Ed Harris
Photo: HBO

Well what do you know. Last week, I was predicting that Jimmi Simpson wouldn’t be reprising his role this season as William, given how that character’s fate played out. What would be the point? He was there for a bit of not-all-that-necessary mindfuckery, and once we connected point A to point Ed, the narrative loop was more or less closed. A return of Simpson, I would’ve argued (had I decided to belabor things even more than usual), would suggest a show that was spinning its wheels, content to keep on regurgitating the old hits in lieu of providing us with new ones.

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The young William is back in “Reunion,” which is a surprise; and even more of a surprise, I actually think it’s the right call. Where the season premiere suffered from having a lack of clear through-line, providing us with multiple stories but little to tie them together beyond “uh, consciousness and stuff?” this second episode starts doubling down on what will presumably be the major arc for the season: just what in the hell Delos is up to with its crazy robot amusement park. Bringing back young William makes sense because it turns out he served an even more important role in deciding the direction and goals of the park than I’d initially realized. And now that there’s no need to pretend that he and the Man In Black are different people, watching scenes set in the present and the past help to inform each other in subtle, interesting ways.

There’s also the fact that “Reunion” begins with Dolores outside the park, having been brought by Arnold and Ford into the city as part of a potential pitch to bring in investors. The episode keeps up the time-jumping trickery the show has always used, but it’s considerably easier here to follow what follows what. We don’t get any scenes of Bernard wandering around with the Delos security team, which is the most present timeline (if you follow me); instead, the “present-ish” part of the episode follows Dolores as she builds her army, and older William as he tries to build his, before realizing that Ford has other plans in store.

Interspersed throughout are scenes set in the decades before the park was officially funded, showing how it went from marketing pitch to paranoid’s dream. The structure is similar to the sort of structure Lost used, but instead of tying these visions of the past to a specific character (much of it follows Dolores, but not everything), it plays out as though the park itself is having flashbacks, filling us in on how it came to be before jumping ahead to show us how it’s all falling apart. Multiple plotlines operate throughout the hour (which is shorter than last week’s entry, but still longer than it needed to be), but the way the scenes from the past connect together helps to give the whole episode a much greater feeling of cohesion than it might otherwise have had.

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I’m not sure anything that happens after can rival the surprise of seeing Arnold showing Dolores around the city, though. It’s the best sort of reveal, something which in retrospect makes perfect sense, but which had never occured to me before; of course Arnold and Robert would use their work to pull in investors, and of course Dolores would be a part of those plans. (Although Robert vetoes actually using her in the presentation because he doesn’t think she’s ready yet.) But having Arnold take her and actually show her the house he’s building for his family (he hasn’t lost his son yet, which is an indication that his interest in Dolores and her potential was around even before grief drove him to extreme measures) enriches our understanding of what’s going on with Dolores. And really, this is the most time we’ve spent outside the park in ages. That’s a critical step forward for the series, which thus far has been largely content to keep things in-house. The episode makes it even more explicit that the main conflict here is between the hosts and the Delos corporation, and we already know the hosts well enough; in order to make this fight worth caring about, we need to have some sense of how the other half lives.

Meanwhile in the present, both Dolores and William are given clear, immediate goals. Knowing that Dolores has been outside the park, and realizing by the end just how many secrets she’s been privy to, helps to give her plans a bit more oomph behind them, and while it’s frustrating that the show depends so heavily on major characters having schemes withheld from us until the last minute, I do appreciate that at least one of the hosts understands just how big and difficult this war is going to be. The timeline weirdness and oblique mythology can alienate audiences as much as it pulls them in, creating a puzzle box where the only vested interest is in having the answers without ever being able to engage in the story itself. If reading the Wikipedia summary of something can stir as much passion as watching that something for yourself, it’s a failure. So it’s a relief when an episode like this can give us enough of the big picture to let us feel like we have some idea of what’s at stake.

William’s scenes are even more direct. While Dolores is using Teddy’s fast hands to wipe out reluctant new recruits before having a human tech bring all of them back to life, William is once again rescuing Laurence before setting off for… wherever it is he’s going. (William calls it his “greatest mistake.” Presumably he and Dolores are headed in the same direction, especially given what we see in the flashback with her and young William.) But even if we don’t know the specifics about William’s destination quite yet, he explicitly states his intentions: he’s going to break out and burn the whole place down. Given what we see of him in the past, the park as it now exists is in many ways the result of his efforts, and even after all of last year’s shenanigans, I still don’t think we’re at a point where it’s possible to see how young William become old William. But we’re getting there.

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Regardless, Ford has left behind any number of tricks to make sure William doesn’t have an easy time ahead of him. Like Dolores, he tries to build an army; but unlike Dolores, he doesn’t have anyway to bring back the dead. When he finds the new El Lazo (Giancarlo Esposito, marvelous in what appears to be a one-off appearance) and offers him vague promises about “true victory,” Lazo laughs. After years of being stuck in a story loop that never let him achieve his goals, he and his men finally succeed in laying waste to the town they’ve been assaulting for years, and it means nothing. He has no purpose left. So he and all his men shoot themselves.

We still don’t have a really clear idea of what’s happening to the systems in the park now that everything else has broken down, but scenes like this help to create the illusion that the characters we follow in this narrative aren’t the only ones living lives, and that things are constantly happening that we never get to see. That’s critical for a story that spends so much time obfuscating itself, because those obfuscations can occasionally get in the way of some of basic needs of narrative fiction. Non-sequential storytelling may keep the audience off balance, but not knowing when things are happening doesn’t matter if we don’t care about any of them. “Reunion” isn’t revelatory, but it does give a bigger picture sense of what’s going on this season than just “crazy murder robots,” and for that, I’m grateful.

Stray observations

  • Teddy is a murdering machine. Poor bastard.
  • We also get to spend some time with Logan, who we last saw getting sent off into the park naked on a horse. The episode shows how he was first seduced by the immediate possibilities of the park (Bernard and Robert arrange a demonstration in which everyone else at a party but him is a host), and later, after he and William have their break, getting drunk at a party and commenting on the end of human civilization. Given how William turned out, it’s not surprising that Logan is slightly more sympathetic here than he was in season one, and it’s especially interesting how both men responded to the idea of Westworld: Logan, an obvious jackass, was there for the sensual pleasures; but William, more thoughtful, ultimately goes for the bigger implications.
  • Maeve, Hector, and Lee (who’s now dressed as a stable boy) briefly meet up with Dolores and her crew. Dolores tries to pressure Maeve into joining up with them, but Maeve is still determined to track down her kid.
  • “We have toiled in God’s service long enough. So I killed Him.”—Dolores. (Although Ford is pretty lively for a dead man.)
  • “It’s not a place. It’s a weapon. And I’m going to use it to destroy them.” —Dolores.

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