I suppose now that my HBOGo has temporarily stopped working in the middle of my Westworld rewatch, it’s as good a time as any to write this up. HBO flexed on us all and dropped their Season 2 trailer during the Super Bowl. Twitter caught fire, Facebook caught fire, even Neopet Island is probably burning (RIPinpeace). We were afforded a quick break from the 24-hour news cycle based around the geopolitical landscape that has purposefully bastardized itself into pop-entertainment and created a distrusting, uninformed public. BUT, I’ll give that rant another time, it’s all very disconcerting.
Getting back on track…the large majority seems super pumped for the show to return, though not all were jazzed about the trailer itself. So, Westworld Season 2, let’s talk about it.
Right off the bat, let’s just discuss how crazy this is. I have invented a brand new type of blog post, addressing whether or not to be excited for something new. Instead of taking a paycheck for it I will be receiving 20% off the back end. Now putting my finances and incredible inventions aside, hear my words, children.
Westworld is a complicated subject for me. On our old podcast, I proclaimed that it would win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. And ultimately, I was uhhhhh…wrong. Which I completely understand, because my biggest takeaway after Season 1 was a huge feeling of disappointment. The trailers for the first season were jaw dropping, I was so incredibly excited for it. The involvement of Jonathan Nolan, the variety of big screen actors, the promise of gunslingers and whores, what could be better?
But like I said, I was disappointed. V disappointed. V V disappointed, if I’m being completely honest with myself. I thought this was going to be the series of the year, if not the decade. I thought that HBO had seamlessly created their next big hit in preparation for the post-Game Of Thrones world. Well, all of that expectation played a major part in my final opinions of the show. I hopped aboard the hype train and when it didn’t deliver what I was looking for I was quick to write it off. Westworld is not as bad as I thought immediately following the season, but I’m going to walk you through some of the very real problems it has.
My most minimal complaint: the NOLAN-STYLE EXPOSITION DUMPS. The world within the show that they present to us has so many profound differences from ours; they need to establish the rules as soon as possible to help us enjoy it. Upon rewatching, however, these exposition dumps are GLARING. If you’ve never noticed that Chris and John Nolan favor pretty overt exposition scenes in their films, you won’t be able to unsee it now. A confused character, an outsider, a new guy: they all represent the viewer and get to ask the questions that the viewer would ask. The wiser character onscreen explains the rules of the universe and voila! We get to kick back and enjoy it from that point forward. They shell out massive details about backstory and plot just so we can catch up.
With Westworld specifically this creates a larger problem. This show is like a parfait, there are a ton of layers. With each layer comes different rules, different backstory, and different intrigue that needs to be set up. For example, we get exposition about the real world, and then about the people in the real world. We get a shit ton of exposition about the park, and then hosts within the park. Then we start getting exposition from and about the humans within the park. And this goes on and on for the first few episodes and serves as pretty ineffectual storytelling. This technique might work for a 2-hour feature film but it really sucks you out of a TV show, especially when it’s right out of the gate.
A bigger issue: THE STORY IS KINDA FUCKING DUMB. Don’t get me wrong, certain elements are fascinating. Machines on the quest for awareness and intelligence, great. There’s a lot of meat in that. But following the least attractive Hemsworth (maybe he’s the friendliest, idk) brother as he apprehensively walks around the park and then literally disappears while no one addresses the head of security vanishing — kinda fucking dumb, dude! How about the story arc of Lee Sizemore? Oh, you don’t know who Lee Sizemore is? Obviously that’s the sign of a great character within a great story! Lee Sizemore was the angry little developer that was trying to head a coup and overthrow Ford. Do you remember where his plot line ends? Me neither! And it’s upsetting because this wasn’t sleight of hand. They weren’t drawing our eyes to one side while having the real story creep up from the other. They were attempting to thicken the world but it ultimately meant so little.
And Sylvester and Lutz (the two scientists that give Maeve way too much leeway which results in mass human murder and possible total robot overthrow and genocide) make a series of the dumbest possible decisions in the realm of character. The story needs to get to its final destination though, so someone has to make these dumb decisions. The story, in its current form, NECESSITATES stupid/unlikeable characters. Maybe it’s a commentary on human hubris? Except eh, because it is a story about human hubris, just not in that way. We created our own replacements, we can’t fathom intelligence rising and surpassing us, what does it mean to truly be alive? All great questions, but tech specialists not resetting a host once she has the ability to murder humans? Blahhhh.
While John Nolan’s contributions to “Christopher Nolan” films go largely unappreciated by most people, his work is usually great. But if you think that stories like the one found in Inception are brilliant and everyone who doesn’t appreciate them are just idiots, then I wouldn’t be surprised if this is your favorite show. Inception is far superior to Westworld, but each is pretty heady in its own way. Westworld is complicated like a maze, okay yeah like a maze. Except this maze also has fire shooting from the walls, kind of a hat on a hat.
Now we’re entering the most important spoiler territory: the BIG twist of the season. It turns out that we’re watching multiple timelines and that William is the Man In Black. I did not think this was executed well. In this media age, people sniffed it out from the first episode. I was mostly onboard the denial train, because this wasn’t a clean getaway. There are mistakes in the timelines, some that can’t be explained away by “employees are hosts.” Two general rules for a good twist: you have to make a clean getaway because people can rewatch whenever and look for your mistakes, and you have to provide such a strong story that even the most discerning of people don’t look for twist — because they’re so enraptured in the story that you put in front of them. The latter is the trick.
HBO seems to favor the “big twist” ending to shows. When that’s your m.o. you need to come up with new and inventive takes. The best way to do that seems to be, hire me to write your movie and give me the life I deserve. That’s just a fact. That’s completely without bias.
If Westworld is your favorite show, cool. I’m not going to take anything away from you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I want every show, every movie, to be great. I just can’t be complicit in pretending that this show is objectively great. It is good. The production value is off the charts, and the fact that they could pull it off as well as they did was an amazing achievement. I’m just spoiled and expected more.
To answer the initial question: “should we be excited for Season 2?” Plain and simp — yes. Watching it for the second time, it’s much easier to take a step back from criticism and enjoy the ride. It’s an impressive technical feat with strong performances and fascinating themes. I’ll enter Season 2 with tempered expectations and go with the flow. Get your milk ready for April 22nd.
Oh…and the THEME! The music on this show is perfect.