Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Ed Harris
In the climactic first season finale of Westworld, the show’s power dynamic changed. The park hosts, who had shown signs of consciousness throughout the season, began a revolt. These robotic figures prepared to wrest control of the theme park from the tycoons and the engineers who had kept them under control.
Instead of continuing directly from that starting place, season 2 skips around in time showing some of the future events in the park. In certain scenes, it’s obvious that the robotic revolt has just begun but other scenes flash-forward to later periods as a security crew begins to assess the situation. Because of the scattered narrative, the show adds a level of complexity to the proceedings.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), the closest ally of Dr. Robert Ford (Antony Hopkins), takes on a unique importance here. With Ford sidelined in the second season’s early episodes, it’s Bernard we often look to for answers. We see Bernard in various time periods, showing how quickly his life changes from one scene to the next.
While the first season was inevitably building to the finale, this season feels a bit less focused. There are revelations — to be sure — but there’s also a lot of time spent with the characters simply wandering from one place to another. It doesn’t help that the humans feel like props that the hosts can simply dismantle at their own convenience. There’s an obvious dichotomy between the presentation of the hosts in season one — who were seen as disposable and replaceable — and the humans in season two, who are easily disposed with whenever they come into contact with the hosts. But the scenes of watching the hosts decimate any security officers that get in their way gets a bit tiring.
That being said, this season offers a grander focus of the park and the creators craft some unique worlds here, including ShoGun World. This unique park puts visitors into the world of feudal Japan. As Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her allies travel across Westworld, they arrive in ShoGun World and experience this other theme park and the storylines it has to offer. In another episode, a new character visits another park called The Raj.
The creators of this show have a great ability to capture these unique worlds and play with them, showing what visitors might get to experience.
It’s difficult though to appreciate the full scope of the show when there are few standout characters to root for. In the first season, Dr. Ford provided a persistent drive in the show. He was the genius behind so many of the creations. Characters like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy Flood (James Marsden) are solid supporting characters but neither of them is given the same strong material that Ford was in the first season.
The true standout character this season is undeniably Maeve, whose character arc feels true and unique. Maeve may have the same contempt for some humans as Dolores does but she also has great compassion and that’s showcased during her quest to find the daughter she once knew. Dolores’ quest to find her father attempts to work in a similar way but her thirst for revenge overpowers her journey, making her character less relatable.
The concepts behind Westworld, which was adapted from the Michael Crichton book (and film), are truly interesting (what is consciousness? Can it be built?). The show’s first season set the stage for a world in which hosts were gaining the ability to achieve it. The second season sends them on a journey as well but it’s not as well-constructed, leading to some frustrating moments and oftentimes a lack of character growth.
Review by: John Hanlon