Warning: ending spoilers for Westworld season 1 later.
During its debut season, Westworld, the HBO sci-fi drama, became as well known for its storytelling style as for the real story. The first season was a puzzle box, using editing and bad narrative direction to give the initial impression that it was a conventional television program with multiple story lines that happened simultaneously. In contrast, the first season of Westworld spanned decades, with multiple timelines, some up to 30 years apart, interspersed with each other. He reproduced the idea of his robotic host characters living their lives in a series of often identical loops, and the public slowly unraveled the structural mystery throughout the season, finally learning that William (Jimmi Simpson) and The Man in Black ( Ed Harris) were the same person, while Jeffrey Wright was playing not one, but two characters: the co-creator of the park, Arnold Weber, and a humanoid robot host named Bernard Lowe.
Trying to solve the mysteries of the series became a separate form of entertainment, with many of the biggest revelations of Westworld guessed in advance by hypercompromised fans. So when the creators of the series Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy announced a drastic plan to curb the spoiler's theorizing and culture, it ended up being an elaborate Rickroll, which was a bit disappointing considering the other possible outcomes, it seemed an indication that the second season of the program adopts the same approach, using cinematographic prestidigitation to create a show that depends on dramatic revelations and secret surprises.
But in the first half of the second season of Westworld, Nolan and Joy seem to have taken the opposite direction. The five episodes planned for critics continue to adopt the nonlinear structure of the series, but in an accessible and easy to understand manner. The emphasis is not on the bad direction this year; it's in the characters and the motivations, and the incredible consequences of keeping sentient beings at bay for decades. If the first year of the series explored the definition of what it means to be "alive", the second season of Westworld seems to be trying to explore what it means to feel, for better or for worse.
Despite the change of emphasis, discovering the twists and turns of a show like Westworld is part of the fun, so let's set some ground rules: this review will not include any spoilers, secrets, revelations or revelations that are not already featured in the trailers of pre-launch. (We will immerse ourselves in the complexities and details of the individual episodes after the series begins airing on April 22).
The first episode, "Journey Into Night", begins after the killing that ended the first season. The board members of Delos, Inc. have been murdered, the hosts have free will and are going crazy, and the security forces have been deployed to deal with the situation. The action advances from there as if the show had never disappeared.
Season 2 assumes that viewers already know that several timelines are part of the program's DNA
While that may be considered as the "A" story, Westworld does not shy away from the fractured narratives it implemented in its first season. It covers that technique even more, but the writers of the series seem to understand that the great change can not be carried out twice. Instead, season 2 assumes that viewers already know that multiple timelines are part of the program's DNA, and use the structural trick to cover decades of history, immerse themselves in perspectives and events that were never hinted at in the season. initial. At no time does it seem to be used as a bad address, either. On the contrary, the program establishes a consistent point to configure the connective tissue along each timeline, so viewers can almost always be sure of when and where they are. However, it does not play like a besotted version of the program; plays as a series that trusts its characters, and does not need to rely on deception to keep the public interested.
There are times when losing that patina of endless mystery damages the narrative. When it is never clear when or where something happens, there is a permanent safety net in place. If a scene falls, or an episode seems long, it is easy to assume that it will work when it is revisited in the context of the final revelation. That momentum is missing here, and in some sections where a prominent character is reduced to an exhibition delivery vehicle, the show begins to look clumsy rather than elegant and refined.
Photo of John P. Johnson / HBO
More bloody and more violent, but violence finally has a lot at stake
But those moments are the exception rather than the rule. The new season starts fast, and for the most part, moves quickly enough, ruthlessly effective to keep unsuspecting viewers. The same goes for their action sequences. It was obvious from the end of last season that Westworld Park was about to become a battlefield for a full-blown war, and that is evident in every altercation. It's bloodier and more violent, yes, but more importantly, the new stakes in the game make the violence feel like it won out in a way that the bloodletting of the first season often did not. Previously, the violence in the Westworld park was free by design: there were no consequences for damaging the hosts, and humans could not be hurt at all. With the old park rules unleashed, that is no longer true, and fights have more meaning when they can spell the end of a favorite character.
Another great provocation of season 1 was the existence of several additional worlds, with the program's viral marketing campaign that recently revealed that Delos has six different parks. The end of the first season took the first steps in Shogun World, and in season 2, the program visually embraces the opportunity to get out of its old confines of the Old West. In a recent Reddit AMA, Nolan revealed that this season he used different photographic techniques to give the new areas his own unique look and feel. It is an approach that is often used in projects like Game of Thrones, where expert viewers can guess where Westeros are simply noticing how blue or yellow a particular scene is. As Westworld begins to take advantage of a larger canvas, that will only be more vital. In Season 2, the clean delineation in visual design between the worlds adds to the feeling that the new season is designed and designed to help the public keep track of where they are.
Photo of John P. Johnson / HBO
Along with the additional scope, Westworld also begins to stretch its legs in a completely different way: with humor. There were always fun moments in the program, usually centered on the arrogance of Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the park's narrative director. In the second season, the program has even more fun exploring the absurdity of the whole thing: a massive global corporation that creates manufactured narratives of wish fulfillment that only a 1% spoiled of the population can ever enjoy. A particular sequence in episode five is simply hilarious, and offers almost every department the opportunity to collaborate, with composer Ramin Djawadi perhaps offering the most amusing contribution.
But all these elements (the change in scope, the more accessible narrative, the infusion of an improbable comedy) achieve one thing above all: they maintain the focus on the emotional journeys of the characters in the program. The end of season 1 presents massive personal disorders. Bernard is again aware that he is not human. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is eager to take revenge on her former kidnappers. Maeve (Thandie Newton) fully realizes that she is a hostess, but in spite of this she is bound by her emotional connection with her daughter. The Man in Black finally faces his dream of living in a world with bets. The series collects each of those threads, and takes them in directions that become increasingly surprising as the episodes progress. And this last point is perhaps the most striking of the first five episodes of the new season.
Well aware of himself, the hosts are finally free to define themselves, and the results are not always easy to see.
In Season 1, it was easy to invest emotionally in Dolores because her story was one of self-consciousness and liberation; of knowing that she could take control of her destiny. It does not hurt that his journey from victim to self-proclaimed vengeful seeker is a familiar narrative trope, but the issues of updating and empowering the program feel appropriate: the main characters leading the charge of recognition are women, and their enemies are often sizzling and ineffective men who see the hosts as objects and toys. The fury that some viewers felt towards Dr. Ford of Anthony Hopkins, the Delos corporation, and all the infrastructure of Westworld felt justified and pharisaical, because it was rooted in real problems and current headlines. But in the second season, the release is only the first step. With self-awareness, the characters are finally free to define themselves, and their choices are not always easy to see or empathetic. In fact, looking at the second season can sometimes seem to put yourself in the place of the hosts, and have some very basic assumptions about the nature of the world and its characters ripped out from under you.
Photo of John P. Johnson / HBO
Whether human or host, everyone at Westworld is emotionally crippled in one way or another, trying to fill a void in their psyche. Listening to humans say it, the beauty of the park is that it allows people to discover who they really are, outside the boundaries of social conventions and subtleties. That's all true, but the second season shows that the same concerns also apply to the hosts. After decades of being manipulated and held captive, some hosts may feel the freedom to become warmongers seeking revenge; others may seek a path of greater personal fulfillment. But, in general, the thread that connects both humans and hosts in these episodes is the notion of emotional evolution.
If the second season ends up following the pattern of the first, the back half will take the show in radical new directions. (The climax of episode five especially suggests that it is likely). But what is very clear from the first half of the season is that this year, Westworld is not about artificial intelligence, or the nature of reality. Ultimately, it is a study of change, and how our personal weaknesses and the obstacles we face alter us and push us in directions we could never understand. Being pre-programmed to run on a designated narrative circuit is a way to get caught, but being stuck in a real-world situation that propels you toward an inevitable conclusion is not much better.
Season 2 of Westworld will premiere on HBO on April 22.