Westworld season two hits small screens April 22. What you are about to read not only assumes you have watched the entirety of Westworld Season 1, but also that you're not overly concerned that you may have elements of Westworld season two spoiled for you in some small part. Of course you're not. After all, you're here aren't you?
What follows is in part a carefully curated and tirelessly gathered accumulation of everything interesting thus far hinted at, given away or overtly stated by the writers and cast, with some of what is shown in the season two trailer woven in to backup our somewhat crackpot theories. Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it.
Don't worry, we're not purporting to offer you a blow-by blow of what's going to happen in the upcoming season. More, we're going to take everything there is to know about the various plot ribbons left hanging at the end of season one and attempt to tie them all up into some sort of bow.
Finally, before we get started, do remember that the only ways you can watch Westworld season two in the UK are either by switching to Sky, or by signing up to NOW TV – Sky's streaming TV service. The former offers the best quality (full HD, compared to NOW TV's 720p; if you have a big screen, this matters) but on an 18-month contract, while the latter offers lower quality, but you're only tied in for a month at a time.
That's stories for you. Big, dramatic things have to happen, great plot strands severed, left swinging in the wind. For instance, a large part of the thrills available in HBO's other, bigger 'thing' Game Of Thrones was its habit of killing off its central characters with excruciating regularity. It's something that other series have tried to emulate, though less successfully it must be said.
Admittedly, deception being 'just sumfink wot stories do' is the weakest of all evidence. Slightly more convincing, then, is the argument that may be made in view of the degree of control Dr Ford wields over literally everything and everyone — scripting Maeve's rebellion and anticipating even the moment Bernard would attempt to use a lobotamised host to kill him. We'll talk more in detail about that further down in the section concerning 'the new narrative'.
The alternative explanation is Ford wanted to die, but this holds no water for us. There were several opportunities for Ford to check out throughout season one and, in fact, the two aspects of his character that stood out the most were arguably that he had far grander and more eternal plans than one might expect from a man of his age, and that he would go to great lengths to protect his person.
When Katja Herbers, the Dutch actress set to play 'Grace' spoke to Dutch magazine Nu.nl she said it was "Very nice that I [play] an American in it, which has been a silent wish for a long time. To be able to play with top actors like Anthony Hopkins is also a huge kick."
If this were an actor featuring in season one of the show, you could argue this statement is ambiguous. However, Grace is a brand new character for the new season, so unless she's playing alongside Ford's corpse we're calling this game, set and match. Ford is not dead.
Remember Elsie? She went off out into the park to locate the source of a satellite uplink signal someone had been using to emancipate Delos company secrets to an unknown third party. Well, there's a saying in the biz that unless you see the corpse hit the ground, they ain't dead. We didn't see the corpse hit the ground. The closest we got to seeing what happened to her was during Bernard's flashback, where he restrained her ambiguously – could have been killing, could have been capturing.
More solid evidence comes in the form of this cast interview by Entertainment Weekly, in which co-writer Lisa Joy is asked directly whether Elsie is set to return. Joy, turning to Elsie actress Shannon Woodward, replies: "You took a nice, exciting little hiatus, so we'll have to see if you're still alive, or if we just find your corpse. You could just be super-dead." Much laughter ensues, so take from that what you will. Here's the video.
Slightly less on the fence about the return of the actress is that she is listed in the cast of the first episode of the new season. That still doesn't mean she's alive of course. She could be featured in a flashback or she may have a bit-part as her own cadaver. All we can say is that in the first episode of Westworld season 2 she will appear in one form or another.
A footnote to this, and something we're going to touch on a little later on, is the equally unknown status of Stubbs. Remember Stubbs? He was the guy with that funny-looking little gun that went out to find Elsie and ran into a war party from the Ghost Nation. Like Elsie, we're meant to assume he kicked the farm, but since we didn't actually see him die, we will put actual money on his return.
On the face of it, it appears that Thandie Newton's character, bordello madame Maeve Millay, steps off the train to freedom to return and save her 'daughter' – the little girl robot assigned to Maeve in her previous iteration as a homesteader and mother. In the season two trailer we even see a brief glimpse of what appears to be Maeve holding her lost daughter's hand. However…
At the San Diego Comic Con last July, Thandie Newton was asked if going back for her daughter was Maeve's first 'conscious' choice. It's an interesting question, especially when you remember what is perhaps the most important clue in the entire season as to what's really going on (when we discover that Maeve's entire coup was a pre-scripted 'narrative'). Her reply, however, was even more interesting. Without skipping a beat, she threw back "Is she going back for her daughter?". You can catch this moment along with all of the ensuing awkwardness at around the 6:41 mark.
The reactions of writer Lisa Joy and fellow cast members cottoning on to what she may have just let slip, coupled with Newton's own meandering attempts to properly answer the question while clearly preoccupied by the potential fallout of her gaffe are both utterly priceless.
Much later during the same panel (28:27) an audience member called Brandon amusingly says: "My question is for Thaddy," (with a soft 'Th', and rhyming with 'daddy'), before going on to ask: "Would you like to see Maeve use humanity to journey inward (exploration of self), or simply control them the way she does hosts?" – a surprisingly good question from someone who so spectacularly failed to get the actor's name right.
You can see Newton wanting to curl up and die a little here. It's the sort of reaction you only get from having hit some sort of nail on some sort of head. She begins by answering, finally: "Aww… that's such a difficult answer to give you". The word choice there is important. Give you. Not 'I don't know', more like 'I do know, but I can't tell you'. She then goes on to talk about her experience of personal empowerment as a female actor on the show, thus ducking the entire question altogether. QED.
Then we have this article in Elle Magazine, in which Tessa Thompson, who plays Charlotte Hale on the show (and more recently an alcoholic Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok), says of Westworld season two that: "Thandie Newton’s character, who works in a brothel and can be had whenever people want her – this season you see her taking that entirely back and she’ll have anyone that she wants."
Not convinced yet? Even further fuel can be found in the trailer, where the recurring imagery of the running bulls, which at first we're made to believe are charging around on the range, pulls back to show they are in fact inside the main Delos control complex, where utter mayhem is breaking out. We know Maeve has the power to control other hosts, so it's reasonable to assume that extends to the animals too. It is a near-certainty that Maeve is making this happen.
So, Maeve's taking over. What does she do next? How does some poetic justice sound? Rather than slaughter the human Delos survivors where they stand – a death knell for any number of ongoing storylines – would it not be more poetic for them to be ejected out into the park for abuse at the hands of the hosts?
The primary evidence for this is in the trailer clips we have from season 2, one of which appears to show Bernard and a group of human survivors looking out across a bay and seeing bodies washed up on the shore. One of two things is happening here – either they are the bodies of the dead humans from the Delos control centre, or they're the bodies of damaged hosts.
It's not clear from this scene whether we are seeing Bernard or Arnold, as it's equally unclear in what time period the scene is taking place. Westworld has proved itself adeptly irritating in misleading us as to when exactly various strands of the story are taking place. Our guess, though, is that the humans have gone out into the park in full survival mode and will spend this season evading Maeve and the army of hosts under her control.
Maeve, however, has shown great restraint in harming humans when speaking more generally. So with Dolores also becoming a leader figure in the robot revolution, we expect there to be conflict there with Dolores being the killer, and Maeve the more merciful (more on this shortly).
We would argue that of all the characters (barring maybe Teddy who dies with Kenny-like regularity) Dolores gets the shittiest end of the stick. Her path to finding out what she is is persistently the cruelest. Wouldn't it be quite the gut-punch, then, if Dolores decided the best use for her new-found self-awareness was to become an evil, murdering psychopath?
Well, we've got a lot of evidence pointing in that direction. There's the trailer, during which we see Dolores on horseback, with a rifle, slaughtering a woman and a man as they flee in terror. And there's also evidence that either alongside, or in opposition to Maeve, she is playing some part in pulling the strings park-wide. This shot shared on the Twitter account of Entertainment Weekly – Dolores power-dressing in modern clothes – also provides strong evidence.
And then there are the some things that Evan Rachel Wood (the actor playing Dolores) has said of her character in season 2. "I chose the Black Hat," she told Coveteur.com. "It just felt more honest about it because I believe that every human is a Black Hat. And that doesn’t mean I’d go and just like kill everybody and be a lunatic, but I do think it would be a bit naive to think that I would just be good the whole time.”
In other words, Westworld season two is set to explore Dolores' dark side. It's not too hard to make that jump. Think of the forces that shaped her 'awakening': The Man in Black, rape, murder, mass-slaughter. If we think of the time before her consciousness as her childhood, events like these do not shape balanced adults.
We barely knew of Louis Herthum, the actor behind Peter Abernathy – Dolores' father – in season one of Westworld, but let's just take a moment here to say wow, what a performance! That out of the way, his best moment by far was after Abernathy had melted down thanks to a photo he'd found depicting the outside world – a world that simply did not compute.
There's a brief discussion about the 'reveries' – new elements to the hosts' programming designed to permit a sort of physical memory that would further diversify their behaviour. In Abernathy's case he quotes Shakespeare, an act that forms the first clue that more than just a tendency to purse one's lips or tap one's feet was finding its way through via the reveries.
You see, Peter Abernathy had no business knowing Shakespeare. The host's previous role, however, was not Abernathy, but a character known only as 'The Professor'. Which is all very nice until you discover in the same scene that The Professor was the mass-murdering cannibal at the centre of a now-defunct storyline.
So why are we certain he'll be back? Various clues. The way we keep seeing him in cold storage throughout the first season – nudges and reminders he's still there and important somehow. Oh, and there's the IMDB entry that shows he's in practically every episode of season two. There's that, too.
Yes, yes, we know Samurai World is going to be a thing. There was a giant roving gunfight right through the Samurai World engineering labs at the end of season one – hardly a subtle clue. Oh, and then there was the the giant 'SW' logo on the wall in that same area. You see it unmistakably as Armistice, the gunfighter with the snake tattoo on her face played by Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, scarpers past it. Look here…
Also, in this interview (at around 2:52), screenwriter Lisa Joy, responsible for penning four out of the ten episodes of the first season, is asked: "How much of the world have we actually seen?", to which she responds "Of the world itself? I would say not a lot at all. You're going to see significantly more of the worlds next season I think." Not world, but worlds. Plural.
In the original 1973 Westworld movie, there were other worlds too, namely Roman World and Medieval World. However, since it would have been easy to have one of the closing scenes feature a battle through labs filled with hosts decked out in clobber from either of these two time periods and we saw Samurai instead, we're not at all certain the original movie is set to be adhered to to this degree.
Then there's the fact that all other 'worlds' are entirely missing from the trailers. Jonathan Nolan is the man behind those trailers, and you have to think that if you had clips of Romans or knights lying about, and if you really wanted to blow the doors off, you'd use them. Such things tend to have a greater effect in trailers than if they're steadily introduced as the season marches on, after all.
Also, there's none of that telltale discomfort from the cast and writers when asked directly about feudal Japanese, medieval or Roman settings. Back at the Comic Con Westworld panel, an audience member asked: 'How much of a role, if any, do [Samurai] play in season two?". To which the trite and rather annoying answer comes back: "How much of a part do you want them to play?"
This possibility ties itself to the final point we're going to make about the new narrative – something so brain-twisting, we reckon you're going to need to start thinking about this idea first so your skull doesn't snap.
We know that Westworld, to a greater extent than we're generally used to, loves to settle its audience into a set of assumptions before shattering them completely. Examples of this during season one include the nature of Bernard, whether Maeve's ability to remember and to rebel is her doing or part of another's Machiavellian machinations, or the assumption we're led to make about the time period in which Dolores and Jimmi share their adventures. The question we should always be asking ourselves if we want to attempt to predict the next big twist therefore is: What assumptions are we comfortably settled into?
Number one on that list is the existence of two discordant realities: That of the park (containing the hosts and the newcomers), and that of those occupying the park's gigantic, underground control centre. What if these are in fact a single reality? What if the Delos control centre is as much a part of the 'ride' as the parks themselves?
When Indiewire spoke to husband and wife co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, Joy is asked about the nature of the outside world – the world beyond Delos, beyond the theme parks. The world at the other end of the train tracks. She explains, "It’s kind of like those Russian nesting dolls, where you pull apart one level and there’s another level. We did think about the world outside quite a lot and where the series would go and even how it would end."
Russian dolls. Multiple layers, zoom out and it's again identical. We'll leave that one there as it bleeds into our final point. Brace yourselves.
Finally, we come to it. The coup de gras. The so-called 'new narrative', referred to repeatedly throughout season one. It's what you're watching. Maeve's rebellion, her bloody escape, the moment she steps off that train. We know it's scripted, and almost certainly by Dr Robert Ford. Bernard, Dolores and Teddy's journeys towards self-discovery? All of it scripted. Literally everything you are seeing is a meta-amusement specifically for life-long visitors who no longer believe in the facade. Visitors like The Man In Black.
Dr Ford named the new narrative 'Journey Into The Night', and that's also the name of the first episode of the second season. No accident there. But it's not such obvious signposts that point us toward the possibility that what we are seeing is all part of this new narrative. More, it's the way the most obvious evidence for this being the case is deliberately subsumed and underplayed.
The importance of discovering that Maeve's entire rebellion is scripted, for example. It is mentioned only once, almost in passing – Maeve herself pays it little mind – and yet this provides the single greatest clue as to the true state of Westworld's reality. If Maeve's escape is pre-programmed narrative, could the same not also be said for Dolores' awakening? Bernard's self-discovery? Dr Ford's 'death'?
The only character, in fact, that appears to have a genuine mystery to solve is the Man In Black. Jimmi. The man set to take over Delos and oust Dr Ford. Think about the confused look on The Man In Black's face as the hosts pour out of the forest and begin shooting. Even though they are clearly capable of wounding him, does he look afraid? No. More he's trying to work out what this is all about. What Ford's game is here.
Is it possible that what we are witnessing in Westworld, literally everything we are seeing, is nothing more than a duel of wits between the incumbent Dr Ford and the man at the centre of a hostile takeover? A final challenge. A decider in which the fate of the parks, the hosts and Delos itself are at stake?
In episode five of season one ('Contrapasso') Ford and the Man In Black meet. What's clear in this scene is that the Man In Black has been coming to the park for most of his life. The sense you get here is not one of old friends, but of bitter rivals. Of duelling powers. The Man In Black wants to solve the mystery of the maze, but what set him on the path to solving the mystery in the first place? Was it Ford? A wager, perhaps, with the park itself as the prize?
It's impossible to be certain at this stage. However, there are enough clues to suggest that when the current Russian doll is finally opened, we will only find another.
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