Maeve returns on a thrilling Westworld
Photograph: John P. Johnson (HBO)
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Considered one of Westworld’s largest weaknesses has at all times been the space between set-up and payoff. Take season one. The pilot ends with Dolores violating the one ironclad rule that hosts stay by, the rule that makes the whole park attainable: she kills a fly. It’s a small act of violence that instantly units our expectations for what’s to return, and it’s one of many causes the pilot is so well-remembered. And but it takes a complete season for Dolores to make good on that promise. On the rewatch, it’s attainable to understand the gradual construct, the intricacy of the construction, the intelligent methods the writers used the type of the narrative itself to imitate Dolores’s dawning consciousness, however cleverness solely will get you up to now. For all its ugly violence, Westworld has at all times felt a bit cold, a present about an amusement park filled with robots that go loopy that refuses to ever loosen its tie. That delay is a significant cause why. The longer we wait, the much less visceral the inevitable turns into.
Two episodes into season three and already every part feels completely different. Extra instant. Final week, we bought a glimpse into how Dolores is managing her struggle in the true world, and we met a human determined for some hope that issues would possibly change. This week, we discover out what Maeve’s been as much as, and watch Bernard revisit Westworld and run into an previous pal. Each episodes are closely concerned with organising what this season goes to be about, laying down plot beats that may form the weeks to return; however each episodes additionally provide instant satisfaction, telling comparatively self-contained chapters that construct off one another in neat methods. Not like the weakest components of earlier seasons, these episodes don’t really feel as if you gained’t have any concept what’s taking place till the top. There are mysteries, however these mysteries aren’t preserving us at arm’s size.
It’s enjoyable, is what I’m saying: “The Winter Line” is an absolute blast. Maeve waking up within the Land o’ Nazis in final week’s put up credit score sequence appeared like a harbinger of dangerous instances to return, inconsiderate worldbuilding that instructed the writers had utterly exhausted their capability for brand spanking new concepts. “Line” picks up precisely the place that left off, and whereas it takes a short while to get there, we ultimately be taught that the vacancy of that creativeness is—effectively, if not intentional, then not less than constructed into the design. Within the episode’s chilly open, Maeve believes she’s as soon as once more trapped within the park, working by way of one more of its fool storylines. For some time, that appears to be the case; she suicides, wakes again up within the tech lab, and faces down most of the identical fools she did earlier than, as soon as once more going by way of the motions of being self-aware in an existence the place self-awareness is hell. Nevertheless it’s a trick, and what makes this episode nice is that we discover out it’s a trick about midway by way of, kind of precisely when Maeve herself does.
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It’s immensely satisfying to search out out a narrative is smarter than it initially seems, and whereas Westworld has managed this trick earlier than, doing it so shortly right here generates an incredible quantity of goodwill. Maeve goes from confused to curious to empowered to managed within the area of an hour, and all of it’s entertaining and performs off what we all know concerning the character. Little or no of that is exactly new, not less than when it comes to science fiction plotting; folks have been overloading laptop programs as a way to break them for the reason that authentic Star Trek. However that doesn’t make Maeve’s efforts much less thrilling to look at. As soon as she realizes that she’s in a simulation of a simulation, and that poor Lee Sizemore actually is lifeless, she adapts with exceptional effectivity, straining poor Warworld till it breaks and virtually—virtually—escaping in actual life. It’s a narrative with a starting, a center, and an finish that factors us within the path the place we go subsequent.
And that path is: Engerraud Serac (Vincent Cassel), the person behind the algorithm whose identify Dolores was so desperately looking for within the premiere. The stakes are instantly evident. Serac realizes that Dolores is a menace, and desires Maeve to kill her. Once more, that is fairly previous style stuff. Ship a machine to kill a machine, that form of factor. Nevertheless it works simply positive, as a result of the concept of a Dolores/Maeve battle is very interesting—any battle between two characters the place I don’t need both aspect to essentially lose is an efficient hook. Positive, the destiny of humanity is technically at stake, and the reappearance of pretend Lee Sizemore (together with Sylvester and Lutz, the 2 techs who hung round Maeve for therefore lengthy) is a reminder that the present has really had individuals who’ve modified for the higher. However the larger concepts work higher once they’re hooked up to people we will spend money on, and it’s a pleasure to look at the collection streamline itself so effectively.
Talking of sides: we discover out quickly sufficient why Bernard left seclusion and determined to return to Westworld (which is within the South China Sea, seems). He is aware of Dolores has him over-matched, and he’s making an attempt to trace down a extra aggressive host to assist him within the battle: Maeve herself. He discovers Stubbs pretty shortly, and we get affirmation of what was solely hinted finally season—Stubbs is a bunch himself, programmed to guard the opposite Hosts, and he tried to kill himself after Bernard left the park as a result of it appeared like his mission was over. Usually I’d complain right here concerning the present turning one of many few people left right into a machine, however as retcons go (if it even is a retcon), it matches effectively sufficient, and it’s simply good to have Stubbs again. He even will get some good motion sequences as Bernard makes use of the Delos laptop programs to scan himself, looking for if Dolores has put any secrets and techniques in his code.
We be taught that among the park workers, together with techs and safety, are nonetheless working, not out of any malicious intent however as a result of on the belief that Delos has but to put them off. And we discover out that Maeve’s mind was faraway from her physique, which, because of the episode’s intercutting between its plotlines, we uncover simply as Maeve herself begins placing issues collectively. It’s very elegantly finished, and manages to create extra of a connection between the tales, which helps the episode total really feel extra purposeful and targeted. Bernard doesn’t discover out precisely what’s occurring, however he will get the data he wants, and he leaves the park with Stubbs in tow after a fast change to the machine’s core programming.
That’s the plot, kind of, however there are all kinds of grace notes all through this that assist convey it to life. This isn’t essentially the most transferring hour of the present, and you could possibly even argue that it’s principally about organising the long run—however with its canny use of collection historical past and its humorousness, it by no means comes throughout as wasted time. I like how Maeve’s simulation brings her again in contact with a model of Hector; it’s a relationship that I used to be by no means massively invested in, however the best way it’s performed right here, with Maeve first realizing he doesn’t bear in mind himself, after which understanding he isn’t actual in any respect, makes use of their connection with out overplaying. The fast arc of pretend Lee is even higher, creating surprising pathos and even giving a correct ship off to the “actual” man with out dishonest or forcing a revival. Hell, even the banter between Bernard and Stubbs works effectively, shortly establishing a relationship that we will look ahead to seeing within the weeks to return.
I loved the premiere as a result of even with its self-seriousness, it nonetheless discovered time for some low cost thrills. “The Winter Line” confirms that this isn’t a fluke. With out the necessity to lean on fractured timelines, the episode is well-paced (it’s 58 minutes lengthy, however for as soon as, I didn’t thoughts the time) and gripping, filled with instant pleasures and intimations of battle to return.
- Apologies for lacking the post-credits scene final week. Usually I’d’ve made it a degree to compensate for it and edit the evaluation accordingly, however issues have been bizarre currently. (I did watch it earlier than watching this episode, and it’s successfully disorienting; glad I didn’t have to attend per week to search out out the twist.)
- I’m at all times torn about Maeve’s dialogue. On the one hand, the archness matches the character, and in idea, it is smart as one thing programmed in, a continuing subroutine working to search out the proper one liner in each state of affairs; however, the artificiality of it may be clumsy and distracting in follow, and greater than slightly pressured. To her credit score, Thandie Newton does an excellent job promoting even the clunkiest of phrases, and I’m very glad to have Maeve again on the present.
- Hector provides her a suicide capsule within the chilly open, and he or she finally ends up jamming it within the eye of a Nazi.
- I like that Maeve figures out she’s in a simulation when pretend Lee makes a transfer on her. The individuals who designed this system might solely think about somebody like Lee behaving heroically for egocentric causes; as she factors out, he did the correct factor simply because it was the correct factor to do. The uncommon moments when the present really demonstrates optimism about human nature nonetheless catch me off guard.
- I complained earlier as we speak on Twitter at how a lot of Westworld’s numerous fantasies had been pushed by semi-realistic recreations of historic eras. Nevertheless self-serving these recreations had been, it nonetheless struck me as shortsighted. The place had been the parks with monsters? After which, not an hour later, I watch this and a fucking dragon exhibits up.