Westworld Season 2: Sorting Out Timelines and Pleasant Surprises

While recently rereading Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, I came across this passage[1]:

“…it is important that we learn to distinguish between mysteries and secrets. Mysteries precede humankind, envelop us and draw us forward into exploration and wonder. Secrets are the work of humankind, a covert and often insidious way to gather, withhold or impose power. Do not confuse the pursuit of one with the manipulation of the other.”

It really struck me and immediately made me think of some of my feelings about Season 1 of HBO’s Westworld.

In my summary of Season 1 of the sci-fi mystery-meets Western-meets Jurassic Park show, I felt Westworld made too many attempts to “trick” the viewer. In other words, it used “secrets” instead of “mystery.”

Heading into the new season, I hoped it would keep its mystery without trying to play games. And so far, Season 2 has delivered. Big time.

This analysis includes Season 2 episodes of Westworld through Episode 7, which aired last Sunday.

Sorting Through the Timelines

“Is this now?”

“If you’re looking forward, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”

“How did all these disparate threads come together to create this nightmare? If we figure that out, we’ll know how this story turns.”

These are all lines from the new season of Westworld, and they really sum up the general feeling of what it’s like to watch it.

Season 1 used multiple timelines, woven together to make it look like a continuous story line. One of the biggest hooks came when it was revealed that the Man in Black and young, innocent William were in fact the same person — 30 years apart.

To my surprise, the new season of Westworld not only continued the use of multiple timelines, but doubled down by throwing flashbacks into the mix. Rather than trying to hide the fact that multiple timelines are coexisting, this season is more transparent (somewhat) about it. Westworld is still confusing as all get-out at times, but at least we know things are taking place at different times.

From what I can tell, there are at least 3-4 different timelines taking place:

The “Main” Timeline

This is where a majority of the season takes place. It picks up immediately after the conclusion of Season 1, where Dolores shot Robert Ford after his new-narrative presentation. This timeline features a bunch of different subsets of stories, with many of them converging in Episode 7 at the “Mesa.”

With Dolores’ shooting of Ford, the game has now changed. The hosts (and their weapons, it seems) have now been altered so that they are able to harm the guests. And many of the guests attending Ford’s presentation from Season 1 are now finding themselves fighting for their lives.

This timeline follows Bernard as he bounces around all over the place, trying to unsuccessfully piece together memories and keep from breaking down. He eventually ends up pairing up with his former Behavior Department partner Elsie Hughes, who we had been made to believe was killed in Season 1. (Side note: I’m really happy that Elsie is back, as she and Bernard have great chemistry together.) In Episode 7 Bernard discovers that a copy has been made of Ford, who continues to control Bernard and “light the match” for what appears to be a big fire of trouble coming in the final 3 episodes. Poor Bernard can’t escape Ford’s manipulations even from beyond the grave.

Westworld_timeline 1

The Main Timeline also follows Dolores and Teddy, who are basically on a mission to destroy everything in their path, ultimately heading to a place some call Glory and others call the Valley Beyond. Before making it there they make a pit-stop at the Mesa in hopes of retrieving Peter Abernathy (Dolores’s “father”) and killing a bunch of people as an added bonus. Abernathy is also being heavily pursued by Delos because they have implanted some sort of key inside his head. At the end of Episode 7, Dolores has the key and is racing presumably west toward the Valley Beyond.

Deciding not to get on the train at the end of Season 1, Maeve searches for her daughter at the beginning of this season. After taking a detour through a samurai-based sector (more on this later), Maeve briefly is reunited with her daughter but is then shot and rushed back to the Mesa. Among the chaos of Dolores’s attack, Maeve is left on a stretcher, where Dolores tells her that her path has ended. Something tells me this won’t be the last we see from Maeve, however.

The Man in Black survives the attack at the end of Season 1 and goes on a journey of his own, rejoining Lawrence and encountering his daughter Emily. I get the feeling that the Man in Black story line might be the heart of the second season, as Ford has apparently left him clues of a new game that is “meant for him.” (As opposed to his pursuit of The Maze in the first season, which was not meant for him.) The object of this new game is for him to find a door, but it’s unclear at the moment what this door is — if it’s even in fact a real door — where it is, or where it leads.

The Man in Black also hints that he is heading to Glory, so a big showdown between him and Dolores’s army would appear to be imminent. He encounters Maeve before she is taken back to the Mesa, and he is severely wounded but still alive at the end of Episode 7.

The Delos Extraction Timeline

Taking place approximately 2 weeks after Ford’s killing, this timeline doesn’t get a ton of air time, but it’s enough to keep us guessing. We are first introduced to the story line by having Bernard wake up on the beach, with Delos soldiers and vehicles storming the area, slaughtering hosts and trying to recover information.

Here we are introduced to the ice-cold Karl Strand, head of Delos Operations and leader of the Delos extraction team. At the end of Episode 1, Strand and Bernard come across a huge body of water, which is not supposed to be there, and discover a ton of dead hosts floating in the water. Bernard states that he killed them all (but of course can’t remember anything else). With one of the dead hosts being Teddy, we know a lot is going to go down in the next few episodes, when we are shown what exactly happened here.

Westworld_timeline 2

Episode 7 brought us back to this timeline and produced one of the more shocking scenes of the season. Strand takes Bernard and Stubbs (head of QA security who was able to escape being captured by the Lakota tribe and made his way back to the Mesa) to the site of Theresa’s murder from Season 1, and are taken to a room where we see a dozen or more versions of Bernard, all wrapped in plastic.

The Flashback Timeline

Perhaps the most surprising part of the season so far for me was seeing the return of Young William and Logan. In Episode 2, the story jumps back to a time even before we see them in Season 1, where they are given a demonstration on the hosts of Westworld. This flashback jumps through time (never telling us exactly when things are taking place), showing us William convincing James Delos of the opportunity Westworld could bring them, and then ahead again to Delos’s retirement party, where Dolores is playing the piano. This shows us that Dolores has been to the real world.

Westworld_Dolores flashback

Episode 4 provides more flashbacks, where we see Young William visit James Delos, where he is being tested and confined in a room. We soon learn this is actually a re-creation of Devos, but one that can’t quite fit in with reality. There are multiple attempts to re-create Devos, and each time he lasts longer before he begins to break down. But then as an older man, William says he doesn’t think the experiment will work and that some people are better off dead. These are crucially important scenes, as they let us know more of Delos’s objective: they are trying to achieve immortality, but they just can’t get there.

The Subconscious Timeline

The very first scene of this season featured a familiar setting: Dolores and Bernard having a one-on-one. However, Dolores appeared to be doing more of the question-asking as opposed to the other way around.

In Episode 7, when Bernard is linked to the mainframe of the park in the Cradle, he meets with Ford in Sweetwater. Ford reveals that his mind was copied (Bernard actually did the copying) but wouldn’t be able to survive in the real world — similar to what we saw with James Delos. Bernard realizes that the main objective of the park is to monitor the guests — put them in a situation where there are no consequences and see what their true desires are. In other words, the park is a big testing chamber, where the guests are the variables and the hosts are the controls.

He then takes Bernard to Arnold’s home, which is where Ford and Dolores tested the early stages of Bernard until he was ready. This was all somewhat confusing, but I think it means the very first scene of the season is part of this strange timeline.

Pleasant Surprises

While the second season of Westworld still has 3 episodes to go, I feel confident in saying this season is better than the first. A majority of what interested me during the first season was trying to puzzle together what was actually going on. But once the answers started fitting into place, things fell a bit flat.

However, Season 2 has a lot more going for it. One thing the new season introduced is the different sectors of the park. Maeve and her companions travel through Shogun World (which was actually very cleverly teased in Season 1), which is composed of ninjas and samurai, and the Man in Black’s daughter Emily is first shown exploring “The Raj,” an India-themed park that features hunting wild animals.

This aspect opens so many story line opportunities for the show, and I can’t wait to see what other parks we have in store. I loved the detail that Shogun World featured versions of certain Westworld characters — so there was a Shogun World version of Maeve and Hector and Armistice. Narrative writer Lee Sizemore’s excuse about how hard it would be to come up with 300 story lines in 3 weeks was amusing, and probably true for the real-life writers of Westworld as well.

Another portion of Season 2 I have enjoyed is that early on, it was really reminding me of Lost. The flashbacks with William brought back memories of viewing characters interact with the real world, off the island. Is the park of Westworld really that much different than the Lost island? James Delos’s scenes of riding the exercise bike and listening to music while being trapped in an observation chamber also definitely reminded me of Desmond living in the Hatch in Lost.

Perhaps one of my favorite moments of this new season so far was the scene when the Man in Black and Lawrence visit the town of Pariah and come across El Lazo (a character that Lawrence previously played when Young William first visited the park). El Lazo is portrayed by the actor Giancarlo Esposito, who played the mesmerizing Gus Fring in Breaking Bad. The new El Lazo only had one scene, but Esposito played the role to perfection. I only wish he could’ve had a larger role in Westworld.

I Have Questions

Watching Westworld probably never comes without questions. Compared to last year, I feel like (while still complicated), the multiple timelines are more manageable to follow. This of course could completely be thrown out the window if the next few episodes produce a number of huge twists.

But I do have questions, some big, some small:

  • Is the Man in Black’s daughter Emily a host? She is able to speak the language of the Lakota tribe (we have learned that all hosts know many different languages), which seems unusual. Her father suspects her of being a host right when he first talks to her, thinking she was sent by Ford as part of the game. Right now I’m leaning toward her being a host, but we shall see.
  • When the Lakotas had captured Emily and Stubbs, they said they were taking them to “the first of us.” They never reached their destination, so who was that? Then after Emily escapes, one of the Lakotas says to Stubbs (in English): “You live only as long as the last person who remembers you.” Then the Lakotas all disappear. Where did they all go?
  • Shortly after Maeve runs into Felix and Sylvester, we see Sylvester and sometimes Armistice carrying a sack of something. It looks to be about the size of a rifle, wrapped up, but I don’t believe we are ever shown what they are carrying.
  • During one of the many chases involving characters running away from Lakotas, Maeve and company reach an elevator just in time to escape a Lakota attack. Just outside the elevator is a dead body. Are we supposed to know who that was, or was it just a random body from the park massacre?

The final 3 episodes should be pretty exciting. I’m fairly confident my first two questions will be answered, and I’m expecting some big twists. Things seem to be pointing toward a big showdown at the Valley Beyond, and it appears Bernard is going to cause a lot of trouble, now that he has Ford actively whispering in his ear telling him to do bad things. I feel like there will be more to what’s behind the Delos board’s motivations beyond market research and the quest for immortality. I’m looking forward to finding out more.

I just hope the twists don’t cheat the viewer like they did in the first season. After watching the first 7 episodes, however, I’m liking our chances.

Resource

[1] Frost, Mark. The Secret History of Twin Peaks, (New York: Flatiron Books, 2016): 58.


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4 Replies to “Westworld Season 2: Sorting Out Timelines and Pleasant Surprises”

  1. This was a great read. I couldn’t agree more that season 1 seems like trickery and this season is more mystery for the viewer.

    One other big question I have… How is the Man in Black not dead? Dude got totally messed up and is still kicking without any treatment? Host? That would be pretty unbelievable though…

    1. One thought I have on that (and could be totally off-base) is that while the hosts’ weapons can kill now, they are maybe not as powerful as real weapons? I don’t know, that’s my only guess. I’m unclear about the hosts’ weapons in general, because in season 1 it seemed that they couldn’t wound a human more than say a paintball pellet. But now they can kill…

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