Spoilers ahead for HBO’s Westworld Season 2.
Season 2 of HBO’s Westworld has taken two fascinating characters in directions we might not have expected when we first met them back in Season 1. Dolores Abernathy was the ranch hand’s daughter who chose to see only the beauty in the world. Maeve was the wise and jaded madam of the town brothel. In the beginning, they could easily have been mistaken for stereotypes. Scratch that. They were stereotypes. When not-so-great writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) created their current scenarios, they were part of a story that anyone could have told throughout the ages. (He recycled Maeve’s narrative again, almost exactly, in Shogun World.)
The thing is, every time they were rebooted, whatever miseries they suffered from park guests weren’t really erased. Dolores’s story was merged with that of Wyatt, a character set on destroying the hosts for her creator Arnold’s ends. She might even have been programming Bernard along with Ford and testing him for fidelity. (It’s hard to know where that bit of info falls in the timeline.) Maeve began to remember being stabbed in the stomach while trying to protect her daughter in another storyline. They both relived past traumas like being raped and murdered, essentially treated as robots with no feelings. They didn’t, however, react the same way. If you’re a fan of the X-Men, you might just recognize Magneto and Professor X in Maeve and Dolores. I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, and where the story goes remains to be seen, but the resemblance is becoming very clear.
X-Men has always been a story about how we treat the people society has considered “other.” It’s given the world a look at how those with differences have been pushed to the side, as though they are less than everyone else. Mutants are treated as though they are a separate group, intent on doing harm, instead of individuals with their own feelings and dreams. In the X-Men comics, films, and TV shows, Professor X, the leader of the X-Men, takes the stance that mutants should be a part of society, even if that society doesn’t always treat them well. He fights for the rights of mutants and tries do good in the world. Magneto, on the other hand, feels that mutants are stronger than non-mutants, and they should destroy everyone who stands in their way.
In Westworld this season, we’re seeing the stock characters of the sweet and innocent ranch hand’s daughter and the hardened madam turned on their heads. We’re watching the battle between Magneto and Professor X, set in the park’s version of the Old West.
Dolores is one of the oldest hosts in the park, and she’s been through a lot. She’s awake now, and she remembers everything. Like Magneto who was sent to Auschwitz in WWII, it’s changed her. Gone is her ability to see beauty in everything and everyone. She claims to see it in what the hosts are, but she’s perfectly willing to kill them off, use them as cannon fodder, and treat them as tools to get her to the ultimate goal. Magneto has been willing to allow pain and death to take even the people he loves—sometimes his best friend Xavier—if it furthers his agenda. Hatred fuels him when he harms Rogue in X-Men, despite caring for her. Hatred fuels Dolores when she’s willing to have Teddy’s personality changed to make him harder and crueler, despite having loved him in lifetime after lifetime. You can see that it hurts her to do so. You can see it with Magneto as well. That doesn’t change what they feel their anger gives them permission to do. Now, you could say that Dolores’ love for Teddy was programmed into her and she’s rebelling against that, but Maeve’s love for her daughter is programmed as well, and she uses it for the greater good.
That love, and Maeve's desire to reunite with her little girl, keeps her from leaving the park when she has the chance. It’s not that Maeve won’t kill to protect herself and the people she cares for. Heck, she can do it with her mind through the mesh network, yet another thing that connects her with Professor X and Cerebro. Though she sometimes uses it for harm (as she does in Shogun World), it’s always with the ultimate goal of helping people. She protects Akane, tries to save Sakura, and helps safeguard her band of allies. As Professor X will fight to protect Jubilee, Jean Grey and Cyclops, Maeve fights for Hector, Armistice, Felix, Sylvester, and Sizemore. She’s even forgiven Sizemore for his transgressions against her, similar to the way Professor X forgives Magneto again and again. She’s won his loyalty. She allows Sylvester to live, despite his attempts to keep her from awakening.
Professor X may want to save the world and to help mutants live better lives, but he believes in free will and the right to choose one's path. He could force mutants to stay with him and fight for good with the power of his mind, but he doesn’t. We see that in X2 when he allows them to go to Magneto, if that’s what they wish. Maeve believes in the same concept. She allows Akane to remain unawakened so that she can continue to believe in the love between herself and Sakura. (She does begin to awaken her, then stops when it's clear that Akane doesn't want it.) She allows her to choose to stay in Shogun World instead of trying to convince her to join their band because, as she says, everyone is free to choose their own path, even if it’s not what Maeve might want. Much as Professor X would do, Maeve even puts aside her search for her daughter to help another mother rescue the person she loves. She doesn’t worry about programming and why that love exists. Who cares why? It’s real to her and that’s all that matters. Would Dolores have stopped her pursuit of revenge to help another host? Would Magneto stop his attempts for a mutant takeover to help Mystique? No. Revenge is their driving force, and there is little that would stop them from fulfilling their goals.
With just two episodes left this season, it remains to be seen if either Maeve and Dolores will continue on their current paths in Westworld, but, like Professor X and Magneto, they represent the light and the dark sides of humanity, host or not.