The final episode of the first season of Westworld ended the season on a high note. The hosts had achieved- at least some sense of- consciousness and were set to free themselves from the lives they were forced to live in Westworld. We were then to expect that some hosts would be able to leave the park and left wondering what was in the briefcase that Maeve (Thandie Newton) smuggled out of the park.
If our expectations hold any weight, it would seem that Season 2 of Westworld is a delay of gratification. Much like the most recent season of Game of Thrones, Westworld seems to be readying itself for a more momentous season to come. While the first season of Westworld delved into the memory and consciousness of hosts, Season 2 delves into the concept of choice- both as host, but also as human.
Two camps of thought manifest in the characters of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve. Dolores sees her mission as one that frees the hosts and exacts revenge against humanity for subordinating their existence, while Maeve seeks peace between man and host and begins her search for her daughter. Though their responses to newfound freedom differ, both are bound by their connections to Westworld.
Dolores leads a path of violence and bloodshed as she becomes as oppressive as the guests, all with a reluctant Teddy (James Marsden) in tow. Her path is not one that is conducive to choice: she kills all in her way. Her conflicting views clash with Teddy’s all throughout the season, the two desiring to keep each other’s presence because of their love once shared in a storyline. Maeve, despite the fact that she holds no deeper relation to her daughter than to any other host she shared a storyline with, uses her newfound freedom to pursue motherhood and is receptive to other hosts’ decisions. Her encounter with a host written to be similar to herself, Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), in Shogunworld reveals this. Maeve does not resist Akane’s decision to forego consciousness and self-awareness in order to care for those she loves. Maeve’s outlook is one that is a source of some conflict in Season 2 since it is ultimately incompatible with Dolores’s.
In response to the hosts gaining freedom and the outbreak of violence at the end of Season 1, Delos faces a logistical nightmare, but not for the reasons one might think. The first episodes of this season offer exposition as to why Westworld was created and who was involved with its creation. It is revealed that information about both guests and hosts is stored in The Forge and The Cradle, respectively. Delos can’t allow the park to be overrun since the data from these resources must be protected.
Season 2 of Westworld follows a similar structure as the first season, with multiple timelines interweaving to craft the story. However, unlike Season 1, it will be impossible to predict or even ponder about the mysteries the show creates. The storylines are tangled for the sake of confusing viewers, not for instilling audiences with a sense of satisfaction upon discovering how the timelines fit in the overarching story.
Westworld seems to abandon many of the rules of storytelling. It is in hopes that audiences revel in unexpectedness rather than consider whether or not what happened was actually motivated by the narrative. There will be a number of points when watching the season that trust in Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s outspoken passion for the series will be vital in ensuring you maintain motivation to complete the season.
In a way, what Nolan and Joy have created here what is the antithesis of art and entertainment. They are not asking that you engage with what they have created. In fact, they rebuke any attempt you may try, pushing away clarity and coherency whenever possible. Unlike Season 1, it is not rewarding to predict or ponder what comes next. By the end of the season, we proceed past the Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Man in Black (Ed Harris) arcs that steer the series. Whatever direction the series had at the finish of Season 1 has just about vanished by the end of the Season 2. While this is ultimately a criticism, it also is of some comfort. Because of the unique plasticity of the show’s characters, Westworld seemingly able to kill or resurrect anyone, the show may continue in any which way Nolan and Joy choose, and isn’t trapped by any means by what preceded.
One key departure from the first season of the show is Season 2’s focus on drama. Since the show prevents you from engaging with it in all other aspects, drama is focused on to a greater extent in order to sustain audiences’ interest in the show. Two episodes dedicated to Shogunworld and Ghost Nation are appealing in their own right (they pay homage to Japanese, American West, and Native American culture and films), but they do differ from what one might expect from Westworld.
In fact, almost the entirety of Season 2 differs from what one might expect of the series. The closest that Season 2 approaches the philosophy and critical thinking demanded from Season 1 is in ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’, the first episode of the series directed by Lisa Joy. ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’ is spectacular in its use of flashback, and the immense revelation at the end of the episode guides the remaining progression of the season. It takes the form of a tragedy, a sci-fi warning to ourselves about the pursuit of immortal life.
And in the brief moments that Season 2 does speak to those interested in the philosophy of the series, it excels. Westworld takes a bold stance on the ‘free will’ debate seldom seen in mainstream media, a stance that could potentially have ramifications later in the series.
If anything to come is predictable (which it may very well not be), Season 3 of Westworld may finally take us out of the park and into the complicated, morally corrupt environment that proved to be the inspiration for Westworld. Season 3 does face a burden in that it must be held accountable, it must answer at least a few key questions we still have. What was in the bag smuggled out of Westworld at the end of the first season? How does the public react to the deaths of dozens of prominent figures? Does Ford still have a place in this series? Will character development succumb to nonsensicality? While I won’t quite be at the edge of my seat waiting until the next premiere, Westworld might put me there nonetheless during the course of the third season.