Westworld: 3.02 The Winter Line
A warning of spoilers as we delve into the latest episode of Westworld season two...
With last week's season opener taking Westworld in a bold new direction, the next episode seemed to do a bit of a reversal, with a return to the parks as the show picked up the stories of Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). In fact, there were moments that seemed to hark back to the glory days of season one as Maeve fought to gain mastery over her human masters and escape the narrative she was placed in.
Of course, Westworld is rarely as simple as that. Everything we witnessed this week was a clever subversion that played on some of the show's best moments while also continuing to take the story in an intriguing new direction. The debut of War World was another intriguing element to the park, after the debuts of Shogun World and Raj World in season two. The sequences in Nazi-occupied France looked stunning. Maeve was at her very best, classy and ruthless as she found herself trapped in the persona of a resistance fighter, working to escape the occupied town with lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). It was as rich and absorbing as everything we've seen before. And Maeve taking on Nazis. What's not to like?
War World? It was all a lie.
That's the beauty of the show. What played out as a story of Maeve trying to break free of her shackles, reunited with Lee Sizemore (Simon Quaterman) who miraculously survived the season two bloodbath, was in fact all an elaborate prison. Waking up behind the scenes, Maeve taking control of the simulation and then changing the narrative to turn every Nazi into a traitor, was a fun, thrilling twist. The image of the bloodshed frozen in time as Maeve navigated the simulation was simply beautiful to watch. And as the ending proved, little more than a story.
Sizemore was great too. For what had largely been an arrogant, forgettable character in season one, his growth as Maeve's ally in season two proved to be one of the many highlights. His banter with Maeve in this episode was electric, Newton cleverly putting down his advances while he got to bring some lovely moments of humour. Being terrified, rather than frozen in time, was a great comic touch. As a final encore, this relationship, along with her doomed romance with Hector, was a nice bit of season two nostalgia before events turned to the real world.
Bernard's journey was also a fascinating one, his trip to the South China sea revealing the location of where the now abandoned Westworld was set. Teaming up with his 'protector' Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who was revealed to be a surprise host in the season two finale, his quest to stop Delores began right back where things started. Seeing Westworld as a tomb really shows how far the show has come; should we have been surprised when the majority of the park storyline this week was revealed to be a hoax? The narrative has clearly evolved. Like Maeve's journey to the real world, the expedition back to the real world was all about saying goodbye and moving on.
This was certainly Ashley's best episode; with the full knowledge of who he is, we got to see him unleash his skills in the superbly-choreographed fight with the park troops, taking a battle axe to the armed men in spectacular fashion. And indeed, he glimpse of this medieval-fantasy world offered more surprises, including a marvellous Game of Thrones cameo from none other than Drogon himself. I admit to doing a double take as I saw the infamous black dragon contained within one of the glass cells.
While I missed some of the dual personalities of Bernard and the humble worker of last week's season opener, we did see a renewed sense of purpose in the character as he searched for answers. For the majority of first two seasons, Bernard has been oblivious to who he is and the wider picture, but that seems to be changing. Even in all the twists and turns of The Winter Line, there appears to be a much simpler through line to season three; those working for Delores and those against her. Bernard it seems is very much coming down against her crusade.
All of which leads to the debut of new season three character Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), who was behind Maeve's new 'simulation' and resurrection in the real world. We only got a glimpse of who he is or what he is trying to achieve, but it appears he may be a match for Maeve. I'm intrigued to see how this new connection develops and just what it will take for Westworld's resident badass to join his cause and stop Delores.
The Winter Line was a great episode, one that blended the line between a nostalgic look-back at the park of seasons one and two with a progression of the next phase of the story. It looked utterly gourgeous, particularly those scenes in War World and that cameo was a brilliant little easter egg for HBO's other former tentpole show. Most of all, it showed that in a cast of magnetic performances, gourgeous cinematography and music and enough twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes, it is Thandie Newton who remains Westworld's MVP.