If there’s one issue with this golden age of television we’ve found ourselves living in for the past decade, it’s the fact that there isn’t a whole lot that manages to completely permeate the popular consciousness. Now that every imaginable television network, streaming service, and social media platform is putting out their own original content, we’ve become inundated with choices, and as a result there’s not many shows that it feels like everyone is watching. There’s enough out there, most of it so incredibly niche, that there’s no real need for a show that appeals to everyone. So, it’s always a shock when a show actually does seem to resonate with a majority of people, and becomes something that everyone is talking about and picking apart together. Surprisingly, Game of Thrones ended up hitting that stride, and brought in an unimaginable out of people to HBO, all willing to watch a weekly show about medieval politics and dragons. So, thanks to its ludicrous success, HBO started hunting down a heir to Game of Thrones’ ratings, and it seemed to find it in a strange sci-fi/Western hybrid that was loosely based on the Michael Crichton directed film Westworld. It was marketed as a show that would be full of twists and turns matched with stunning Western cinematography, and it seemed like a show that would more than likely become a fascinating oddity more than something that would catch the zeitgeist.
And yet, this show connected with people. It was strange, beautiful, confounding, and deeply engrossing. People became obsessed with the first season, and it reached the point where it felt like everyone I knew was watching the show, trying to figure out just what the hell was going on in it. And then the first season came to a close, it answered a few questions while asking a whole lot more, and then left us high and dry, giving us about a year and half to wait until some of those answers were given.
But, when the show came back I started to notice a bit of a different reaction. I was still seeing just about everyone I know watch the show, spending time trying to puzzle out what the hell was going on, but now it was less enthused. Things kind of shifted, and it started to feel like everyone was watching Westworld, but was mad about that. The mysteries were more obtuse, the nonlinear chronology was less important narratively and thus more frustrating, and there just seemed to be a lot of resentment toward the film, watching it more out of duty than passion. All the twists and turns went from being fun to tedious, and the few episodes that abandoned all the larger mysteries to tell self-contained stories were easily the best of the bunch. And, I kind of agreed with a lot of these complaints. The season was fine, and there were some truly fantastic moments, but overall I think it was far weaker than the first, and it gives me some serious concerns about the future of the series, fearful that they’re going to double down on their mistakes and create a third season that’s too obtuse to survive.
The first season primarily revolved around world-building. We were introduced to the park, the rules, and the characters, all while witnessing a functioning park start to fall apart thanks to two of the robotic Hosts gaining something approaching sentience. It’s questionable if this evolution was natural or all part of a larger scheme, but regardless, they gain sentience and the future of the park is immediately put into risk. The first season ends by suggesting that the Hosts are about to revolt and overthrow the entire world, setting up a show that revolve around a human/robot war.
And that’s not really what the second season delivered on. It primarily took place over just a few days, and just showed a bunch of Hosts milling about, arguing over MacGuffins before ruining the park and leaving. The premise of the show often gets compared to Jurassic Park, probably mostly because of Michael Crichton, which ended up leading me to assume that most of this series would actually be about people trying to survive in the park. But, not really. We don’t end up caring too much about any of the people, especially since most of them get revealed to actually be robots, so we’re left with the Hosts to cling to, most of whom don’t seem to have a lot of desires. They mainly want to just be left alone. They don’t want humans messing with them anymore, and just want to live in peace, letting them figure out their own sentience and souls. However, whenever the show actually slows down to focus on these characters as actual characters and not plot devices it almost immediately drops that to become fixated with the spectacle and the mystery.
And, personally, the mystery doesn’t do much for me. I don’t really care what Dolores is up to. I don’t know what in the world Ford has been up to, or why he’s messing with people beyond the grave. I’m not really that invested in the whole industrial espionage plot that really only exists to kill off all of the human characters, and most of the revenge the Hosts are planning to commit on humanity don’t seem that interesting.
What does interest me are the more philosophical elements to the show. And I know that that’s probably the part of the show that they worry about the most. The people behind this show seem to spend most of their time trying to create a Gordian Knot of plot that will keep people coming back to try and figure it out. But, sometimes actual ideas get through, and that’s when the show actually works for me now. Episodes that revolved around the Hosts and their burgeoning sentience, and the slow decline in William’s morality and sanity are where I became invested. Several times in this season William, or the Man in Black as he’s usually referred to when Ed Harris is playing him, refers to the idea that he’s got a tiny fleck of darkness in him that has destroyed his life. He’s positioned himself as a good person, but as we saw in the first season he’s anything but. He’s a shattered and cruel man who puts on a mask, only acting like his true self when he’s in the park. And, as the show progresses, it become more and more evident that that tiny fleck is greed. He’s a person almost entirely defined by greed. He wants. That’s his entire draw. He wanted love from Dolores, he wanted power from Delos, and he wants purpose from the Park. And that greed has ruined him, forcing him into a maze of madness that completely shatters him. But, he’s not the only one. Every single human in this show in driven by greed. And they all do terribly. Greed is responsible for every terrible decision that a human makes in this show, possibly leading to the destruction of humanity. Which makes the juxtaposition with the Hosts, who mostly want to just be left alone, that much more interesting. They aren’t really greedy, they just want to not be exploited. And yet, Dolores, or Wyatt I guess, is pushing them down the darker path. Because greed will destroy everything. We could be a happy society, but we’re constantly held down by that tiny fleck of darkness, and there seems to be no way to wash that off.
Westworld was created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, 2018.
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