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Westworld Recap: Choose Your Fate

Westworld

Phase Space
Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

The title of this week’s episode, “Phase Space,” is not just a clue to the final reveal, but perhaps a good characterization of the ongoing story structure of Westworld as well as the events within the park. To wit: “In dynamical system theory, a phase space is a space in which all possible states of a system are represented, with each possible state corresponding to one unique point in the phase space.” In layman’s terms, it’s basically a graph that shows you all the possibilities mapped out at once, as if they all exist simultaneously. Westworld, with its endless layering of timelines (even I was a little confused about the timelines tonight), its massive swabs of characters, places, proper nouns, and even its constant state of death and undeath, can feel so dense and all-encompassing. It is both constantly moving and yet constantly in stasis. That feeling certainly comes through this week: After a pretty steady run of two-handers for the last few episodes, “Phase Space” jumps back to the “let’s catch up on every character” approach. In grand Westworld fashion, what at first felt like a series of uninteresting check-ins ultimately led to some big culminations.

The first comes in the first scene, where we learned that the season-opening conversation between Arnold and Dolores is, in fact, Dolores testing Bernard’s model for “fidelity.” Did she replace Arnold in some way? We don’t know, but perhaps Dolores had more to do in guiding Bernard than previously thought.

Which brings us to the other host Dolores has rewritten: Teddy. Our good boy is now a stern, icy-eyed mofo who will shoot a man for wasting his time. Dolores seems simultaneously enthralled and worried, but Teddy says he finally feels free, unhinged from his prior morality. Either way, they carry this moxie with them as they point directly into Westworld HQ and set off some kind of explosion. But we aren’t going to see the results just yet.

Prior to that explosion, Charlotte and the third Hemsworth reunite in said HQ. Unconcerned with getting the park online, Charlotte still just wants to retrieve the data in Pa Abernathy’s head and send it off to Delos. But since he keeps running off, she goes to Dr. Giggles and his lab of body horror-surgery so that he’ll literally pin Abernathy to his seat. This is all prelude to the special-ops cavalry showing up, when we meet a new big bad soldier named Coughlin (played by the great Timothy V. Murphy, who you might recognize from every action movie ever, but this time with fine mustache!). It seems he’s arrived just in time for Dolores’s train boom-boom.

Back in Shogunworld, the plot lines from “Akane No Mai” get shored up in fairly quick fashion. It starts with Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) standing off in a duel, and I know TV budgets and schedules are immensely constrained, but it’s hard to watch great choreography get relegated to two low-angle “shot, reverse shots” that barely show the clean nature of the movement. The point of his duel is largely to demonstrate the importance of “choosing our own fate,” a sentiment echoed by the all-powerful Maeve. Post-duel, both Musashi and Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) inform Maeve that they won’t be coming with her to start a new life. They will instead stay here with Sakura’s heart, now burned to ash. They will mourn and defend the land that is theirs, while Hanaryo will move on with them. Maeve respects their wishes, for this is the fate they choose. While I could talk a great deal about this ongoing theme in the show, I most want to mention how much this plot detail honors the notion that death only really matters in stories when you see the real impact of it. What Akane has lost, we feel. The heart does not just burn; it will continue to burn with endless embers for Sakura. We know she must mourn time and time again, for it is such a powerful loss.

And it is a loss Maeve hopes desperately to avoid. Maybe it was just a beautiful cinematic moment with a great music cue, but I found Maeve’s homecoming surprisingly moving, even if it left me with a few questions. Did she imagine her daughter was just alone? How many years has it been? Did she expect her daughter would recognize her? It was a set of questions that were largely delayed to play up the heartbreak of the other mother’s arrival, but perhaps it was a truth Maeve inherently ignored because it didn’t matter. As we’ve just seen, devotion for a child knows no bounds nor logic.

But as soon as Maeve and her child are attacked by Ghost Nation and must run, we firmly find ourselves in the narrative conundrum that happens when a character has “god powers.” Why doesn’t Maeve make the natives kill themselves, given her ability to seemingly do it on command? Are we going to explore the ethical questions involved in such mind control? Are we going to explore its impact on Maeve’s own character? I’m not sure. But these lingering questions aren’t going anywhere soon.

We then come to our last parental relationship: Old William and his daughter Grace. At first, he shamelessly thinks she’s just another part of Ford’s game, but soon she convinces him she’s the real deal. (Though she’s so convincing that she made ME wonder.) They hash out their relationship with a conversation full of demons, revealing a man who seems to misunderstand his own daughter so completely. She chastises him for still being obsessed with the park, but only because she understands its childlike allure. In the end, all she wants is for William to leave his game and come back with her to the real world, back from all this madness. He promises, but of course, it is a lie. “The game” is really just anything in life that we put above love and our families.

The biggest reveal of Westworld’s game emerges during Elsie and Bernard’s visit to “the Cradle,” which is basically the massive server farm where all the data of the park is held and virtually tested. The Cradle itself is improvising and fighting back, stopping all of Elsie’s attempts to retake control of the park. They go for answers, and Bernard signs up for a little surgery to put his consciousness into the Cradle itself. There he goes into a new reality where he awakens on the train, much like Teddy did in the very first episode. He walks through Sweetwater and it all seems to be like the original script for everyone’s behavior. No visitors, just the world as written. Bernard walks into the saloon, where he finds a man playing the piano … and it’s Ford.

Dun dun dun. It seems Ford downloaded his consciousness to the Cradle and has been operating within the mainframe, thus pulling the strings of all this. It’s a big reveal, but without the details that talk more of his goal, there isn’t much to say about themes of this choice, nor the themes of the episode. It exists as more of the latest series of plotting linchpins, like all the dots on a map flickering into view at once, hopefully on the way to forming something grander. When you pull back and look at what the proverbial “phase space” forms, it’s never just the what, but what it means.

Random Thoughts

• Wait, why can’t the Westworld technician break out of a train car? Why did he have to kill himself in that situation? He could just even shoot out a window! It’s just weird.

• I love that prophetic line from Grace about William’s wife — “She was never convinced this place couldn’t hurt us” — which is obviously meant in more ways than one.

• I also love the little bits of characterization for Elsie in this episode, like Bernard saying, “If anyone can right this ship by force of sheer will, it’s you,” and her calling out the security teams as “macho fucks [who] are probably loving this shit.”

• Samurai battles are incredibly quick, with great buildup and singular moves and choices leading to victory (I think about Lone Wolf and Cub a lot on this front). I was hoping they would opt for something similar here, but alas.

• I’m sorry, but Teddy’s new stern face makes it look like he’s constipated.

Westworld Recap: Choose Your Fate