Violent Delights
SciFiNow|Issue 144

Westworld Is Back for Season Two – and This Time the Hosts Are Taking Charge

Adam Tanswell

We’re in an Old West saloon, with flocked wallpaper and heavy ornate curtains. A woman sits at the piano in the corner, playing a tune. Any minute now a brawl could erupt and spill out into the hot, dusty streets. The only thing convincing our brains that we haven’t actually travelled in time is the air conditioning – and the fact that the woman tinkling away at the piano is Evan Rachel Wood, the star of HBO’s Westworld. We’re in the Mariposa Saloon, in the town of Sweetwater, which is really the Melody Ranch studios, a 45 minute drive from Beverley Hills. And Westworld Season Two is well underway.

Season One was a slow, cerebral journey through human rights, technology, power and abuse, which exploded into fountains of gore in the finale when the AI ‘hosts’ of Westworld rose up, killed their human master, and unleashed the mother of all rebellions. “[Season Two] hits the ground running,” Wood, who plays Dolores, assures us. “I think people are going to be surprised by the first few minutes of the show; pleasantly surprised and excited. It’s going to be absolute chaos.”

Wood’s Delores, of course, is the epicentre of that chaos, following her cold-blooded execution of Anthony Hopkins’ Ford, the man who made the hosts. Thandie Newton’s Maeve, meanwhile, has taken her rebellion to the Delos offices. “You’re definitely going to see the events of what happened after Dolores pulled that trigger play out. I think it’s a story that deserves to be seen all the way through,” promises co-showrunner Lisa Joy. “For me, the fundamental difference between the first and second seasons is that the first season was a coming-of-age story and the second season is a war story. It’s about the birth of a leader. Well, more than one leader frankly. And it’s about the moral choices that they will make, the moral sacrifices that they will make in order to do what they need to; to create the world that they believe they must create.”

At least one of the leaders Joy refers to is Dolores, which Wood confirms: “She’s on a mission and she has to be smart enough to know what has to be done – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pain her to do it. I think she’s constantly at war with herself and she’s always trying to be strong; always trying to be free – but how will the dynamics shift and how are we going to see her come into power? It’s going to be a bloody, wild journey!”

But there will be innocents caught up in this ‘wild journey’, and we’re not just talking about all the park guests. James Marsden tells us that unaware host Teddy is having a rough time. Unlike Dolores and Maeve, whose “path to sentience has been slowly sort of peeling back… Teddy's happened pretty abruptly towards the end of first season,” he says. “He's now getting to choose, with free will, his identity, and not being shackled to the identity that has been created for him. But it’s against a backdrop of absolute mayhem.”

But Joy reminds us not to expect straightforward storytelling from Season Two. “Westworld has traditionally enjoyed a nonlinear narrative; a non-traditional narrative. In that sense, I’m sure there will be little forays into that this season as well,” she says.

That very same non-linear storytelling was the cause of most of the feverish fan speculation on Season One, and the announcement that Jimmi Simpson, who plays William – the young version of Ed Harris’ Man In Black – will be back for Season Two (along with Ben Barnes’ Logan) tells us that Westworld is still as interested in the past as it is in the future. After all, for a show that’s all about consciousness, memories of the past are crucial.

As for the older William, he finds himself in a very different position to where he was at the start of Season One. The finale saw him caught up in Dolores’ attack against the park, and Westworld is no longer just a game for him. “This season, he’s on a mission,” Ed Harris says. “And so, when people get in his way, he’s got to do what he’s got to do. If somebody’s going to try to stop him from doing it, he’s got to take care of it. It’s business. Because he can get killed now, which he couldn’t before.”

Now that we know his real identity, Harris says he’s able to explore the less black-and-white aspects of his character, and Harris doesn’t believe he’s a bad guy at all. “Obviously he’s got some demons that he’s dealing with – but that’s why he comes here. In the outside world, he’s revered… He’s a good man and he’s recognised as such; so no I don’t think he’s bad. I mean, he’s obviously the bad guy in Season One in some ways because he was not nice to these artificial beings – but we’ll soon see what happens next. He’s got some things going in the second season that might make people think: ‘I don’t know if he’s so bad.’ Maybe you will, I don’t know. But no, I don’t see him as bad. That’s too simplistic. Everybody’s mixed up.”

William is one of the few main human characters in the show, and yet he was Season One’s chief antagonist. Instead, the show invites its viewers to sympathise with its AI characters, with Dolores and Maeve emerging as the true heroes of Season One. Joy confirms that Maeve and Dolores will still be at the heart of the story in Season Two. She explains that Season One was “the story of these women finding their voices and finding their identity” and that Season Two tackles the issue of “once you’ve found your voice, once you’ve understood what the world is, once you’ve seen that truth, what do you do with it? Who do you become? Do you take on the terrors of the people who worked against you?”

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