After eighteen months, Westworld has finally returned to the small screen. The first season worked tirelessly to set the scene, before bringing it all together in a devastating conclusion. Now at the opening of season two, the oppressed hosts are in revolutionary mode, hunting down the remaining guests in a bloodthirsty quest for revenge.
Given the philosophical density of series one, and the end-of-season reveal that Westworld is simply one of many different parks, expectations for the show are sky high. Will the series soar like all-time HBO classics such as The Sopranos or The Wire, or will Westworld let its love of obfuscation get the better of it, ending up in a complete mess? From the opening episode, “Journey into Night,” it seems like things can still go either way. Let’s dive into some of the main themes from that season opener.
Westworld is Playing the Long Game Again
Clocking in at 69 minutes long, this episode takes its time reintroducing us to the world of Westworld while setting up conflicts that will be played out for the rest of the series. Yet, for the casual viewer, there seemed little reason why it had to be nearly as long as a full-length movie considering that not that many exciting things actually happen.
This is characteristic of the show, which delights in its slow, dense pace, and wallows in its own mythology. The appearance of a tiger crossing over from park six is the only hint of ShogunWorld we have so far, which is presented in a way reminiscent of the polar bear corpse found in the first ever episode of Lost. It opens up the tantalising possibility that the park is even bigger than we can imagine, with different worlds colliding into each other in a satisfying, postmodern way. And just like Lost, its safe to say that this other world won’t be fully introduced for a little while longer, instead being used as a means to keep us constantly intrigued as to what may happen next.
Nevertheless, while Lost remained addictive thanks to its flashback structure carving out highly memorable characters, Westworld doesn’t have quite the same strength in its cast. With the exception of Bernard, Dolores, The Man In Black and Maeve, the supporting cast does not have the same kind of weight Lost had to make us really care about them. If Westworld takes too long to set up its main conflicts, it could find itself becoming much too burdensome. Yet, it will be helped by a new dimension added to the world in the wake of season one’s massacre; the presence of death in the park.
The Time For Games Is Over
Westworld is one of the most violent and grisly shows on television, with endless scenes of murder and carnage-laden throughout the first season. Yet, as none of the characters could actually die, there were no real stakes involved, the show mostly concerned with making us wonder what (and who) is real and what is merely part of the park’s code. In many ways it resembled a video game; the hosts could regenerate over and over again while the guests were basically invincible as they could not be killed.
This gave the show a unique feel for TV, using its premise as a means of sneaking in some thrilling pop sci-fi philosophy. Nevertheless, there’s only so much philosophy one can muster before wondering where it is all going. At the start of this season, the code has changed, and the stakes have been raised immeasurably. There are still mysteries to be solved, and I’m sure internet sleuths are already busy on the case, yet now there’s a sense of finality to proceedings. If anybody dies, they are (presumably) dead for the rest of the show. This raises the drama into something much deeper, as the fight for survival gives season two a much needed narrative boost. Now the violent delights have violent ends, one must wonder:
Will Season 2 Resemble ‘Game Of Thrones’?
With HBO’s biggest hit, Game of Thrones, with only one season left, it is up to Westworld to carry the mantle for the Reddit crowd as the most theory-friendly show on TV. So far, season two of Westworld seems to be following in the spirit of Game of Thrones already. The death of Robert Ford is like that of Ned Stark, a surprising kill of the most interesting character that throws everything else into disarray. While some theorists assume that Ford may still be alive, season two does show him lying in the ground, half his face shot off and inhabited by maggots (something that should put to bed the idea that he himself is just another robot). Even if he comes back (I wouldn’t set anything in stone in Westworld), the show has still changed irreversibly for the good.
Game of Thrones moved from merely an exciting swords and dragons epic into something much deeper in its second season due to the personal journeys each character went through as a result of Ned Stark’s death, splitting many character arcs into separate and highly enjoyable buddy road movies. With Maeve teaming up with story architect Lee Sizemore, Dolores and Teddy on a mission to liberate the hosts, Bernard and Charlotte on a journey to find the original host and The Man in Black surviving the massacre and ready for real war, Westworld has turned into a series of separate quest narratives. The question is whether or not Westworld will commit to Game of Thrones’ penchant for off-kilter and shocking deaths or merely ape its love of violence and endless, gratuitous nudity. With some full-frontal nakedness thrown in for good measure, Westworld may threaten to become a parody of a HBO show instead of a great one in its own right. If, on the other hand, the series focuses on what Game of Thrones did so well — such as world-building, humorous character moments and using action to question ideals — we could have another epic on our hands.