Westworld – Season 2

Westworld – Season 2

Next Year, We’re Going to Disney World


Subtle as a barrelling train and as interesting as a philosophy lesson delivered in binary code, Westworld‘s second season completely fails on almost every front. Occasionally, it is almost redeemed by some astounding production values and the committed performances, plus some infrequently decent storytelling. Otherwise, it does not fucking compute.

Rating: 3.5/11


There are so many evocative phrases and analogies that come to mind when trying to describe the dissatisfaction of watching Westworld‘s second season. It’s like trying to grasp a coil of smoke in a hall of mirrors. Or perhaps, more fittingly, like awakening from a dream that recedes further away from your mind the harder you try to focus on it. It’s like watching the tide– But then I catch myself and notice the show going to work on my mind, so manipulating and surface-level alluring that even dismissals of it sound intriguing. This is Westworld‘s greatest trick, convincing you that there’s something more, something greater, something deeper. Something beyond.

Let me be unequivocally clear in saying that there isn’t. Fuck the mirrors and the tide: this show is a dicktease, plain and simple. It promises a competent and thorough analysis of what it means to be a human being and comes across as if written by a wood chipper and calculator with a grudge. It gussies up every episode with dynamic, lingering shots, dewey cinematography and some of the best costume and set design on television; then someone opens their mouth, and it’s like watching a pristine wedding cake collapse in on itself, exposing a nest of genital-gnawing rodents. Most unforgivable of all, though, is the show’s tendency to withhold crucial plot points until the very last second, before revealing them with such a cartoonishly-slanted grin that it’s difficult not to become comatose with apathy. It is – and I can’t stress this enough – not a good TV show.

To be sure, many of these traits were already in full view during Westworld‘s first season. It was always overreaching to convey something significant, but back then at least the show was willing to buy into the perversity of its concept. Yes, there is the potential to morally interrogate the practice of using robots* to live out your darkest, most decadent fantasies of the American western frontier circa the 1800s. Is this the show to do it, though? Christ no, but it’s got the budget and scope to show us all of those impulses writ large and grand enough for entertainment purposes. So, even at its hokiest, Season 1 was often a blast in that most juvenile, immediate of ways: fuckin’ cowboys and Indians, man!

Which is why one of Dolores’ most definitive statements from the second season is so telling: “I don’t want to play cowboys and Indians anymore.” This, in a nutshell, is Westworld now, a show stuck in a pseudo-philosophical feedback loop of its own creation, denying its baser appeals and investing in the misguided notion that people are watching for the convoluted intricacies of the plot and not the simple thrill of horseback shootouts and samurais. This line of thinking will be the show’s downfall.

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What’s worse, watching Westworld has now become an act of layered masochism, as the way it treats its character constantly reminds you of the hollowness at the show’s core. Last season, many of the people/robots* on the show were searching for something as inexplicable as they are this time around. But back in 2016, when Westworld was in its infancy, we were more willing to go along with the mysteries that abounded. Now, older and wiser, we recognise that no such explanation for Westworld‘s many, many unanswered questions will ever be forthcoming. Yet the characters continue in their quests, all convinced that something awaits them at the end. The only difference between us and them is that we have the sense not to get our hopes up.

For the characters themselves, though, it’s a fucking painful slog. Evan Rachel Wood’s dour Delores – having now amalgamated hers and Wyatt’s consciousnesses – has become the show’s chief rogue, slaughtering humans and searching for a deeper meaning. Bernard – Jeffrey Wright, malfunctioning and gloomy to a fault – can’t remember anything, which is fun. William – Ed Harris at his most Ed Harrissian – wants to die, but not yet… or something? And Maeve – Thandie Newton in, admittedly, a winning performance – has a fake daughter that matters now. William, by the way, also has a daughter, but it’s different. In storytelling this is called a ‘parallel’, and it’s commonly used to hide the fact that the show was clearly written using a Mad Libs template.

Of course, I’m simplifying these objectives to make a point (catty though it is): at their core, a character’s choices need to make sense. Their drive, if you will, must have at least enough reason to it as to be expressed in a concise sentence. Almost none of these characters pass muster. You could, at a stretch, make a case for Dolores seeking life beyond the park as a definable goal, but it lacks any nuance beyond a robot* turning to the screen and asking pleadingly, “What is… love?” This same logic can be applied to Maeve’s search for her daughter, which makes sense for a human, no sense for a robot* and is, hence, ‘insightful’. You ever seen a Smart Fridge chase after an iPad? Wouldn’t that be something, huh?!

Elsewhere, Bernard’s turgid lack of personality or agency is so, so deeply boring. Watching him get manipulated, figuratively and literally, every step of the way makes him just about the most vacuous leading man on TV, even including his weak-arse liberation arc at this season’s end that mirrors Delores’ from Season 1. Most infuriating of all, the occasional flushes of dark intrigue that were once present in William’s storyline have vanished entirely, leaving behind a quagmire of impenetrable motivations and dreary scowls. To the degree that I actually grasp what William is after – which isn’t very much – I simply don’t give a shit anymore.

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And yet, you may have heard rumblings about one episode in particular. It’s true, this latest season did produce “Kiksuya” in its backend, basically a stand-alone segment dedicated to the backstory of the mysterious Ghost Nation chief Akecheta. Beyond being a great showcase for actor Zahn McClarnon (also brilliant in Fargo‘s second season), this episode did manage something that eluded Westworld in almost every other circumstance: it gave us a sympathetic character and made us believe in his journey. It’s not revelatory, but it tells a simple story well and with emotional intelligence, which made it something of a small miracle this season.

Of course, if you squint just right, it’s pretty easy to see that they’ve basically just taken Maeve’s arc from last season and condensed it into a single serving for Akecheta. Still, the fact remains that it’s just about the only wholly successful part of the entire season, demonstrating how the creators of Westworld are better at the small stuff. However, there’s little to be gained from their choice to largely abandon simplicity for a criminally overstuffed narrative – which, by the way, is delivered to us non-linearly for no other reason than to mask how dull this tale really is.

Again, I’m tempted to find an appropriate metaphor to leave this review on (“a ball of frayed electrical wires”, “a smoking circuitry board wearing a fucking top hat”, etc.), but I don’t want to put more effort into dissecting this season than the creators put into making it actually add up. So, yeah. It’s a shitshow. Literally. Don’t watch it.



*I’m aware that they’re called ‘Hosts’, but I’m not playing that game. Same thing with The Walking Dead: they’re zombies, you fucking morons, not ‘Walkers’. Jesus.

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