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The ‘Westworld’ Midseason Exit Survey

After finally seeing Shogun World and reaching the halfway point of Season 2, it’s time to talk MVPs, best moments, and crackpot theories

HBO/Ringer illustration

The fifth episode of Season 2 of Westworld, “Akane No Mai,” was important for a host (get it?) of reasons. Of course, we finally saw Shogun World in all its beauty and (derivative) glory, but the episode was also a turning point in Dolores and Teddy’s relationship. As Westworld heads into the second half of its second season, The Ringer staff was asked to answer a few questions about what we’ve seen so far.

1. What is your tweet-length review of “Akane No Mai”?

Kate Knibbs: Memoirs of a Homicidal Geisha.

Andrew Gruttadaro: Hair-styling accessories may be dangerous.

Alison Herman: You can run to feudal Japan, but you can’t hide from deep structural problems in your overarching style!

Miles Surrey: #JusticeForTeddy!!!

Claire McNear: World-building is still what this show is best at, so let’s get that passport stamped.

Danny Heifetz: Click here.

2. What was the best moment of the episode?

McNear: The appearance of living goddess Rinko Kikuchi as Akane.

Gruttadaro: When Armistice and the Shogun World version of Armistice couldn’t stop staring at each other, like a couple of dogs who saw themselves in the mirror for the first time.

Heifetz: When the deja vu clicked in that the robbery scene from Sweetwater was happening in Shogun World.

Knibbs: Rinko Kikuchi! I hope she’s sticking around.

Herman: Everyone realizing at the same time that, for all its superficial differences, Shogun World is essentially a copy of Westworld, flaws and all. Meta!

Surrey: The “Paint It Black” reenactment outside Shogun World’s version of Sweetwater. Westworld’s at its best when it satirizes itself and our insatiable desire for content, much of which leads to an echo chamber of familiar ideas. It was also fun seeing lots of arrows fly.

3. What was your least favorite part?

Knibbs: The sex scene between Teddy and Dolores, though it did show us a glimpse of James Marsden’s impeccable butt, was the least erotic thing I’ve ever seen.

Herman: After God knows how many maimings, de facto torture scenes, and other unspeakable acts of violence, a sex scene between two characters who actually like each other is … the most limpid, vanilla, avert-your-eyes softcore I’ve ever seen.

Surrey: Dolores is just the Philosophy 101 Terminator now, huh?

Gruttadaro: I appreciate the meta joke that Westworld’s creative team is so lazy that they reappropriate story lines across parks, but functionally that meant that we were just seeing a slight spin on a very familiar scene. I would’ve preferred Shogun World to be entirely new.

Heifetz: I thought we were finally going to figure out what kind of soup is in the can Dolores always buys. Alas.

McNear: The length of time I spent contemplating whether one could actually melt an ear shut.

4. Finish the sentence: “Shogun World is …”

Heifetz: … the center of my maze.

Knibbs: … too gory!

Surrey: … the Delos theme park I’d most enjoy visiting. (Do they have hot springs?)

Gruttadaro: … another amusement park that centers on a regressive time in history. Clearly, Delos had a theme in mind.

McNear: … sick. (I said this out loud a minimum of five times during the episode.)

Herman: … a fun diversion. Raw exposition and world-building is the closest this show gets to actual storytelling, so I’ll take what I can get.

5. On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you feel for Teddy?

Gruttadaro: 500. After years of being brutally murdered, all this guy wants to do is chill out with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, his girlfriend used him for sex and then turned him into a monster.

Surrey: I’m going with 5,746—apparently the number of times this poor, sweet robo-cowboy has been killed in Westworld.

Knibbs: I’m at a solid 8. I know he’s a beautiful idiot, but Dolores did him extremely dirty.

Heifetz: I’d give him a 7, but Dolores made a tech change my answer to a 1.

McNear: 0.00000000000. My dude, you had volition for half a damn season and you didn’t break up with your deadbeat, pseudo-intellectual, increasingly homicidal girlfriend? Either Teddy didn’t get a full round of robot freedom, or in his heart of hearts (or cortical marble of cortical marbles?) he truly loved Bad Dolores. In either case, an extra dose of chaos is probably a positive for him. (And for us—I don’t think I could watch much more of listlessly chipper James Marsden staring vacuously at Evan Rachel Wood.)

Herman: Dolores is kinda right: James Marsden is too pure for this world.

6. Halfway through Season 2 of Westworld, what is the biggest question you want answered?

Herman: What are we doing here?

Surrey: Where is everyone going to the bathroom?

Knibbs: I really want to know what’s going on in the outside world. Who is president of the United States? Does it even still exist? Does Delos have host-spies living outside of the park? Are they for sure on Earth or just a planet with a Chinese geopolitical presence?

Gruttadaro: How is Charlotte Hale still alive with all the other projects Tessa Thompson has to do?

McNear: How freaking big is this “island off Asia” the parks are supposedly built on?! A mock Mount Fuji? Excuse me? (Yes, I’m deep in the weeds, but the weeds of Westworld are at least as much fun as the actual plot.)

Heifetz: If this show is set in the future, why do none of the characters vape?

7. Who is the MVP of Westworld Season 2?

Herman: Reddit.

Surrey: Bernard, whose multiple timelines/possibly evil story line has been genuinely compelling and, somehow, not as aggravating as it sounds. A lot of that falls on Jeffrey Wright, who’s taken Westworld’s Acting MVP mantle from Evan Rachel Wood, if only because nobody knows what to do with Dolores anymore.

Heifetz: Shockingly, Ed Harris has been the most fun character and the one I’m most invested in, which seemed impossible entering this season.

McNear: I’m on the record as being out on much of the current cast: In a world where robots can simply be rebooted, and where a twiddle of a magic iPad gives them new personalities and goals, it’s hard to have any sense of stakes. Having said that, Maeve has as much depth as any character on the show—human or no—and now maybe has god powers to boot.

Knibbs: While Elsie came back from the presumed dead, Maeve’s whole “I figured out how to telekinetically mind-control all the hosts” thing puts her solidly in the lead.

Gruttadaro: I’ve really loved Talulah Riley’s performance as a goth, maniacal host-sniper, but she’s admittedly—and regretfully—a pretty minor character. So I’ll say Jimmi Simpson as Young William, Slightly Older William, and Almost Ed Harris William.

8. What is “the Door” that William is searching for?

Knibbs: Ford’s clone.

Herman: An actual purpose for his character, besides menacing monologues and repeating his exact plot line from last season? With his intentionally unclear motivations and nonstop speechifying, William is this season’s Robert Ford. (Robert Ford is this season’s omniscient MacGuffin.)

Heifetz: Theory alert: my dude is William’s mind in a host body, but he doesn’t know that yet. The door leads to the valley beyond the cognitive plateau, a.k.a. Glory, a.k.a. immortality.

Gruttadaro: I fully subscribe to the theory that the Man in Black is actually a host version of William, and that the quest to “the Door” is the only way for him to get past the cognitive plateau.

Surrey: My best guess: The “Door” leads to human immortality via host bodies—the horrific process that James Delos went through for decades finally perfected. At this place, Robert Ford is alive. It’s basically the plot of Altered Carbon.

McNear: Frankly, the innovation of “the Door” smacks of Lost to me. (Is it possible to telegraph retconning in advance?) After two seasons and many onscreen decades of character (non-)evolution, we know that William’s purest trait is that he likes to play violent make-believe. It seems he needs a goal to justify sticking around for it—see: Maze, the—but I don’t think the goal itself matters all that much.

9. We’ve now seen Westworld, Raj World, and Shogun World—what world do you want to see next?

Heifetz: Westeros.


Herman: Gimme Radical ’60s World! I wanna join a consciousness-raising group and see what the Boomers are always on about.

Knibbs: Something less colonial—I’m still holding out hope that HBO will find a way to cross-promote shows and they’ll end up in Sex and the City World, with Maeve trying to reassure Samantha that her insatiable lust for dick can still be a genuine emotion even if it was programmed into her.

McNear: The basic requirements for a Westworld park seem to be: (a) historically rich, (b) warm (no vacationing investment banker is trying to trek around a Russian winter, sorry), (c) possessing dangers both human and natural, and (d) not too overtly resembling Game of Thrones (ciao, Renaissance Italy). Maybe this is the Everworld reader in me, but while we’re on this journey of luxurious CGI blowouts of places I was obsessed with as a 10-year-old, I sure would like a glimpse of an ancient American civilization like the Aztec or Maya.

Gruttadaro: Gimme Sports World. In Sports World, you can play basketball with Michael Jordan, and Fortnite with Karl-Anthony Towns.

10. Put on your tinfoil hat and predict what will happen in the back half of this season.

Gruttadaro: I’m pretty sure Arnold will come back, in some way, shape, or form.

McNear: Forgive my fuzziness on the timeline here: Like a much-rebooted host, the constant jerking back and forth between different eras has me confused about which Concerned Bernard is the most recent. But it seems clear that he, overcome with guilt about his fellow robots and equipped with some understanding of the Delos IP theft scheme, will do some of the mind erasure that was alluded to in “Akane No Mai”; he told us a few weeks ago that he killed everyone in the lake, and I think we’ll find that that’s true. I imagine he’ll probably team up with Dolores, both because all these disparate stories need to weave together eventually and because we glimpsed the corpse (“corpse”) of poor Teddy—presumably fished out of the lake with the others, meaning he survived his Dolores-engineered redesign and made it there in the first place. (In order to reboot in Delos HQ, maybe?) Maeve seems likely to end up once again on the edge of escaping into the real world, perhaps this time with her (presumably quite confused, and maybe re-mothered in her other life) daughter; now that we have the Daughter in Black, Emily, I suspect Ed Harris’s days are numbered.

Knibbs: Anthony Hopkins is going to make a reappearance. William and his daughter are going to reconcile but then one of them will die.

Heifetz: Dolores parts the sea to escape to the “real” world, Bernard wakes up the hosts found in the sea, James Delos takes over Peter Abernathy’s body, and we find out the Man in Black is already dead.

Surrey: This person on Reddit figured it all out:

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.