Westworld: 2.01 Journey Into Night
There's good television. And then there's Westworld. The season two opener proved the wait was absolutely worth it, delivering an hour and ten minutes of stunning television, with amazing imagery, plenty of great twists and turns, shocks aplenty and some fantastic character partnerships that took the series in interesting new directions. The difficultly with writing this review is that there is so much to consider, I could spend hours writing about it. It also poses a unique challenge - how do you critique an episode that was so deftly executed, it didn't put a single foot wrong?
Journey Into Night delved straight into the massacre in the park, framed around Bernard; we got our glimpse into his past connections with Delores before jumping into the first of two narratives. Yes Westworld has managed to expertly deliver two time frames simultaneously, though this time it is made clear upfront rather than keeping audience guessing. The first follows the events two weeks after the season one finale The Bicameral Mind, while the second jumps back in between in those unfolding days following the host uprising. It adds to the chaos without loosing control of the story and sets up some intriguing mysteries even within that short time jump.
Wrapping the narrative around a bewildered (possibly amnesiac of host-memory wiped) Bernard enabled the season to introduce a new world order, where the military led by Gustaf Skarsgård's new character Karl Strand hunted hosts and murdered with impunity. It was unclear whether the crisis had spread to the as of yet unseen other parks, but the military jeeps, rafts and soldiers storming across the wilderness of the Wild West was a visual clash of styles. We also discovered Luke Hemsworth's Ashley Stubbs had survived the host uprising - though how remains to be seen.
But the main part of the episode took place in the hours following the murder of Ford. Bernard, struggling with the effects of his host programming and fully aware of his real identity found himself huddled with the survivors as we saw guest picked off one by one in the most brutal and sadistic fashion. This was certainly an episode with a high body count; almost every location was littered with corpses of slain humans showing just how out of control events had gone and giving the episode a more dramatic, brutal edge.
Tessa Thompson's board member Charlotte Hale proved to be a far more interesting character this time round, having the skill to survive long enough to take Bernard back to her secret lair. I'm really intrigued to see where her character develops. What is the mystery behind decommissioned host Peter Abernathy, that was being shipped as a package outside the park? The two timeframes suggest she succeeds in her mission (though her absence in the latter is notable). The white host bodies with their organs and vessels exposed were a menacing presence too, a nice evolution on those we saw being built in season one.
The evolution of Delores this season is frightening; riding on horseback over the open plans, shooting guests dead with impunity (the twisted use of Scott Jopplin's The Entertainer was genius) or mentally and physically torturing them for pleasure - this is not the innocent, warm blacksmith's daughter of season one. Evan Rachel Wood was superb as she flitted between that sweet, breathless role one minute and then to ruthless Wyatt next, before settling on this new persona. "You're in my dream now," she declared boldly, stringing them up to hang and rising off to the distance.
It makes the ability to engage and sympathy with her difficult, something you would not have fought possible last season. Even Teddy seemed disturbed by her new behaviour. And what does the video footage of her hunting down hosts seen in the future narrative mean? If Ford was the scheming villain of season one, is Delores the monster that will haunt season two?
The other partnership was the most surprising; Maeve and Lee Sizemore. Simon Quarterman's programmer was the only real irritation of season one and there was something rather justified in seeing his most horrific creation, one of the cannibalistic miners hunt him down through the bloody wreckage of the facility, which may have been the creepiest sequence in this bloody, brutal episode. But there was some hope for development here in his new partnership. Thandie Newton continued to prove while she is the real MVP of Westworld, deprogramming the cannibal returned to the central command and stole the show with her cold ruthlessness, superior intellect and ability to outwit him at every turn.
I am totally invested in Newton's Maeve and her search for her daughter. After all she experienced last season, it was really satisfying to see her have the upper hand, forging a new team with Hector and using Lee to get what she wanted. The scene where she forced him to strip was a great twist on her journey; no longer was she the one subjected to unwanted gazes, forced to do the bidding of her human masters. This is a woman that has absolute power and it was a joy to behold.
Finally we Ed Harris' Man in Black (AKA William), who now seems to be totally in his element in a no-holds barred fight to the death. If Delores is the villain and Maeve and Bernard the heroes, he is the show's wild card moving forward.
Journey Into Night was a superbly executed season opener with phenomenal performances all round and plenty of mystery to keep the audience hooked for the next ten weeks. It also feels as if Westworld has suddenly opened up more possibilities than we could have imaged. The hosts gaining sentience and fighting back against humans was clearly just the beginning and I am very excited for the journey to come.