Image Credit to Polygon
If you look at reviews of Westworld’s recent episode, “Reunion,” they praise it as an improvement for the show. I actually found the hour to be a slight step down from last week’s fantastic premiere. Instead of feeling like a unified whole, the episode seemed disjointed. “Reunion” bounced from one related narrative to another, building momentum in one environment, and then cutting it off to generate intensity someplace else (the constant cut-to-blacks employed to end narrative segments reinforced this). However, despite this weakness, the program was still riveting.
Why? Well, the answer starts with the storyline involving young William (Jimmi Simpson) and his brother-in-law, Logan (Ben Barnes). Westworld took viewers way back in the past to the moment Logan first encounters the theme park’s robots, revealing how he mistook a room full of them as a room full of humans, how this blew his mind, and how it moved him to become an investor. From a purely cinematic perspective, this scene might be the work’s best directed moment ever. Director Vincenzo Natali blocks the actors, moves the camera, and edits shots in such a way that you can feel Logan’s rising excitement and awe at what he is witnessing. It all culminates in a stunning, inspiring spinning camera right as Logan realizes he’s fallen in love with the park and its possibilities. The twists and turns of Westworld are what everyone focuses on and talks about, but it’s these scenes-the moments where viewers experience how this fantasy world affects the characters, how it wakes them up from their mundane, depressing reality for an instant-that make it such absorbing art.
However, as beautiful as this sequence is, it contains ugliness. Right as the camera spins, Logan divulges one reason he loves the park: it gives him an opportunity to bed attractive female robots. Later that night, he partakes in this very act, the aftermath of which is caught by shots involving simple, horizontal camera moves intercut with static images, which when contrasted with the aforementioned intricate and spinning camera moves lend the event a matter-of-fact and disgusting quality instead of a dreamy, rousing vibe.
That sense of optimism souring and transforming into cynicism is reinforced by other scenes in the William/Logan storyline. Later, William brings Logan’s father, James Delos (Peter Mullan), to Westworld. He freezes the park’s setting right as he encounters Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the female robot he fell in love with last season. But William isn’t there to relive his love for Dolores; rather, still feeling betrayed by the robot’s inability to consummate his human passion, William verbally ignores her presence while visually feeding off it to pitch his father-in-law a business proposition. William argues that like him, other patrons of the park unknowingly provide information on their likes and dislikes, preferences and distastes. He then persuades the elder Delos to buy the park so that he can have control of this information, so that he can spy on the world’s consumers and use this knowledge for his own power. In doing this, in drawing upon his love for Westworld to angrily figure out how to exploit other people’s love, William contributes to that feeling of good things eroding, the weird dual nature of the park to provide uplift and horror.
The feeling that all the good in Westworld inevitably turns to shit hangs over “Reunion.” It particularly affects the hour’s main plotline, involving present-day Dolores’ revolution to free herself and other robots from human captors. Right now, Dolores’ mission is going well. Her ruthlessness, captured brilliantly by Wood, has gained her many allies-both robot and human-in her fight, she draws from her “glitch” memories to remain two steps ahead of her human enemies, and decked with modern military gear, she seems on the verge of becoming a badass icon. However, signs of all not being well routinely pop up as Dolores moves forward in her struggle. Her partner, Teddy (James Marsden) keeps challenging her desires and violent methods and some of the robots she encounters, including ones who know the truth of the park like Maeve (Thandie Newton), don’t support Dolores and consider her a threat. On most other shows, such conflicts would generate drama simply over whether or not Dolores could overcome them. On Westworld, in the context of how often idealistic things become fucked up and in literal hindsight of the premiere’s haunting flash-forward, these troublesome signs indicate tragedy. Every positive step Dolores takes in her journey, then, comes to seem like a step closer to her, her allies, or both of theirs annihilation. It’s disturbing and sad, feelings that make Westworld one of the best shows on television.