Showrunners: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
Main Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Fares Fares, Luke Hemsworth, Louis Herthum, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Gustaf Skarsgård, Ed Harris, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Clifton Collins Jr, Angela Sarafyan, Katja Herbers, Shannon Woodward, Anthony Hopkins
Notable Guest Stars: Oliver Bell, Giancarlo Esposito, Neil Jackson, Frederic Lehne, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Gina Torres, Sela Ward
Episode Length: 60-90 Minutes
The following review contains spoilers
Westworld’s first season ended with a massacre, and from that point onward, shit has hit the fan. The power dynamic had shifted from the guests and humans outside the park towards the hosts within the park, and if Maeve and Dolores are any indication of how they all feel, they’re pissed. But as the show got increasingly closer to a war between guests and hosts, the story became much more complicated, for better or worse. The result is a sophomore season that doubled down on bloody violence and brain twists that made the first season so compelling, but had some narrative snags that dragged it down a bit.
I’d argue that Westworld is one of the smartest shows on television. For most of season one, the show did a great job of melting your brain with twists while being accessible to the average viewer. The second season doesn’t accomplish this as well. It doesn’t have as many twists and turns, and some of them (especially those in the finale) are presented in ways that are harder to comprehend, and as a result don’t pack as hard a narrative punch. But when the show takes its time to show us what’s going on, and does so in an articulate way, it can be very effective.
One of the themes that was carried over in high dosages from the first season was the idea of the host’s relations to humans, specifically which of the two are more powerful. There are many talks of the ethics when it comes to guests’ privacy, man being mortal, and hosts adapting; it makes you truly question which side will prevail. Credit for this success goes to the fully-realized world of the show, which does a great job of thinking beyond just the conflicts that are most easily visible.
I’d argue that the most important characters this season are Maeve, Dolores, William, and Bernard, as most of the narrative is split between the four. While the stories surrounding these four are compelling, some characters get slightly lost in the shuffle. This was most notable in Maeve’s group; even though she was traveling with Lee, Hector, Angela, Armistice, Felix, and Sylvester, most of these characters don’t have much to do before the big assault on the Valley Beyond at the end of the season. Most of them “die” (hosts being truly dead is hard to come by on this show) during the assault, and if they had been given some more attention like they had in season one, it would’ve made their sacrifice more effective. But it’s implied that Felix and Sylvester will likely bring them (sans Lee) back to life next season, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of them yet.
Another minor gripe I had with this season was the pacing towards the latter half. As we got closer to all-out war in the Valley Beyond, the show took some pauses, most notable in episodes eight and nine. Much of these episodes are dedicated to backstory, and although their content is compelling, the show’s focus lost some of the momentum it had been building up. I would’ve had the stories from these episodes told more towards the beginning of the season, so that the latter half was focused on the end.
Those two episodes capture what I think Westworld’s prime strengths and weaknesses are. When the show gets more complex, it can be hard to follow at times. But when it focuses on character moments that show a more intimate view of the world we’re watching, it succeeds with flying colors. The episode with Akecheta’s backstory (“Kiksuya”) was arguably my favorite one this season, but I wasn’t a fan of its placement in the chronology of this season, although here are worse problems for a TV show to have.
Just like in the first season, many of the performances here are sublime. Particular praise goes to Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright for taking their roles in different territories being hosts took on a new meaning for all three, while also taking them on interesting paths of revenge. Watching Bernard be torn between implanted and real memories was articulated beautifully by Wright, and watching Newton and Wood attempt to lead their respective uprisings for personal reasons was riveting. I’d also like to give praise to James Marsden as Teddy, who had one of the more understated performances this season, as he was given a personality change. Marsden sold Teddy as a cold-hearted killer, and while there were much bigger things going on around him, I appreciated what the show had plenty to offer for him, including his heartbreaking ending.
The production on this show still continues to be astounding, and its direction is among some of the best camerawork I’ve seen on television in years. While the writing can sometimes be caught in the complexity I mentioned earlier, it’s otherwise well-done when focused on simpler character moments. Standouts that showcase this include early in the season with the flashbacks of James Delos, Akecheta’s backstory, and the story of William’s wife. Lots of the writing here is simple and heartbreaking, which is sometimes all you need to tell an effective story.
This season’s finale left the show in an unpredictable path for season three, which has already been ordered by HBO (gotta keep that $$ train rolling!). There’s still plenty of stories left in this world to tell with each character, but I do get the feeling that the third season could probably be the last. That’s not a bad thing. I’d much rather see a show end after three solid seasons than attempt to stretch material into further seasons for the sake of longevity (cough cough, 13 Reasons Why). Westworld season three will likely not be out for awhile, but I’m excited to see what direction the show will go in.
These violent delights have violent ends.
How Does it Compare to Season 1?: The first season was an example of incredible television, and although season two doesn’t hit that high of a level, it’s not very far off from it.
Best Episodes: “Kiksuya,” “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” “Vanishing Point”
Westworld is Recommended if You Like: Mind-bending science fiction, the Old West, A.I. possibly taking over the human race
Where to Watch: All episodes are available on HBO Go and HBO Now.
Grade: 4.1 out of 5 Sentient Hosts
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