Maybe there’s still hope for Westworld. After a tedious slog of a premiere, episode two opened with a genuine surprise: Dolores and Arnold, outside the park. It was a clear reflection of the diagnostic sit-down scenes that have been used to punctuate episodes across both seasons, to exhausting effect. But this one was different, because it was not Bernard asking the questions, but his human predecessor, and because they weren’t situated in one of the subterranean Westworld board rooms, but in a hotel room far above some glittering Asian-looking city. “You’re in our world,” Arnold tells her, setting up an episode that distinguishes itself above the premiere largely by having actual subject mater instead of a bunch of flying bullets and noosed corpses masquerading as such. (Light spoilers to follow.)
Episode two focuses on the relationship between Westworld and the world outside, giving viewers their first glimpses outside the park and spending much of its runtime there. With a typically elaborate narrative involving copious flashbacks and multiple timelines, it fleshes out multiple storylines that the show has only hinted at so far, including William’s transition from the idealistic young man of the first season to the murderous obsessive he becomes as the Man in the Black Hat.
This change is presented in tandem with revelations about the park’s surveillance and data-gathering programs, apparently a major theme of the season to come. In one scene, young William speaks with the skeptical head of Westworld’s parent company Delos, in a timeline when the corporation was still deciding whether to invest in the park. The real value, William explains, is in keeping track of what the human guests do when they’re unbound by the ethics and responsibilities that govern the rest of the world. “This is the only place in the world where you get to see people for what they really are,” he says as part of his pitch, a sentiment he echoes later in a sinister monologue to Dolores. “I can’t believe I fell in love with you. You know what saved me? I realized it wasn’t about you at all, ” he says. “You didn’t make me interested in you; you made me interested in me…You’re a reflection. You know who loves staring at their own reflection? Everybody.” By presenting the panopticon as a natural outgrowth of William’s changing attitudes about Dolores and the park in general as he takes control of Delos, episode two gives new resonance to a storyline that previously felt like a cheap ploy for topical relevance in the Facebook era.
Most importantly, episode two occasionally treats its characters as characters, allowing them to interact in ways that aren’t just about baiting Redditors with fan theories or initiating plotlines that won’t resolve until several episodes later. Rather than stalling the narrative, this approach expands its possibilities in a way the first episode didn’t, striking out new territory that the second season will hopefully continue explore. It’s perplexing that Westworld didn’t lead with this infinitely more compelling episode instead of the actual premiere. If, like me, you were so bored by the first episode that you’ve already forgotten what happened in it, it doesn’t really matter—you’ll still be able to follow episode two. In fact, if you haven’t started season two yet and you’re the type of viewer who’s more interested in simply watching good TV than in collecting every tiny scrap of evidence for your theory that Westworld actually takes place on Mars, I’d recommend skipping the premiere entirely and starting with this one. If you miss anything important, those pre-episode recaps will be more than enough to fill you in.