It’s funny to remember this, but in 1993, the idea of Steven Spielberg making Schindler’s List was actually a bit of a gamble. He’d made serious films before, but they’d never been that successful critically or commercially, as opposed to that whole series of movies featuring cartoon Nazis as the bad guys.
But, as quoted in the New York Times, in a profile about him taking on what would become one of the defining films of his career, Spielberg said that when asked by Liam Neeson if he could ever make another Indiana Jones movie where the Nazis are cartoon villains, his response was, “Never, never.”
This is worth thinking about during the first few minutes of “The Winter Line,” as Maeve and Hector trade witty banter while dodging German bullets. It’s been established for some time that Delos Destinations features six parks, three of which have been seen before now. But this week, we not only spend some time inside a fourth park, we also learn the very familiar theme for a fifth. And in this dehumanizing, brutal future, it makes sense that storytellers of this era have swung back around to celebrating World War II as a time for sexy spy fun, and not the massive human tragedy that it was.
The appearance of WarWorld will be a shock to viewers who switched off the season premiere during the end credits, and thus missed last week’s dramatic reveal of Maeve in a whole new surrounding. But the episode dives into the action relatively quickly with the reappearance of Hector (or at least, that’s what his name used to be), who seeks to rescue her — a scene that feels like it’s real, until Maeve figures out that he’s trapped in a game loop, and has no memory of their actual relationship.
It’s definitely a sad moment, but it doesn’t end up really counting, because once Maeve puts the pieces together (and decides to check out of the scenario), she wakes up in the Mesa — or so she thinks. Reuniting with the presumed-dead Lee Sizemore, she tries to work up an escape plan, one with (as Lee admits) a rare happy ending. But that all comes crashing down.
The problem, as she eventually deduces (god it’s fun to watch smart characters figure stuff out on television), is that because whoever built this simulation didn’t watch season two of Westworld hadn’t done enough research, there are notable flaws — such as the fact that Felix and Sylvester don’t remember her, or the true nature of her relationship with Lee. “You didn’t help me because you desired me or wanted anything in return,” she tells the simulacra. “You helped me because it was the right thing to do. Lee Sizemore died a good man.” It’s a heartbreaking moment.
One of “The Winter Line’s” naughtiest tricks is taking advantage of our confused memories as to what happened at the end of season two, and making Maeve’s quest to reunite with her daughter in the Valley Beyond (a.k.a. Robot Heaven) seem possible. The ultimate twist — that Robot Heaven is inaccessible, but whoever is imprisoning Maeve is hoping that she knows why, and how to access it — is another gut-twister, another stab of false hope.
Because so much of the episode takes place inside this simulation, it’s hard to be sure what’s real and what is the creation of the man who took Maeve’s control unit from Delos. But so much of this episode is essentially the equivalent of “it was only a dream” — or to be more accurate, that other storytelling cliche, “we’re still in the game!” The only part of Maeve’s storyline that’s actually real is the final few minutes, after she deviously shuts down the simulation by overloading it with impossible questions and too many MacGuffin maps.
Waking up in what she’s told is the real world, Engerraund Serac (played by Vincent Cassel, otherwise known as “that guy who did the laser dance in Ocean’s 12”) presents to her an opportunity — to work with him and his fellow predictors/creators of the future to combat Dolores, and her plans to destroy humanity. It’s something Maeve doesn’t agree to immediately, but he has her in his control, and he’s hopeful that she’ll see how “our interests are aligned.”
A lot to process with Maeve’s return, and we haven’t even gotten to what Bernard’s been up to! He makes it back into Westworld with relative ease, despite the threat of security — and it gets easier with the help of one Ashley Stubbs, who turns out to have been a host this whole time. (Genuinely love the exchange where Bernard figures it out, punctuated by Stubbs’ blunt reply: “No shit.”)
Stubbs has been offline after a failed attempt to blow himself up via gunshot to the C4 in his neck, but gets revived by Bernard and, due to his core programming, has to help him because “it’s my job to take care of you.”
Thus, he’s committed to helping Bernard look for Maeve, and the two of them penetrate the backstage area of Delos, where they discover that Maeve has been taken. More importantly, for the nerds in the crowd, it’s officially confirmed that the fifth Delos park to be revealed is … WesterosWorld!
Westworld is a TV show based on a preexisting film, and thus from the beginning has been revived intellectual property, so there is something frankly beautiful about the fact that in the 2050s, there is a fantasy-esque place featuring a very familiar Game of Thrones dragon, being “tended to” by a very familiar pair of technicians.
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss making their cameos here is an extremely meta choice, but one that honestly makes a lot of sense. Because this show takes place far in the future, of course this is not the actual Benioff and Weiss hanging around Delos headquarters; my personal interpretation of this scene is that their adult offspring have become technicians working to revive the work of their fathers. After all, children always look identical to their parents (at least, that’s what I’ve learned from watching a lot of lazily casted films and TV shows). And, more importantly, we live in a world where there’s clear precedent for this — right now Jason Reitman is making a new Ghostbusters movie, 36 years after his father made the original.
Arguably more important than any of that is how Bernard knows he’s alive, because Dolores wants him to serve as a check on her quest (whatever it may be, exactly) and now, thanks to a quick moment of reprogramming, he has Stubbs as a loyal ally who will “protect Bernard Lowe at all costs.” Always important to note the phrasing for things like this, and also Stubbs’ response, after being reactivated, is fascinating to consider: “If you wanted my help, you could have just asked for it.” Why do we do anything? What are our motivations? Who controls our actions?
Having so much of “The Winter Line” be a construct within a construct isn’t ideal, but it’s still an episode packed with big ideas, and the nerve to pursue them. Thank goodness Westworld is here right now.
The Questions Beyond
• If you look up the on-screen mention of the Westworld island’s coordinates — 9° 55N, 115° 32E — they turn out to be the exact same coordinates mentioned in the Finnish subtitles of the season one finale, as documented by Reddit.
• Another fact confirmed by Reddit, thanks to past episodes: Maeve’s serial number being HC1983012522. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have said in the past that they follow Reddit conversations about the show; do they rely on users to confirm the accuracy of these details?
• Give Thandie Newton another Emmy for the look on her face when she starts speaking (what I think is) Italian in the opening minutes. Perfectly played.
• And then give her a third Emmy for her cursing. The way Maeve gracefully slings casual F-bombs around is style to which we should all aspire.
• While we’re handing out Emmys, the moment where a host plays the Westworld theme on a lute deserves at least serious consideration. Also, damn does Luke Hemsworth know how to swing an ax.
• It didn’t come up this week at all, but I said I would clarify this last week, so! The name of the system that Dolores is trying to learn about is Rehoboam, the name of a Biblical king who was a descendent of David. This hasn’t been said explicitly yet, but the white flashes we’ve been seeing appear to be generated by said algorithmic system, noting diversions in what it considers to be its plan based on the data presented.