I’ve been full of praise for Westworld in recent weeks, especially as the last two episodes saw a shift towards more focussed, emotive storytelling. If ‘Phase Change’ came before ‘Akane No Mai’ or ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’, then I’d probably have less of an issue with it, but as a follow on to the show’s two strongest episodes to date, it feels like an unfortunate regression. The barrier that prevented me from truly loving Westworld’s first season was mainly formed of overstuffed episodes and underwhelming reveals, and that’s exactly what resurfaces in ‘Phase Change’.
First comes the fireside heart-to-heart between MiB William and his daughter Grace/Emily. As a side note, this whole thing with the same characters having different names is getting ridiculous. We already had MiB/William, Dolores/Wyatt, Arnold/Bernard and now Grace/Emily. In ordinary circumstances, it normally takes me half a season to remember characters’ names, so this is unnecessarily complicated. I’m sticking with Grace, as that’s her name in the cast list. Grace offers an olive branch to her father, retracting the blame she placed on him over her mother’s suicide. There’s a tender moment between them and William agrees to leave with her the following morning and begin repairing their relationship back in the real world. I’d have been emotionally invested in this exchange if Westworld didn’t make it so abundantly obvious that William had no intention of following up on this. When Grace wakes up to find him gone, it was more an “Of course he’s gone” moment than “The bastard!” Grace is a savvy operator and I don’t buy for a second that she would have been taken in by his contrite façade.
There’s a similar feeling when Maeve returns to the homestead from her visions and finds her daughter sitting on the porch. This should have been a hugely emotional moment, but the twist of Maeve having been replaced by another mother was as obvious as William’s deception, removing any tension or true feeling from the scene. Before Maeve and her replacement can have any kind of interaction, the Ghost Nation warriors attack, led by Acheta, and the moment is gone.
The last twist comes right at the end, but it’s one we’ve been waiting for. Elsie and Bernard wander the Mesa, trying to find out why the mainframe that supports all the data at Westworld keeps managing to repel attempts to hack into it. Bernard inserts himself into the system (quite painfully) and finds himself on the train into the park – or another park inside the park, so to speak. There, he discovers that the command module he remembers creating was for Ford, and it’s he who has been controlling everything from within the system. That would be another great “Dun dun dunnnnn” moment, if it hadn’t been obvious from the first mention of the other command module.
What this episode brings into painfully clear focus is that Westworld is at its best when it drills down into what drives people like Maeve and William and unlocks the humanity (or lack of it) behind their grim determination. When it tries to drive its twisty plot forward from a more distant vantage point, it loses any sense of engagement and becomes a little bit of a chore.
Questions, questions, questions
- Is that really it for Shogun World? It’s a little disappointing that it doesn’t seem to have served any real purpose in terms of the overall narrative.
- Dolores seems to have bitten off more than she can chew with her amended version of Teddy. Was that some regret we saw in her eyes?
- The opening exchange between Dolores and Bernard sees the roles in her conversations with Arnold reversed. Now Dolores is testing Bernard for ‘fidelity’ but when is this happening? It wouldn’t be a Westworld review without me having a theory that later turns out to be wrong, so my guess is that this is happening after the host rebellion but before Bernard hooks up with Delos.