There will be people who loved Westworld‘s first season and people who were extremely disappointed by it. Personally, I do not fall somewhere in the middle: I fall on both ends of the spectrum simultaneously.
Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first. There are definitely some aspects of Westworld that didn’t pan out. For one thing, ten episodes was far too many. Five or six would have sufficed to tell the story we were told over these ten chapters. If the point was to experience the loops the hosts were feeling, I get it. If the point was to fulfill a standard HBO contract, I feel let down.
There are mystery stories that require longer arcs to explore the necessary terrain needed to show the viewers what is really going on (see Lost, for example, with its large ensemble and critical plot points across multiple timelines – Nikki and Paolo aside). Then there are those that are forced to create more story than needed by their network (see season two of Twin Peaks, all of Heroes, and short-lived series such as Revolution, The Event, and Flashforward). Granted, all of these are victims of network television – an antiquated system of broadcasting stories based upon how many advertisements can be sold. That being said, the idea of a series being a ratings hit is too much to pass up for some networks. Just look at AMC and the literal zombie that is The Walking Dead, which had a spectacular six-episode first season and went downhill from there, all the way to the current wash of a seventh season that is exploring the same stories it did years ago.
Then there’s the lack of character development that plagues many a series with a plot in mind before a heart. It’s hard to feel anything for characters that don’t actually learn anything, be they human or AI. That being said, the hosts of Westworld have discovered more about themselves than we have ever known about the humans on the show. This is good and bad. I enjoy learning what makes the hosts – er, technology – tick. I get frustrated when it takes an entire season to learn what Anthony Hopkins’ Ford is thinking.
Clearly, I have digressed. But much like Westworld, I needed to tell this part of the story for the rest of the series to make sense. There are many parts of the series I have thoroughly enjoyed and cannot wait to learn more about from the next season. Yes, it was clear the Ed Harris’ Man in Black is an older William, played by Jimmi Simpson, who I still cannot get over as a McPoyle brother on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But what is truly fascinating is how Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores felt about this revelation. As an audience member, we have to realize that the hosts are just now starting to remember. They are just now starting to put the pieces together, whereas we have had ten weeks to discuss theories with each other online. The fact that Thandie Newton’s Maeve is (according to Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard/Arnold) being programmed to become self-aware and attempt to escape is a sign that there are bigger things going on than we and the hosts know. That is the mystery that season two will delve into. The hosts are active and knowledgeable. Dolores shot Ford in the back of the head in the perfect climax of his narrative – his story. They understand what’s going on.
I truly hope that season two becomes the show I hoped it would be when I heard an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film was being made. If you haven’t seen the source material, go watch it now (you can rent it from Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube, for starters). It’s a hell of an experience – one that all of those who have been disappointed by the HBO series I’m sure would enjoy. I’d agree with Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall that the show could finally come alive next season, but I’d also agree with Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff that it’s been alive all along.