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In ‘Westworld’ Season 2, androids embrace their humanity — if not humans

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood, left, with James Marsden) is leading an android uprising as "Westworld" begins its second season Sunday.

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood, left, with James Marsden) is leading an android uprising as "Westworld" begins its second season Sunday. | HBO

Get ready for “Westworld” Season 2.0: More parks, more personalities, more scheming and more blood, much of it of the human variety.

HBO’s critically praised sci-fi drama returns Sunday with the futuristic Westworld theme park in a state of rebellion after suddenly sentient android host Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) murdered park founder Robert Ford to close Season 1.

The series expands in timeline and place, paying homage to its 1973 film namesake by giving viewers a peek at areas beyond the Western theme park’s boundaries, including Shogun World.

“It’s so much bigger than people expect. It was bigger than I expected,” Wood says. “I had an existential crisis at the end of [filming] this season. The first season made us question a lot of things about our own reality, and this one really does.”

Season 2 tracks Dolores, leader of an android uprising, and Teddy Flood (James Marsden), who remains devoted to her if not as enthusiastic about the enterprise; Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), a conscious, increasingly powerful host searching for her long-lost robot daughter; and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), a conflicted android and park programmer confused about timelines and loyalties.

“If the first season was about control … the second is about chaos [and] free will. Once you have it, what do you do with it?” says Jonathan Nolan, who created the series with his wife and fellow executive producer, Lisa Joy.

On the human side, Delos Inc. enforcer Karl Strand (series newcomer Gustaf Skarsgård) arrives to tamp down the host rebellion, as executive Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) alludes to ulterior Delos motives as she tries to retake park control. And the Man in Black (Ed Harris), Westworld’s majority shareholder and a theme park master player, finally has the life-or-death stakes he’s always desired.

“There is a question of Delos’ real interests in the park,” Nolan says. “What are they really after? [It’s] an enormously expensive theme park for wealthy people to indulge their darker sides, but, as with every Silicon Valley startup, there’s always a secondary business model.”

Besides adjusting to free will, some hosts — and many viewers — face a more basic challenge, figuring out when and where they are as the show doubles down on alternate timelines, a Season 1 surprise that’s now a featured element of the show’s structure.

Bernard, in particular, struggles with memories and a sense of now, much of it the result of mechanical damage suffered after Ford ordered him to shoot himself last season.

“His synthetic brain is not invulnerable to bullet holes. He has some health issues that speak to a difference in his makeup and cognition from humans. It reveals, for him, a struggle with time,” Wright says.

In addition to those struggles, Bernard, as an android in park management, has a conflict. “He’s trying to decide where his allegiances lie relative to this chaos and what his place is in all of this.”