Westworld – Journey Into Night Review
"An episode that values substance over style. FINALLY."
My main complaint about season one
(which was also the main complaint of seemingly every other TV critic) was that the series was far more concerned with creating and springing its puzzle box traps than with crafting a complex and interesting story populated by complex and interesting characters. By the end of season one, the only character who had anything close to a coherent arc (rather than a sudden jump from Point A to Point K in the story) was Thandie Newton's Maeve. I was, needless to say, not particularly pleased with the series. So, imagine my surprise when "Journey Into Night," Westworld
's second season premiere, was much more concerned with giving us characterization and plot rather than setting up a million new puzzles for Reddit to figure out long before the series is ready to reveal its secrets. I actually enjoyed the vast majority of the episode.
Sure, there are still some lingering puzzles (unlike last season, I'm planning on avoiding any and all Westworld
spoilers, in hopes of seeing if the series can hold up when a viewer isn't playing the Reddit puzzle game along with it), which were the weakest elements of the episode. I don't particularly care about William's latest quest (although I suspect Young Ford's rambling riddle means we'll get to see flashbacks to Young William sooner rather than later), which is more of a product of the writers never really giving us a reason to care about Old William (and squandering an Ed Harris performance, which is just criminal) than anything related to his potential arc. And my fascination with Bernard's season two arc isn't tied to any desire to find out how he managed to kill all those hosts (including poor, pointless Teddy). Rather, I'm intrigued by Bernard's two week flashback (which is different than his present day story and the distant past storyline from the opening moments of the episode that was probably actually Arnold talking to Dolores . . . because Westworld
still can't help itself with the confusing timelines) because it teams a newly sentient Bernard with the mysterious Charlotte Hale. And teaming up Jeffrey Wright and Tessa Thompson might finally give them both an arc they can sink their teeth into (seriously, the number of elite actors this show wasted in season one is ridiculous).
Another reason I'm less interested in the Bernard puzzle and more interested in just watching Bernard? Well, that would be because Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan put character first this week. We were given a chance to watch Bernard attempt to puzzle out his own past and try to figure out just what those flashes of memory meant. We got to see Bernard make key personal choices to shape his arc: saving Charlotte from the ambush while letting the other board members get killed, trusting Charlotte not to lead him into danger, making the choice to save himself from system shutdown and not tell Charlotte. Last season we never got to see any autonomy in the character. These small choices are the building blocks that will lead us to the host massacre in the lake, sure, but they also indicate that Joy and Nolan want us to watch Bernard grow into his sentience. It's everything that was missing in the glossy but soulless first season.
Speaking of soulless, let's discuss the episode's most successful arc: Maeve, the avenging angel. Season one's best stuff was that of Maeve, who's surprisingly sound character arc was only made better through Newton's excellent performance. After last night, I'm so incredibly excited to see where this story goes in season two. Watching Newton effortlessly embody this new and improved Maeve, who knows she holds all the cards in this game and isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure she gets what she wants before she blows this popsicle stand, was an utter treat. She even turned the incredibly annoying Lee Sizemore into a character with some layers (watching her strip away every element of his control, including his clothes, certainly allowed for some perverse joy in my viewing experience after seeing so many female characters casually forced to do the same last year). I would gladly watch an entire season that simply followed Maeve's journey to find her daughter (and escape). But since that can't happen, I'm looking forward to spending some time each week with Maeve, rooting her on in her quest to kick ass and take names.
-- While I didn't get into it in the body of the review, our brief moments with Dolores hint that she's also going to be taking a Maeve-like arc this season, only with way more avenging and much less of the angel side of things. I'm all for Evan Rachel Wood getting to play a full-on villain this time around (or, complete hero, depending on your personal views on host-human interpersonal relations), but I'm a bit wary that this arc might be the one that gets bogged down in the mythology/puzzle box tendencies of Joy and Nolan. So, while I enjoy her manipulation of Teddy (poor, pointless Teddy), I'm reserving full-throated joy over this story until we get a bit further down the road.
-- If you were thinking Karl Strand looked familiar, that would be because he is portrayed by Gustaf Skarsgard, the brother of Alexander "True Blood
and Big Little Lies
" Skarsgard and Bill "IT
" Skarsgard. The addition of Skarsgard alongside Luke "the other" Hemsworth (Stubbs) seems to indicate that Westworld
might be trying to corner the market in "less attractive brothers of famous actors."
-- With no more Anthony Hopkins and Young Ford shot in the head, could this mean we might finally be freed from that annoying as hell character? One can only hope.
-- Shogun World Watch: There was a dead tiger from Park 6. Cannot wait.