aftermath of the revolution timeline (RT) As she walks through the control centre which is in the state of being massacred she runs into Lee (Simon Quarterman) (who we see more if than ever before) and with his ‘sort of’ help and Hector’s (Rodrigo Santoro) actual help she charts a course to be reunited with her daughter. There is an almost cold calculation to her actions yet they stem from a real love for a life lost. In another RT story, we have Bernard and Charlotte trying to escape the carnage of the massacre and escape into the service tunnels. They doge traps set by Dolores and Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) only for Charlotte to lead Bernard to a part of the park even he didn’t know about, off the grid, and clearly, the higher-ups at Delos had more plans for the park. Finally, Dolores is discovering who the new her is and coming to terms with it has she kills all the humans she can find, which her beloved Teddy (James Marsden) disapproves of, but as the episode closes not just humans finding themselves on the end of her wrath. Finally in the two weeks later timeline (TW) we have the security team trying to make sense as to just what happened, trying to save any guest still alive, and we wonder what happened to Charlotte now Bernard is all alone.
In Season One the writers were able to weave a story that crossed multiple times lines, and in such a way that for many you didn’t realise it was jumping times until it revealed its hand. Here you can’t really get away with doing that twice unless they are in which case woah. So you have a clear idea of the different timelines but then that doesn’t make things any easier because now you are seeing things out of time and context, and that creates a forbidding sense, like watching an oncoming storm approach. It also continues developing the theme hinted on in Season One as to ‘What is Real?’ and that opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. Indeed, I am sure someone is writing up an article at the very moment that everyone is trapped in some kind of VR simulation. Also, there is that moment where the episode plays on the emotions of one of those old body snatcher alien movies, only flips it around with the humans being the intruders, walking among the host unnoticed up until now. All of this is a fascinating tease of what is to come and I for one am sold.
In the end, do we recommend Journey into Night? Yes, yes we can. It does everything an episode like this needs to do, it sets the stories into motion, it then complicates those stories, and it gives you just a hint of the amazingness to come. It is well acted, the score by Ramin Djawadi is as great as ever, and the scope of some of those shots gives you just a hint of the huge amount of work that goes into filming each episode. Finally, it makes me want to know more and more about how the season will go, a great opening for Season Two and The Door.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Westworld
Directed by – Richard J. Lewis
Written by – Lisa Joy & Roberto Patino
Based off – Westworld by Michael Crichton
Created by – Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Music by – Ramin Djawadi
Starring in Season Two – Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Rodrigo Santoro, Angela Sarafyan, Shannon Woodward, Ed Harris, Ben Barnes, Clifton Collins Jr., Jimmi Simpson, Tessa Thompson, Talulah Riley, Louis Herthum, Katja Herbers, Neil Jackson, Gustaf Skarsgård & Fares Fares with Anthony Hopkins & Oliver Bell