How Women Powered Westworld Season 2

Photo: Courtesy of John P. Johnson/HBO.
On Sunday, Westworld season 2 will come to a close with super-sized finale “The Passenger.” As with all endings, the imminent close of the HBO blockbuster’s 2018 run has us all looking backwards. What you find — amid the confusing timelines and haunting human-robot hybrids — is a sci-fi series that handed the reins over to the women populating its screen. Despite Westworld 2.0’s many, many, many glaring issues, it was, at least, feminist as hell.
This season has two guiding stars of feminism: Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). While both characters are almost unstoppably strong women, they couldn’t be more different. Maeve is simply focused on protecting her loved ones, like her missing daughter (Jasmyn Rae), and ensuring their safety. The mum is thankful for the robot rebellion — and her own Neo-like The One coding — because it gives her the freedom to do so. Dolores, on the other hand, is fixated on world domination and bloody vengeance. She will slaughter whomever she has to slaughter to get there, and sacrifice anyone she deems necessary if it serves her aims. Dolores may have flashes of humanity now and again, but, at her core, she values her own goals above anyone around her.
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The stark differences in these two women are what make their rare scenes together throughout season 2 crackle unlike any of the others, save for the masterpiece that is “Kiksuya,” of course. Maeve and Dolores moments are truly weighted in character and differences of worldview, rather than some new puzzle the Westworld creators hatched in the writers room. Just think back to their “Reunion” confrontation, where a gun-toting Dolores tries to convince Maeve to join her gory “war.” Dolores’ entire pitch is based on the “revenge” she assumes Maeve is also consumed by.
“Revenge is just different prayer at their alter, darling. And I’m well off my knees,” Maeve responds. It’s a pithy statement that leads Maeve to her real question, as she asks Dolores, “Your [way] is the only way to fight? You feel ‘free’ to command everybody else?”
Underneath all of this obvious tension is a subtle nod towards white feminism and the misogynoir that comes out of it. Dolores can attempt to start a revolution, but that’s because she has the means — including actual attention from her creator, to armies and vast support — while Maeve simply has to worry about why her daughter was taken from her and where she is now. Maeve isn’t wrong for putting her energy into saving her extremely vulnerable family. And maybe once that is taken care of, she can focus on lofty goals like dismantling every single construct that harmed her loved ones in the first place.
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While many networks are trying to become more egalitarian and progressive by merely giving viewers a token woman in a cast, that’s clearly not how television becomes more feminist. Instead, we need to see more women with diverse, complicated viewpoints. Women like Maeve and Dolores. Sometimes those women can be right, and, sometimes, they can actually be wrong. But no matter what, that kind of tension will make stories feel all the more realistic. Because, that’s how actual human beings exist.
This fact is what makes Dolores and Maeve’s meeting episodes later all the more vital. Following “Reunion,” both women go on very different journeys. Dolores essentially murders her dad (Louis Herthum), forces her boyfriend (James Marsden) to undergo brutal reconditioning, and betrays almost everyone in her path. Maeve goes to Shogun World, refuses to turn her back on the women she found there, taps into new powers, makes a man impale himself on a spike via telepathy with those powers, finds her daughter, loses her daughter, and gets near-fatally shot.
So, when they pair comes across each other in “Les Ecorches,” they bring all of this baggage with them. At this point in the season, no one has actually been honest with Dolores, who will get the very ominous moniker “The Death Bringer” in the subsequent episode, despite all of her antics. Maeve is able to do that. Noticing Teddy’s violent update, she tells Dolores, “You’re lost in the dark.” Dolores, bloody-handed and holding what is basically her father’s brain, responds, “When you’ve been in the darkness long enough, you begin to see.”
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Soon enough the conversation turns from Dolores’ abhorrent, murderous behavior to a question of whether Maeve should die to protect the rest of the robots. Dolores predicts if Maeve stays alive, Delos will twist her Matrix-y coding into a weapon against her fellow hosts. As we learn in “Vanishing Point,” that was a correct assumption, since Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) is now equipped with a virus that turns the hosts savagely against each other. To stop any of this from happening, Dolores offers to kill Maeve once and for all. She declines, citing the promise she made to her daughter as a reason to soldier on.
“You’re free to choose your own path,” Dolores tells Maeve, as game recognises game.
Feminist television isn’t created by giving women a few more lines in the script, it’s made by letting them move the story forward with tough, thoughtful conversations and actions. Ones viewers might not even agree with.
We also see this truth reflected in the many other women driving Westworld’s second season forward. No one actually likes Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), but we all know her showdown with Dolores, also in “Les Ecorches,” is one of the most memorable scenes of the drama this season. Coding genius Elsie, another human woman killing the Westworld game, is the only reason Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is healthy enough to confuse us all with his baffling timeline stumbling.
Now that the season finale is nigh, and will definitely change the Westworld world forever, let’s hope the series can at least keep up this one good quality with season 3.
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