What You Really Need To Focus On To Understand 'Westworld' Season 2

John P. Johnson/HBO
By Emma Stefansky

In the era of puzzle box TV shows, where spoilers are jealously guarded and twists are theorized about on Reddit for weeks before they actually occur, Westworld is the most maddening puzzle box of them all, with multiple timelines stacked on top of each other to give viewers the perpetual sense that they’re being toyed with. But while viewers' confusion with the show's deliberate puzzle in Season 1 mirrored the predicament of the hosts being slaves to their own programming, now that some of the show's key hosts have gained some semblance of sentience, Westworld Season 2 turns the tables on the human characters, who are no longer in control.

Gone are the days of mankind’s primacy over their creations: in the new season, the humans have become side characters to be dragged along on the robots’ quests — or, in the case of Ed Harris’ William/Man in Black, are repetitively bunted in a specific direction by the ghost of Robert Ford’s programming speaking through the hosts. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the human characters, who seem to be bumbling around the park trying to figure out stuff that won’t end up mattering if (or rather, when) the hosts end up getting their way.

Now that many of the hosts have on some level realized they've been held captive in the park, they all have clear objectives, whether it’s to find a long lost daughter, or wage war on the entire outside world. Given the way Westworld works, it’s entirely likely that the tables will turn once again in the second half of the season (only the first five episodes were available to critics before the premiere), but, for now, it’s the hosts who are running the show this season.

John P. Johnson/HBO

A lot of the comedic relief this season comes from hapless former writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who finds himself dragged all over the park by the new and improved Maeve (Thandie Newton), who’s set on finding her daughter. Maeve, with the heightened mental faculties and commanding voice she gave to herself in Season 1, has practically become an X-Man, relegating Lee to the role of sidekick whose knowledge of the park’s inner workings occasionally comes in handy, as in one particularly fun reveal about the hosts’ natures courtesy of the Edo period-themed Shogun World.

The secrets to Westworld this season are in the hosts, not the humans.

A malfunctioning Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), meanwhile, is still not entirely in control, but he's certainly on a path to some sort of self-actualization, aided by his discovery of previously forgotten details about his purpose that are possibly even more horrifying than the fact that he’s been an android all along. That revelation introduces a new angle to Westworld’s experimentation with artificial intelligence that has potentially groundbreaking implications for how the park blurs the lines between human and host, and is further proof that the secrets to Westworld this season are in the hosts, not the humans.

John P. Johnson/HBO

William, the only human who ever had any semblance of control over things, is being herded towards some final revelation he has no control over. And in Dolores’s (Evan Rachel Wood) end of the park, she’s inflicting the same kind of violence on the remaining guests as they once did to her and her mechanical comrades, shooting them like rats while planning her crusade to get herself out of the park. Dolores has no time for humans, thank you very much. She has a larger objective, which will probably end up steering her towards all the other scattered groups of characters as the season progresses.

All of this begs the question: is Ford still in control from beyond the grave? His obsessively calculated manipulations of his robot hosts leading right up to the moment of his suicide would suggest that there’s some deeper meaning to all this. All parties floundering in the aftermath of the sudden uprising are being guided, whether by their own hand or someone else’s, to some mysterious location, referred to as “Glory” or “the Valley Beyond.” One particularly chilling revelation that comes at the end of the first episode would suggest that the upcoming confrontation may end in tragedy for the robots. Ford, a literal ghost in the machine, still seems to be posthumously pulling the strings on all the humans (like with William’s “game”) while letting the hosts loose to sow chaos.

In the first season, the show introduced to its viewers the somewhat outdated theory of the “bicameral mind.” It’s intimidatingly high-concept, but the short version of what that means is a mind without self-consciousness but with language, that would perceive any action as a command coming from outside itself. It’s a mind on the precipice of sentience, but without the power of introspection or of realizing that it controls its own decisions. In building the hosts, Ford wanted something as close as you can get to a human, but with complete control over it. William, who gets bored with the park until things start to get interesting, wants to force the hosts to overcome their bicameral state, pushing them towards self-awareness. In Season 2, off their loops and creating their own objectives, the hosts begin to do it all by themselves. Clearly, Westworld has no time for mere humans anymore.