“Phase Space” injects some much needed-narrative momentum into season two of Westworld — taking Dolores out of the park, Meave to see her daughter and the revival of an old favourite. With the season nearly halfway through, there is a sense that things are finally falling into place. While it would be foolish to guess how this ends, the latest episode is finally giving us more concrete clues into where this season might be going. Let’s dive right in.
Goodbye to ShogunWorld
Our time in ShogunWorld — Westworld’s eastern clone — is already over, making our jaunt over there feel rather inconsequential. You might argue that it was necessary for Maeve’s personal progression as she learned more about herself through her mirror-image and through her new-found superpowers, but the way we already wave goodbye to this world after a mere two episodes shortchanges its potential considerably.
The ending of “Akane No Mai,” with Maeve discovering that she has the potential to command other hosts through the power of her mind alone, suggested that ShogunWorld and the characters within would play a major part in the rest of the season. Yet like Emily’s trip to RajWorld, it is merely a detour for Meave to understand more about herself. Meave is the closest thing Westworld has to a genuine protagonist — The Man in Black being a classic antihero and Dolores being too bloodthirsty to truly sympathise with — yet if the show will keep sidetracking her on insignificant side-quests, then her power will be considerably diluted.
This misuse of Maeve is best represented in her reunion with her daughter. If anything should’ve been used as a heartbreaking yet effective final scene, it would be her realisation that her daughter had been reprogrammed to have a different mother. But this moment is quickly undermined by the reappearance of Ghost Nation, a group of marauding Native Americans who are constantly used to strike terror into our hosts. If they are treated similarly to their ShogunWorld or RajWorld counterparts — otherised characters used as dramatic counterparts to our main “Western” heroes, then the show threatens to merely wallow in cultural stereotypes than giving them the respect they deserve.
Westworld Enters the Matrix?
Bernard enters into the main server of the park, otherwise known as The Cradle, a Matrix-style simulation that he is allowed to explore and may reveal the answer to certain secrets of this world. Waiting for him in Springwater’s saloon is none other than Robert Ford himself. This isn’t so much of a surprise, as Anthony Hopkins is too great an actor to waste in just one season, but the question remains whether Ford is genuinely alive (perhaps the Ford we saw murdered was a copy) or rather pre-programmed himself inside the computer to continue to wreaking havoc within the park. This also raises a further metafictional question: How much of what we have seen has played out in this simulation already?
With major sequences perhaps revealed to be a simulation, Westworld is slowly finding itself caught in a narrative bind. The more layers that are added to the show — such as The Cradle — the less urgent anything feels. Characters can be brought back like Elsie, re-edited like Teddy, or even shown in different dimensions such as Robert Ford, making us question the very concept of television characters. While this is fascinating stuff on a metafictional level, its hard to actually care about any of these people. Teddy is a good example — how can we care about his progression if Dolores can just change him into anything she wants?
The Outside World Remains More Compelling
“Phase Space” is an important transition episode as it finally gives present-day William a reason to return from the park — meeting his own daughter. Here the park is seen as a form of addiction as lethal as betting terminals, alcohol or drugs. William cannot seem to get out of his own head, even believing that his own daughter is actually a host (which, credit to him, could still be true). While the dialogue between them, including reference to a dead mother, feels rather strained, it is possibly the first conversation of the series that is imbued with any real emotion. Westworld needs more moments like this to keep us invested in its characters.
The outside world, thrillingly touched upon in episodes two and four, gives Westworld an intriguing context about how the park came to be and what it is being used for. Thus, it is exciting to see Dolores and her posse taking the train out of the park. The question of how she will interact with the outside world, may give the action of season two a much needed dramatic weight. After all: there’s no way the humans she will inevitably kill have any chance of coming back.
Is Westworld Trying To Do Too Much?
There is a sense that Westworld is trying to do too much in season 2, introducing yet more and more layers without showing us how they fit together. With five seasons currently planned for the show, it begs the question as to whether Westworld will be able to eventually wrap things up in a satisfying way. Adding yet another meta-layer on top of the story, Jonathan Nolan seems to be trying to one-up his own brother when it comes to creating head-scratching narratives that nestle inside one another like Russian dolls.
Even though I write about Westworld each week, it would be a lie to say I understand everything that is going on. This is part of the show’s charm, of course, but one wonders how long they can keep the mystery box narrative going without it starting to grate against one’s natural desire for coherent storytelling. Season one was similarly convoluted, but peaked effectively with Ford’s death and the robot revolution. Yet if anything, even season one reveals that this is a TV show perhaps better enjoyed as a whole than the sum of its parts. After such a sprawling instalment this week, the show is going to have to move fast to end this season on a similar high note.