- Season two of “Westworld” got off to a great start, but it went downhill as it began to rely on the same devices it used in season one.
- Shogun World and The Raj were exciting additions to the world this show exists in, but the show barely spent any time there, and they were ultimately inconsequential to the story season two told.
- Confusing timelines and different worlds made it tough to understand what was happening.
- Thankfully, the reset premise for season three has us a little bit more optimistic.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for the “Westworld” season two finale, “The Passenger.”
Sunday night’s season-two finale of “Westworld” completely reset the show’s premise in an even bigger way than the season-one finale did in 2016.
A majority of the park’s hosts now live in a separate world. And three hosts (Bernard, Dolores, and Charlotte) are in the real world. While the tease of what’s to come is compelling, since Tessa Thompson may have a more major role in season three, the ending wasn’t earned in the final episodes of the messy second season. It’s disappointing, because the season got off to a great start in its first five episodes. But then it began to rely on the same devices as season one to confuse its audience.
I watched season one of “Westworld,” but didn’t really like it. I hated the twists. I hated that what you think is happening is probably not what is actually happening. But I loved the first five episodes of season two. The first half of the season focused on expanding the story, and the way it was told. It provided essential backstory about the park’s history. It showed Shogun World and The Raj, and explored the facility underneath the park further than it did in season one. But a few more episodes in, “Westworld” proved that some of this was nonsense: it’s not taking place where or when you think it is, it’s not what you think it is, and it’s not who you think it is. Ultimately, these glimpses into the past and the worlds within the world didn’t matter too much – because that’s all gone now.
In a different (but not different enough) way, the show began to rely on the same tricks in season one: different timelines and hiding the true identity of characters. In season one, it was important because it set the stakes and made the show more immersive and believable, and provided a canvas for the show to do better with some expansion. But the world it built in the first half of season two, which was the show’s strength, is ignored for a reset narrative in a different dimension. And three hosts will experience the real world, which we still know next to nothing about.
It is possible to continually shock an audience in an organic, earned way. In its first and second season finales, NBC’s “The Good Place” completely reset its premise without any violence or undisclosed timelines or new dimensions. In season one, the characters figure out that the good place is actually the bad place. And at the end of season two, the characters, who’ve been fighting to gain entry into the good place the whole season, are being tested in a way we didn’t know was possible. But the reset narrative of “The Good Place” works because the audience trusts the writers: we know enough to understand what is happening and when. We know who the characters are, and we know it’s not tricking us for the sake of tricking us. Every choice the show makes is for a reason. The problem with “Westworld” is that there isn’t really a reason for not establishing the who, what, when, where, and why, other than inciting a bunch of people to fight on Reddit about it.
It’s hard to like a show that goes so far out of its way to make it difficult (or impossible) for its audience to fully understand it. Maybe the third season will change now that it’s outside of the park and in the real world, but I won’t make the mistake of being as optimistic as I was at the beginning of season two, especially after that post-credits sequence.