A whirlwind recap of Westworld Seasons 1 and 2
HBO’s Westworld isn’t a series you can jump into at any point. You need to have already streamed Seasons 1 and 2 (now streaming on Showmax) to follow. And it’s not a show that you can have as background noise either, because every scene, every word of dialogue is important.
The slightest change influences entire timelines, explains lead star Evan Rachel Wood (she plays Dolores Abernathy: “Dropping that can (of tinned fruit) over and over again. The slight variations on them, if one little thing gets thrown, then the whole story changes. That’s part of the fun [of the show], but as an actor it’s weird because you’re doing the same scene over and over with slight variations. So learning lines was weird, remembering which episode you were in was weird.”
You’ll see Dolores greet her rancher dad Peter (Louis Herthum) 20 times – sometimes even five times in one episode – but you’re not going mad, says Evan. “You forget which loop and which day you’re in. Especially because you’re playing a scene that you genuinely have to be in and be feeling but you know in the back of your head is completely scripted, twice. It’s a script of a script. It’s just a rabbit hole of confusion.”
See? We’re literally two paragraphs in and it’s already a tangled maze to follow!
Here’s what you need to know about the Westworld town of Sweetwater: everything is fake! From the horses and outlaws, to the ranchers, their cattle and the brothel. Almost everyone is a “host”, a highly sophisticated cyborg.
The world of Westworld itself is fake – it’s a theme park owned and run by the Delos Corporation. It’s where really rich people go to play make-believe. They pay to be the cowboys or the mayor, a lawman or a patron at the local watering hole/saloon/brothel. Whatever their heart desires.
The theme park and hosts were created by Robert Ford, and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins admits that he is somewhat like his character Ford’s robotic hosts, who have their memories wiped every day: “I have a delete button in my brain and I don’t remember the past very well. I can’t remember – we started two years ago. Just watching it now I’d forgotten I was in some of those scenes.” (FYI Sir Anthony doesn’t own a television set, so he couldn’t watch Westworld if he wanted to.)
The hosts’ duties in Westworld are to live out narratives determined by Ford and his team that is headed up by his second-in-command Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). In Westworld, that is the Wild West filled with outlaws and cowboys and sheriffs and Native Americans (there are other worlds and theme parks that come into play during in Season 2).
So Westworld is basically one big fantasy world. Guests live out their every debaucherous dream, so be prepared for a lot of nudity, a lot of violence, a lot of graphic visual material… basically, don’t be eating a meal while streaming Westworld.
So what’s so amazing about the sci-fi show? The machines are learning their places in the world, developing a human-like conscious, and they’re not happy. A couple of updates to their software systems have bombed out and characters like sweet rancher’s daughter Dolores and brothel madam Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) are revolting against the establishment.
Maeve in particular is dangerous as a host because she is having memories of her past storylines that should’ve been wiped – especially when she and her daughter were attacked in their little house on the Prairie. Her only objective is to find the girl and rescue her.
It’s when Maeve wakes up during a routine maintenance update that the problem really begins. “Maeve is walking around [the Delos Corps laboratory] looking at the artistry of how the hosts are created. She realises the full extent of what they are as creations [when she sees her friends and other hosts that she knows, like prostitute Clementine Pennyfeather, played by Angela Sarafyan] and that they’re not human. I mean, that’s just such a betrayal,” explains Thandie.
Maeve, who by design is meant to be intuitive and a problem solver, pieces the clues together. And because she’s a rough brothel madam who handles drunken fools daily, bullying the Delos nerds and geeks is child’s play – she starts by ordering them to increase every function in her host brain.
She tweaks everything from intelligence to puzzle solving to military warfare, while at the same time reducing anything that could hinder her, like emotion.
It’s a warning about emotion, it’s a warning about playing with the mind and things that we do not fully understand.
It’s not just Dolores and Maeve who are a problem. The humans having fun in the theme park are just as troublesome. Some are falling in love with their hosts, not grasping that it’s all fake. Others are looking at the big picture and how this world of make-believe is the future and will make them a lot of money.
But while the human guests can be and are stopped in their tracks (Maeve forces Westworld’s code engineers to remove software laws that prevent the hosts from injuring humans), the hosts are far tougher to get rid of. That’s thanks to the fact that Ford has had thousands of them kept in storage, so when one body is damaged, their host brain can be transplanted and they carry on as if nothing happened.
While Westworld feels very similar to the Terminator movie franchise with the robots taking over (obviously a whole lot prettier to look at, thanks to the beautiful people and beautiful landscapes), Westworld is far more than just a sci-fi show. It’s a warning about emotion, it’s a warning about playing with the mind and things that we do not fully understand.
The more you think you know, especially in Season 2, the more you realise that you know nothing. Watching as the hosts revolt, how cruel and vindictive and focused they are, mankind is in serious trouble. And the worst part is that the show is only just getting started…