This review contains spoilers for Westworld Season 2, Episode 6 ‘Phase Space’. For the rest of our Westworld coverage, click here.
Westworld’s latest episode comes after the bloodbath that was “Akane No Mai”: an episode that expanded on the lore of the series and introduced “Shogun World”. In a season that still struggles to keep a steady hand on its sprawling plot, this addition truly blossoms into its own in episode six of the series, where the heart of “Shogun World” is displayed in all its glory, and each character battles with choices they must make.
After discovering her new voice, Maeve must face the first of these heavy decisions – whether to use her power in order to beat the Shogun or allow Musashi to fight him honourably. “We each deserve to choose our fate,” Maeve declares. Unlike Dolores, Maeve has not become godly in her new-found power, as evidenced multiple times across their respective character arcs. Sure enough, the shogun and Musashi continue their fight untamed by Maeve’s “witchcraft,” in yet another overt display of gore and violence.
After winning the fight fair and square, Akane, Maeve, and their group are allowed to continue onwards to Sakura’s final resting place. In one of the most beautiful scenes of the series, Akane sets Sakura’s heart alight, ensuring that she remains in her home for eternity. It’s an incredibly touching moment, made even more human by the sudden mortality of these hosts. The Shogun-world hosts, having served their narrative purpose, depart from Maeve’s group–one of each character is enough for this show.
Back in Westworld, Dolores’ hunger for control continues, as she re-programmes Teddy to suit her needs. Teddy now follows orders without mercy, but unfortunately, this still doesn’t make his character interesting; he’s just as boring, but slightly meaner. Still, Dolores seems to get a kick out of him being her little bitch, so more power to her.
As Dolores becomes harsher in her methods, Maeve remains compassionate. Determined not to suffer the same loss as Akane, she finally arrives at her old homestead. Thandie Newton is mesmerising as she walks through an ironically barren landscape; the place that means more to her than any crowded town. Every emotion flicks through her eyes, a subtle masterclass in acting. Flashbacks mix in with the present as she runs her hands across the reeds, experiencing the unique settled feeling of home. At that point, there is nothing the viewer wants more than for Maeve to finally attain her happy ending, but at only episode six, there’s no chance of this.
Maeve approaches her daughter, not realising that the little girl now recognises another host as “mother”–something that should have been expected, considering the recycling of these AIs. Still, the logic doesn’t make the realisation any less painful. Before Maeve can make any regretful decisions, the Ghost Nation storms in, causing a flurry of action. Maeve instinctively grabs the child and runs away with her.
As is typical for Westworld, Maeve’s scenes are the strong point of a convoluted episode: once more, the show relies heavily on its female hosts for genuine depth of story. Otherwise, “Phase Space” again descends into scattered characters and never-ending plots, providing much less satisfaction than the first season. William makes yet another appearance with daughter Emily in tow (they talk about sad things), Charlotte bosses some men around (they talk about angry things), and Bernard and Elsie are very confused. Each arc runs too similar, carrying heavy themes that overlap far too often, and the overall result is a series that is beautiful to watch, yet oddly incohesive. The whiplash between characters now becomes irritating, as certain plotlines come to interesting twists, and others plod along awkwardly. An abundance of story provides little time to rest with each character, making it increasingly difficult to empathise with each protagonist. Just as one arc reaches a satisfying point, we are pulled back into the same confused wandering of the past five episodes, and the frustration is immense.
Nonetheless, “Phase Space” still makes for entertaining viewing. Shogun World is beautifully shot, all gory battles contrasted with breath-taking natural scenery. The scope of this show continues to impress, as the consistent additions to the setting create a world (or multiple worlds, if you will) that is completely, even disturbingly, believable.
As we reach the episode’s denouement, director Tarik Saleh throws another plot twist our way. Elsie and Bernard have discovered the central repository of host data, but they find that something else is attempting to access the machine. Bernard plugs himself directly into the Cradle, hoping to uncover some of the lost memories within. As an unconscious Bernard walks through Sweetwater, the familiar music starts up once more. The camera pans across the saloon; we get a flash of a familiar face. In the mirror, the camera focuses on the image of Ford, Bernard’s old friend. As we begin to question this shock return, Dolores and her gang speed away from Westworld, finally boarded on the train that will take them to their freedom.