Catching Up: Westworld Season 2, Episodes 5-8

WESTWORLD: SEASON 2, EPISODES 5-8

Life without consequences. That’s what made it so fun when I was a kid, and that’s why it’s so sad that you’re still so obsessed with it now. – Emily

We weren’t here to code the hosts. We were here to decode the guests. – Bernard Lowe

I feared if I died I would lose even her memory. But then, on my darkest day, you helped me. You gave me the strength to keep going. You saw me for who I really was. I had searched everywhere for my love…except the other side of death. – Akecheta

Yeah I know, where the heck have I been with these? Let me be real with you for a second. I was summarily disinterested in the season following Akane No Mai, as we spent nearly the entire hour in Shogun World. Not that there was anything principally wrong with the story, but to go on a tangent immediately following the best episode of the season left a bad taste in my mouth. I was already feeling let down by the sheer level of mystery with no context surrounding the series, and this fatigued me to the point that until yesterday, I hadn’t watched any subsequent episode.

But, I chose to catch up yesterday in order to write again. I received several messages from folks asking where the articles were and if I would keep doing them. I’m not going to say “lots” or “tons,” because that would be inaccurate. However, there were more than I expected and so I thought I would get back to it and see if I took anything from the last three. Luckily, I did, and thus I’ll be on board for the remainder of the season as far as my reviews are concerned.

This is an infuriating series, because so often it decides to be obscenely obtuse in approach and execution, rather than simply cluing the audience in on what’s actually taking place from moment to moment. While I liked it with Lost and Fringe, there was more of a foundation to what was happening on those shows. Here, it feels as if Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy sometimes just lose their minds and decide to screw with us, and it leaves me wondering if THEY have any idea where they’re headed.

That said, I’ve enjoyed the last three weeks, and last night’s was the most emotionally resonant of any Westworld episode to date. I’m not going to say much about Akane No Mai, although the way the story tied itself up a few weeks ago was effective and well-handled. What we learned is that the narratives have their share of copycats, because writing stories can sometimes fall flat. Don’t I know it. How many series fall off a creative cliff about three seasons in and stumble their way to an inauspicious fifth or sixth season mercy killing?

Back in the present, or the distant future, or wherever the crap we are, the best portions of this last stretch of episodes has undoubtedly been the conversations between Bernard Lowe and Robert Ford. No question about the fact that Anthony Hopkins delivers soaring, “what in the world does that mean” lines better than just about anybody in Hollywood, and that’s been true since he considered dining on Jodie Foster’s liver as Hannibal Lecter. I was entertained by the stuff with the Man in Black and Emily as well, although I’m still not sure exactly what her angle is. Next week, it seems likely we’re going to get a bit of history lesson on that family and where the animosity originated.

What we’ve discovered is that Delos as a company originally created the park to find a way to copy the human mind, which is “the last analog device in a digital world.” The idea is to try and find a way to legitimately digitize consciousness itself and thus find a pathway to immortality. That sounds problematic. Call me crazy if you wish, but that doesn’t sound good. The hosts have remained the same for many decades because they are the controls in the experiment. The differing or changing responses being monitored on theirs, but the guests, who have no idea they’re rats in cages.

Yes, despite all their rage.

Dolores has turned Teddy Flood into a cold blooded killer with no feelings, which she can’t even bring herself to fully regret when Maeve calls her on it. “The man who rode that train was built weak and born to fail. You fixed him. Now forget about it.” Teddy is just straight up capping fools at this point, which is fun to watch, although another character dropping the moral compass on a show filled with lost wanderers is a little tedious. But, it proves the false free will of Dolores, which Ford claims “freed” her, in effect merely transformed her. It’s yet to be determined what freedom actually looks like in Westworld, or outside of it.

Zahn McClarnon should be nominated for an Emmy for last night’s performance in Kiksuya. Anybody who saw the second season of Fargo (and if you haven’t, shame on you) knows how good he is, and here we got the same stellar work. It reminded me in some ways of Scott Wilson last year in The Leftovers, where his standalone episode, Crazy Whitefella Thinking, was among the best hours of drama in all of 2017. Akecheta became an indispensably important character in a way I frankly never expected, and in an hour where he did so much heavy lifting, the story worked and made sense on a level Westworld had not pulled off prior to Kiksuya.

Here, I found myself compelled and intrigued to find out the origins of the wraith warriors and what exactly drove them. What we discovered was it’s very similar to what motivates all of them. It’s love for another and increasing awakening of being trapped in a false reality that has separated them from something they remember as being integral to their very existences. For Dolores, it’s her father, and perhaps to some extent, it’s Teddy or MAYBE even William. For Maeve and Akane, it’s a child. And for Ake, it’s Kohana.

If I wanted to take this review in another direction, I would suggest that whether Nolan and Joy realize it or not, their story is asserting that love is the one memory that cannot be fully erased or overwritten. You can take details from a story, but the heart cannot be duplicated. As Ford discusses copying the human mind and Hale speaks to Stubbs last week about how the project is a “turning point for the human species,” it’s clear they’ve all neglected to understand that the mind isn’t the essence of a person.

The heart is what makes each of us most unique, but also most alike. It’s what controls every action we take. Our mistakes can result from overanalysis or paralyzed thinking, but those errors that don’t arise from judgment come from the passions that burn inside us. When you think about your deepest self, from where do those thoughts emanate? Your religion eventually comes from your heart or your soul, your love, your hatred, your envy, your anger, your very being derives from what’s beating in your chest, and the soul behind it. It works in concert with your brain, but the two often differ as well.

The mind changes with experience and can learn new tricks. The heart knows everything from birth. Life is about understanding and unlocking the blessings or the true feelings from it. Some of it can be painful. Some of it the most rewarding moments of a lived life. But it’s something that’s real for you in a way in which no one else could ever fully comprehend. It also binds us together, which explains on a different level why Maeve and Ake’s conversation that ended last night’s episode likely made sense to you even if you didn’t fully grasp why. Plus, “Take my heart when you go” was an excellent Kohana callback and allowed the love aspect to come full circle.

Unlike the mind, the heart is personal. It can be both ugly and beautiful, which depending on your interpretation, defines Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” quite well. By the way, that was an outstanding piano rendition during Ake’s discovery in the lab, even if it was less about the song than about the music itself.

Now about that maze symbol, right? Ake’s story lets us in on his own pathway to waking up, to becoming sentient. His conversation with Logan Delos further cements that he is in the “wrong world,” and we find out what we probably should have guessed a long time ago, namely that the Ghost Nation isn’t there to harm hosts, but to warn them and try to open their eyes. As we see Maeve and Ake communicating through her special gifts while she’s on a table in the Mesa, we understand how he comes to the full truth that his life doesn’t really belong to him, and that there is a place that might possess the memories he wants.

Dolores, of course, tells Maeve in their brief back and forth that the memory of her daughter is merely another way to manipulate and control a host. Perhaps she sees Peter in the same light, and we saw the difficulty in removing his control unit as he basically weeped and felt he had failed his only child.

Maeve says as she has the Man in Black dead to rights, “We all deserve our memories, Lawrence. Our skeletons. Our debts.” The last two words are the key here, and to me are the reason I still most care about the show. Debts. Consequences. Payments. Stakes. It’s what William appears to have wanted, and now has, although he is on his way to the Valley Beyond. All the hosts are headed in the same direction to the same place, and all of them are looking for the door that leads…to an uncertain future. As Dolores said the week prior, “We each get to choose our own fate. Even if that fate is death.” No doubt it will be for some of characters over the next two Sundays.

One fan theory that still gets a lot of airtime is that the Man in Black is a host, although he wasn’t originally, and that the game he’s playing is to successfully break the cognitive plateau that the James Delos experiment never solved. We’ve never seen William loop, but it’s still possible. In this show, what isn’t? With two episodes left in the season, what’s the big reveal going to be? No doubt everyone will arrive at the Valley Beyond and chaos will ensue, but there’s some other truth we’re going to find out before the show disappears again.

So what is it? What say you? What question would you most like answered that actually has a chance of being answered? One thing is for sure. Regardless of whether what he says confuses us or illuminates us to what’s happening, the Robert Ford character is terrific. Anytime he’s on screen, I’m paying more attention than usual. What we saw as Dolores infiltrated the Mesa and Ford led Bernard to assist in the assault was wild, to say the least.

I’m ready to comfortably say I don’t think Westworld will ever top Person of Interest as my favorite Jonathan Nolan effort (at least to date), but I think I’m back in for the long haul. The trip to Shogun World wasn’t timed particularly well, and the season has been a little disjointed an inconsistent, but the past three weeks have been good. Even though I still question whether I know anything that’s going on, I’m enjoying the ride again. I found it funny that a few of you said you missed my reviews because they helped you understand things better.

For that, I can only say…you’re in more trouble than I thought. I’m kidding, but anybody that walks around claiming to understand everything on Westworld and speaking with anything but shaky hypotheses about the events to come is a false pop culture prophet. Or maybe I’m just jealous of their intellect. Either way, I’m just like you. I’m baffled half the time, think I get it half the time, but I’m still looking for the door alongside Ake, the Man in Black, Dolores, and Bernard. I look forward to finding out what’s on the other side of it.

If the Deathbringer doesn’t get me first.

I’m @JMartOutkick. The pain’s just a program.

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