The park is closed, the body bags are zipped, and Westworld fans have gone to lie in a dark room to recover from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sophomore season. After waiting a year and a half from the jaw-dropping events of Season 1’s “The Bicameral Mind”, Westworld returned with the promise of more bullets and brothels.
Another 10 episodes of robo-romps, devastating character demises, and more merkins than you can shake a severed arm at, Season 2 rounded off with mind-boggling episode “The Passenger”. However, it wasn’t just the ratings that slipped in Season 2 of Westworld and there were times a tumbleweed of doubt rolled across the screens at HBO.
So, when it came to pistols at dawn, how did Westworld Season 2 end up in the dirt?
The timeline twist
Reddit may have spoiled many of Season 1’s twists ahead of time, but there’s no denying that Westworld running on two timelines 30 years apart was a stroke of genius. Sadly, Season 2’s narrative of setting events in the immediate aftermath of Ford’s gruesome gala and the rescue team’s bungled mission weeks later didn’t pack the punch of its predecessor.
With almost no way to differentiate what’s going on and when, Westworld Season 2 became a jumbled mess of, “Wait, where are we now?”. Add to this timelines like Jimmi Simpson’s return as Young William and the tragic lives of the Delos family, Season 2 sometimes felt like an episode of Lost -- but not in a good way.
Yes, Evan Rachel Wood is supposed to be the MVP of Westworld, but to be honest, there are better stars out there to carry the crown. Season 2 cleverly shifted focus onto Jeffrey Wright’s tragic time as Bernard/Arnold and gave some welcome respite from Dolores’ role as murderbot.
When once we felt sorry for the downtrodden farm girl, this has been replaced with a simple hatred towards the Terminator-inspired femme fatale who is intent on wiping out the human race. Sorry Dolores, but even the Man in Black is more likeable than you right now.
With Dolores hogging the screen time, Westworld tried to balance the rest of its cast with mixed success. Highlights included Wright as Bernard, a post-Ragnarok Tessa Thompson as Charlotte Hale, and the unflappable Thandie Newton as Maeve; however, what about everyone else?
Newcomer characters like Karl Strand and Antoine Costa (who?!?) jostled to get their face seen as fan-favourites Elsie and Stubbs again took second billing.
Case in point is Katja Herbers as Emily. The daughter of William had so much potential to become a major part of Westworld’s future and redeem the Man in Black with daddy-daughter bonding experience. Instead, she was gunned down for a poorly-received “twist” before the season closed.
For those who were struggling to see how Ben Barnes and Jimmi Simpson could return as Logan and William, they became little more than big names to tie back to Season 1. Thankfully, Zahn McClarnon stole the show as Akecheta, but elsewhere, some of the fat needed to be trimmed much earlier.
Man vs Machine
Talking of Westworld’s cast, is anyone left as a human in the sci-fi spectacle? Elsie and Lee Sizemore are dead, Charlotte Hale is now the Halebot, some distant future version of Man in Black is doomed to live an eternity in robot form, and even Luke Hemsworth’s adorable Stubbs hinted that he could be just another Delos drone hiding in plain sight.
There is sure to be an influx of new humans and hosts as Season 3 breaks into the real world, but to have killed off 90% of the cast’s human characters in just two seasons is a bold move to make. Part of Westworld’s USP is that audiences don’t notice the difference between man and machine but Season 2 may have taken that mantra a little too far.
For whatever reason, Westworld seems to have this obsession with naming its seasons after things. Imagine if Game of Thrones was dubbed “The Wall”, “The Crown”, or “The Dagger”. While Season 1 kept everyone guessing with “The Maze”, Season 2’s “The Door” wasn’t quite the reveal that Nolan and Joy hoped for.
The Door was supposed to be a life-altering entity hidden in the Valley Beyond, but did anyone really care? As fans searched for what this big weapon could be, The Door was pushed to the back of the various narratives coming together. Ending with the strange reveal of a virtual cloud and a robotic paradise, The Door slammed behind fans and locked them out of Season 2.
A park within a park, within a park. If the timelines were already giving audiences a headache, things went completely off-piste when Bernard went inside the Cradle. Admittedly, this gave Season 2 one of its best twists as Robert Ford’s face smirked into a piano at the Mariposa, but everything was a little too meta.
From stripping guests of their information to recreate them as eternal robots to live forever, Westworld took its sci-fi roots and ran before it could walk in Season 2. This sort of concept might’ve worked in a one-hour Black Mirror episode, but it was lost when dragged out across a 10-episode season of robots in disguise.
Too Much Westworld
Yes, the show may be called Westworld, but the promise of exploring new parks was undoubtedly what pulled a lot of fans back for more. Sadly, new worlds like The Raj were quickly glossed over and our time spent in Shogun World was far too brief.
There are at least six parks under the Delos Inc. umbrella, but with Season 3’s storyline set to spend most of its time in the “real world”, will audiences get to see more of Delos’ expanded empire? What’s more, Season 2 still gave no clues to where Delos actually is. All anyone heard was an odd reference to the mainland.
As we head out into the wide expanse of a dystopian future for Season 3, Westworld NEEDS to remember where it came from. Who doesn’t want to see a prehistoric park complete with robot Raptors?
Style Over Substance
This brings us to the final point—the sheer beauty of Westworld. In the words of Dolores herself, “Have you ever seen anything so full of splendour?”. As Westworld finds its niche, the ability to expand could also be its downfall. Brains and beauty can sometimes be a curse for a TV show, and NBC’s Hannibal is perhaps the best example of this.
Just like Nolan and Joy, Bryan Fuller crafted a landmark piece of television that was a treat for the eyes. Sadly, both Westworld and Hannibal are guilty of their flowing sequences and beautiful music alienating the cable-viewing masses. To change Westworld into a simple “nut up and gut up” show like The Walking Dead would ruin the show’s vision, but some of the showrunner’s artistic choices were simply wasted in Season 2.
Thankfully, all is not lost. While Westworld Season 2 could’ve neatly wrapped with “The Passenger”, there are signs of more to come. Hopefully, HBO can grab the jump leads and turn up the juice to bring Westworld back to its glory days and what made 2016 such a great year for television.