Westworld season 2 has been a long time coming. If you can believe it, the first season aired back in 2016 and since then showrunners and creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have been hard at work creating a second outing, which will hopefully live up to the complex nature of the first. The wait is over now though and we’ve returned to Westworld with the very first episode of the new season - Journey into Night - to see what happened after Dolores pulled that trigger. In a word: chaos. The opening episode doesn’t hold back from everything we were promised from a robot revolution, but it’s also obvious that’s there’s still cards to be played at the same time. Journey into Night does a good job of balancing our expectations while setting up new ones and it isn’t afraid to change the game. If you’re looking for more of the same from season 2 then it might be difficult to adjust, but the rewards are rich as original characters progress leaps and bounds and new faces make themselves known. It’s hard to say after just one episode whether the show will produce a successful follow up to its first season, but as opening episodes go Journey into Night already has us hooked on asking questions again.
Note: From here on out there are plot spoilers for Westworld season 2, episode 1 - Journey into Night.
Westworld does love multiple timelines and season 2 is no exception. At least this time, it’s clear from the beginning that we’re witnessing events through flashbacks as DELOS tries to regain control of the park approximately two weeks after the events of the gala. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) washes up on a shore into the hands of Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and newcomer Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgard) who’s been brought in to sort out the mess. The pair try and piece together what’s happened without much help from the Head of Behaviour who seems to have gaps in his memory. The audience gets a bit more help and witnesses snap shots of events since the gala, but while it’s extremely entertaining to watch Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) torment the board while Teddy (James Marsden) looks on, and see Maeve (Thandie Newton) cross paths with Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) and return to the park, it all just leads to more interesting questions. One thing which is clear, is that two weeks might as well have been 30 years because a lot has happened since the end of season 1 and none of it is easily explained. Just like Bernard, I spent most of the episode with a very puzzled look on my face. It seems Westworld hasn’t lost its penchant for confusing the hell out of everyone and it’s in no rush to straighten things out.
That’s possibly the only thing that hasn’t changed though as the Hosts are most definitely in control now and Westworld is nothing like you remember it. The first season wasn’t shy about making you sympathise with the Hosts - you were supposed to side with them and you knew it - but if you were worried that once they started chopping and hacking the human guests up, your loyalties would start to shift, that’s most definitely not the case. Episode 1 does a good job of reminding us that scared humans can be just as brutal and cruel as greedy humans and, if anything, they’ve become more sickening as they do anything to survive. Whether it’s Strand’s team shooting non-hostile Hosts dead without a second thought, or a group of gala survivors pouncing on an innocent Host stable boy who only wants to help, it’s clear that the humans are most definitely not the victims in season 2.
It takes a while to adjust to this new world (it’s so different to the Westworld of season 1), but that’s effectively what we’ve been waiting for since the very first moment we realised what Westworld really was in the opening episode of the show - and it doesn’t disappoint. Dolores had gone full badass and it suits her. She’s in charge and leading the robot revolution with a mixture of duplicitous intelligence and a cold-hearted hatred for her enemy, which is shocking at first, but also scarily captivating. Teddy isn’t quite on the same page and still doesn’t fully understand what they’re fighting for but, naturally, the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is loving it! Just as in the first season, Harris’s villain is set to be one of the best things about the series as his world gets turned upside down, but in just the way he wants. He’s possibly the only character in Westworld who’s gotten exactly what he wants and his renewed vitality jumps off the screen as he dons his black hat and seeks… well, we actually don’t know what he’s after yet. Right now, he’s just having a lot of fun!
Bernard is trickier to get a handle on as we jump between the present day Bernard who’s struggling to remember what’s happened, to the Bernard from the moments just after Ford’s death who, while still coming to terms with his Host identity, finds himself surrounded by blood-thirsty humans who could turn on him at any moment. To make matters worse, he’s struggling with some physical damage from the patched up gunshot wound to his head, which all makes for a very unsure and fractured character. If Dolores has got a handle on her memories in season 2 as she claims, Bernard is surely taking her place as a Host who is still trying to work things out. Just like us, he’s unclear about what’s going on and acts as a mirror to the audience’s own confusion.
Cleverly, episode 1 answers many of the big questions we had after season 1. Within minutes of the opening sequence we know where the park is (spoiler: It’s not Mars!) and more about the inner workings of the Hosts, which leaves us free to move onto other mysteries. It would have been so easy for Nolan and Joy to have leaned on these big unknowns from the first season, but thankfully they’ve chosen to not just move on from them, but actually answer them like it was nothing, making you question why you were so obsessed with the answer in the first place. They also don’t hang about when it comes to revealing more about what DELOS is really up to in the park, although, of course, it just leads to more questions. All this cleanly cuts the show’s ties to its first season and gets you ready for the new mysteries so expertly, you’ll barely notice it's happening.
In a very real way, watching the first episode of Westworld season 2 is like getting part of a puzzle and being asked if it works. How can you know without the rest of it? From what I’ve seen, Nolan and Joy have created a brave new world, which pushes the Westworld story into unexplored territory, while maintaining the quizzical story-telling that made it so watchable in the first place. But we won’t really know if it works until we see more. The message of the opening episode is clear: forget everything you think you know about Westworld. That may throw some viewers initially, but by the end of the episode, you’ll find yourself newly gripped by even more burning questions. They’re just different to the ones you had before.