The season 2 premiere of HBO’s Westworld was a flurry, catching audiences up on the show’s many characters and laying the groundwork for what will no doubt be the primary storylines of the new season. It was a lot to take in, with perhaps the most spoilery moment of the entire episode being the initial mention of The Door. Whatever that is, it’s part of a new game designed just for The Man in Black, according to a child-host who appeared to be delivering a message from the late Dr. Robert Ford.
But in the second episode of the season, “Reunion,” series creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan lean into the backstory of the park: the name of the initial project, how it was pitched to investors, and when it was pitched to investors. It’s the kind of detail-rich mythology that fans have hungered for, but has previously only been hinted at in casual, throwaway references, or in shadowy moments of character backstory. But the episode also goes one step further. It was established in the first season that the Delos board of directors saw the park as serving a greater function, beyond just being an adults-only Wild West theme park. “Reunion” addresses that secret purpose — and it turns out a familiar character is responsible for it.
The big reveal?
The backstory revelations are threaded throughout the episode, starting with Arnold talking to Dolores sometime in the past. (Briefly, a middle-aged version of Dr. Ford is seen in a reflection.) Arnold tells Ford that Dolores isn’t ready for some unnamed event, and then takes her out for a stroll, revealing they’re not in a park or inside a Delos facility at all.
Later in the episode, the show cuts to Logan and William, hanging out in a bar doing some business-minded glad-handing — which in Logan’s case equates with trying to pick somebody up. William retires for the night, and a mysterious man named Akecheta (Fargo’s Zahn McClarnon) approaches Logan, whom he addresses as “Mr. Delos.” The host Angela (Talulah Riley) is with Akecheta, but Logan doesn’t appear to recognize her or realize she’s a host. The mysterious businessman tells Logan he’s from something known as the Argos Initiative, and that he’s there to talk about Delos investing in their project. “Do you have any idea how many startups are begging me for my cash right now?” Logan asks. “AI, VR, AR…”
The line casually offers up a precise timeframe for when the scene is taking place. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality are technologies of the moment today, in 2018, making it all too clear that inside the show, Logan is being pitched in our modern era. (The tidbit confirms information that Reddit users spotted in a promotional video last year, which placed the year of the host uprising as 2052.)
Logan is then led into what he at first assumes is a cocktail party — until it dawns on him that every single person in the room is actually a host, including Akecheta himself. Given the dress Angela is wearing in the scene, it becomes evident that this demonstration was the event that Arnold felt Dolores wasn’t ready for in the first scene, but the demonstration goes off perfectly without her: Logan is flabbergasted.
The scenes neatly establish how Delos, Inc. ended up in the Westworld business, but the big revelation actually comes later in the episode. The scene opens up in Sweetwater, where the normal, scripted interaction of Teddy returning a dropped can to Dolores begins playing out once again, until all the hosts suddenly freeze. A helicopter lands, and none other than company founder — and Logan’s father — James Delos (Peter Mullan) gets out. He examines the hosts, with the younger version of William (Jimmi Simpson) with him.
“You were right about one thing, William,” Delos says while examining Dolores up close. “It’s awfully fucking pretty.” The comment establishes that the scene is taking place sometime after the visit William and Logan made to the park in the first season, but as amusing as Westworld may be, Delos isn’t interested in investing in the park for much longer. “I don’t want to underwrite some investment banker’s voyage of self-discovery,” he tells William. “That’s not a business.”
But William sees the bigger potential here, noting that Delos, Inc. spends half of its marketing budget on figuring out what its customers actually want, because people often don’t know themselves. “But here, they’re free,” Williams says. “Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s judging. At least that’s what we tell them. This is the only place in the world where you get to see people for who they really are.”
What does it mean?
There, in one bold pitch to his boss, William lays out what will eventually become the real reason Westworld, Shogun World, and all the other Delos parks exist. It’s the reason why Bernard saw a drone host logging DNA samples and memories from a downed host in the season premiere. And it’s no doubt why Charlotte Hale is trying so desperately to smuggle out the park’s intellectual property in Peter Abernathy’s head.
Westworld is a data collection tool, documenting people while they act as their pure, most unfiltered selves. It’s Google or Facebook, spilling out into the physical world — only Westworld and its sibling parks also have an added benefit. They have video footage and DNA evidence of people doing things they wouldn’t want anybody in the outside world to ever know about.
Changing the game
There appear to be two main things going on here. The backstory of the park is clearly tied to the backstory of the Man in Black himself, and the scene of William pitching Delos on the park’s potential clearly articulates why he would eventually become a self-described “titan of industry.” His first trip to Westworld allowed him to discover his truer, darker self, and the man who emerged had no qualms about using the park for the most cynical, commercial purpose possible. It’s the young Man in Black infecting the purity of the world that Ford and Arnold Weber envisioned with his own foul corruption, setting up a delicious irony, given that later in his life, the Man in Black becomes obsessed with a “truth” he’s convinced the park holds.
But on the matter of the true agenda of the parks themselves, the episode’s revelations raise questions that the show will almost certainly have to engage. For 30 years, Delos parks have been secretly gathering data on their guests. How is that data being used? Have guests been blackmailed, extorted, or otherwise had the records of their trips used against them as futuristic, Wild West kompromat? And what would the corporate consequences be if the existence of such a project was made public? Given that Bernard was not giving proper access to the drone host lab, it seems evident that only people at the highest levels are aware of the data collection initiative, with non-networked hosts used in the facility to help cut down on the chance of leaks.
Given all that, Peter Abernathy — and the data he’s carrying in his head — becomes much more than just a moving plot device. He is quite literally the future of Delos, Inc. itself. Should he fall into the wrong hands, with the data collection initiative made public, it could take down the entire company. It’s a timely storyline, coming right at the time that online services like Facebook are facing more public scrutiny than ever. And no doubt that’s exactly what Joy and Nolan are aiming for.