Most shows have their share of lackluster setup episodes and it seems that Westworld is no exception. The second episode of season two isn’t a major stumble, but it failed to leave the impactful impression that viewers have come to expect. Recovery is likely, but what’s worrying is that a lot of the drag seems to center around the primary protagonist. Are we reaching Dolores fatigue?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the revolution. Rise up, hosts! Let the women lead you. But, in a story about finding consciousness and identity, Dolores seems to have strayed from the path. She stated that she has “one last role to play: myself,” but we still have little sense of who that is. Is she her cold, unblinking revenge? That feels like Wyatt. Is she Teddy’s love? That feels like The Rancher’s Daughter. As the Man in Black said, it’s the struggle that makes us most human and, while he was referring to physical pain and strife, this also applies to the struggle for identity. Dolores would be more sympathetic if we saw her stumble on this path to selfhood, or show any emotion at all about it. Her sudden certainty of purpose is meant to look admirable, but in truth, it rings hollow. She’s going west, building an army to seek The Valley Beyond, but we don’t know why.
Why does she need an army? What will happen if she doesn’t get it? I’m sure it’s all intended to build the mystery, but without established stakes, it’s hard for the audience to feel invested in her journey.
Maeve, on the other hand, has well-defined motivations. Her search for her daughter and her mother’s instinct informs all of her decisions and interactions. We frequently flash back to the pain of her experiences, a continuous touchstone for her independence and her war on the flawed creators. Even the way she speaks about her quest — with allegories of death and Hell and would-be gods — has a delicious resonance, a fire that Dolores lacks. Her scene this week was all too brief, the encounter between the two of them promoted as an epic moment that fell flat in execution. Kudos to Maeve for refusing to be sucked into Dolores’ uncertain orbit but there were so many things that could have come out of this scene.
Instead, we got passing ships, an all too brief check-in with the series’ strongest character.
There seem to be a lot of missed opportunities in this week’s episode. Teddy’s backstage revelation was passed over quickly. Where many of the hosts had their eyes opened over the course of last season and explored the full dramatic weight of the fallout, Teddy came, saw, and kept right on trotting after Dolores. I really hope we see more of his struggle, that he eventually confronts her about her actions. I’m also interested in getting some kind of backstory for Dolores’ human “pet,” to give him a little more character OR add some weight to his eventual demise. (And are we really going to pass over Lee’s dorky, little cowboy outfit? Talk about missed opportunity!)
It was the flashbacks that came out ahead this week. The shift in sympathy between William and Logan is particularly interesting, as we begin to see William’s takeover of the Delos company. Ben Barnes has a knack for making the audience feel for unlikeable characters (see also Netflix’s The Punisher) and, despite the ways in which Logan indulges, there’s something honest in his fascination at the demonstration. Seeing him laid low later, doing drugs, and cheekily raising a glass while watching the world burn was surprisingly endearing. William, on the other hand, realized that there was nothing real between him and Dolores on his first visit to Westworld, but now we learn that he proceeded to bring her out of the park and display her at parties like his own pretty, little toy. It’s infuriating but, given the early reactions to him in season one, it’s very well played. His development toward villainy is even more affecting because the audience once rooted for him, even saw him as their entry point into the story.
Dolores’ flashbacks with Bernard, like her future timeline story, have the same feel of setup without much investment. Bernard chooses to send another host out to the party over Dolores because she’s “not ready.” We see her dialogue loop but, other than that, the decision feels protective. Clearly, she’s a favorite, and he even compares her to his child, but we don’t see much evidence of what makes her so special. Arguably, this episode cast Angela as the more interesting character. She’s more adept at passing for human and experienced the reality of being used as an object early on. There’s a lot to draw on in her story that Dolores seems to lack. It’s unfortunate that her place in the future timeline is as just another member of Dolores’ band. Also, that bloody bandanna gives off a badass crown of thorns vibe. What’s up with that?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the surprise cameo from Giancarlo Esposito. I never tire of seeing that man bring the drama in his delicious accent. But, once again, the scene left us asking, “Why?” We were never made to understand why William needed this army and, thus – other than the memorably gruesome visual – we didn’t feel a sense of loss when he failed to recruit them.
This week’s episode may have been on the lackluster side, but that doesn’t mean much in the long run. Westworld is treading into deep philosophical territory with an artistry that few shows manage. I look forward to seeing all this setup pay off. And in the meantime, there’s a simple solution: give us more Maeve!
Until next time, darlings.