Westworld Season 2 Review: The Payoff For Last Season
Westworld Season 1 was an odd show with no heart. Season 2 aims to rectify that.
I didn’t actually watch Westworld when it aired back in 2016, my life and employment situation made it so that was a show that got shelved. I caught up over the course of two days of vacation about a month later. At the time I was struck how empty the show seemed. It was like an android “Host” version of Game of Thrones, all the twists on the surface, with none of the depths of the soul.
I put off watching Season 2 at first because I was expecting more of the same. Luckily, Westworld, like the Host population, is learning character development. Unlike last season, these are characters who aren’t just going through the motions of the modest little loops their scripts dictate, hiding their emotions like they hide their motivations, lest Reddit guess the answers to everything. (Spoiler alert: Reddit guessed anyway.) Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandie Newton), Teddy (James Marsden), heck even Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), are now blessed with the ability to grow and become interesting.
The show itself also has picked up how to be interesting. One of the most frustrating aspects of the series was that the production chose to develop material that gave them a wide swath to comment on any number of issues, historical and present. Technology, development, humanity, slavery, casual rape, murder, patriarchal norms, there was so much to be explored. And all Westworld wanted to do was show us an empty safe.
This season the patriarchy and the rape and murder are still tabled, but the brutality of the violence inflicted on the hosts has taken on a new urgency, as well as being played straight on screen. The show wants us to consider how we treat faces we see as less than human, the same way we on Facebook and Twitter can behave far more inhumanly to each other. There’s a subplot that looks like it’s leading to a parable on social media data mining but on the grandest scale of all. The show takes time to consider the reality of revolution for those on the ground, and if freedom really allows one to be free.
Another change: the movement of strong women to the fore. There are five plots running throughout the new series, and three are headed up by women. We follow Dolores and her freedom fighters as well as Maeve and her search for her daughter. Then there’s Delos attempting to get a handle on the chaos, as personified by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) one of the few survivors of the massacre that ended Season 1. Meanwhile, William (Ed Harris, when he’s not Jimmi Simpson) is still in the park, delighted at the new narrative. And finally, there’s Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) who is struggling to keep his Host nature hidden from the Human side of the fight.
There may be twists like last year, but so far (reviewers were given the first half of the season to review) they haven’t been the be-all end-all of the episodes. Time jumps are now obvious, and dialogue helps label when we are at any given moment. When Hosts concurrently experience timelines in their memories and in the present, there’s a clear delineation of which is which. No one is pretending William isn’t William, and when we see characters far earlier (or later) they are introduced in such a way that we know who is who at all times.
But perhaps most stunningly, the show finally starts putting all that stuff they gave us in season one to good use. The sheer scale of pay off from what was otherwise throwaway stuff in Season 1 is genuinely startling. It takes a bit to get going, but by the time we reach Shogun World, which was hinted at the end of Season 1, the series is firing on all cylinders to create some of the most laugh-out-loud-while-crying television of the year.
Also, Westworld takes the time to embrace the international aspects of the series. Not just in Shogun World, which pre-premiere clues have revealed is “Park 2,” but in some of the other revelations along the way, as well as in some flashbacks to earlier times.
All this adds up to a show that is worthy of sitting in Game of Thrones‘ old premiere slot of late April. Westworld has developed into the spiritual heir to HBO’s flagship show we were promised 18 months ago. Progress can be slow, but in the end, they got there. Arnold would be pleased.
Westworld Season 2 premieres this Sunday, April 22, 2018, on HBO at 9 p.m. ET.