I’m an odd one in that I like to judge a series based on everything but the final episode. Goes for seasons as well. I find that often the final episode is either a set up (season) or a feel-good closure (series) and is a reflection of the story – not an actual part of it. They are a reward for the viewer. Cheers, MASH, Lost, Friends, Star Trek… all of them seem to fit that mold.
I like to look back after the penultimate (before-last) episode has aired and take a peek at what worked and what didn’t.
Westworld Season 2 has been fairly uneven. There have been some really strong stories (Kiksuya) and others that were mostly padding (Akane no Mai). But such is the fact of building a series of 20 episodes based on a movie that lasted 90 minutes. There’s going to be padding. It is really hard to write a riddle, and even harder to write one that lasts for hours.
The gist of this season is that the hosts (robots) are waking up and rebelling. There are at least 4 different timelines to follow that I caught onto, so you’re often getting answers before seeing the questions… which in turn makes them questions. It honestly feels like a very abstract puzzle and the pieces are slowly put together, until a the rest sort of falls into place. It is a serial and requires every episode to be watched, digested, and remembered for future items. A solid example of an obscure clue is one scene that was filmed in a different aspect ratio, which indicated a different setting. The show asks a lot of the viewer.
Still, the joy of unraveling a puzzle is as much on the storyteller as it is on us, and the actors do a serviceable job with their material.
The hosts are fractured. I still have no real idea what Dolores is supposed to be doing, other than managing to have everyone she cares about killed along the way. She is the pure embodiment of death… a sort of dark mirror of the human Delos employees. Mave went all Deux Ex Machina and then gave herself up to die… which from a story perspective makes sense to prolong tension… but from a character perspective is a little odd. She is a dark mirror version of Ford, the park’s creator. Then we have Akecheta, who has a spiritual link to the world, wants freedom from slavery but also balance from the pure death of all the other parties. Finally, Bernard is the viewer’s proxy to the mess… present in all timeframes as a more neutral party. The one who unveils quite a few of the steps, and acts more of a catalyst. Very against violence, but more lost than anything. 4 different factions, all aiming for freedom, with much different paths.
The humans are split into two parties. The pure Delos folks who are all about collecting the human experiences found in host. It is quite difficult to empathize at all with this faction as they are purely motivated by greed, and treat anything/everyone as a threat to that goal. The other faction are the park managers (Stubbs/Elsie/Lee) which have no stake other than survival. There’s grey here, but their goals are very short sighted and selfish. I guess you can count the Man in Black as it’s own faction. He’s delusional, driven, and without morals. The penultimate episode focuses on his hiding from good human to pure devil. He ends up killing his daughter in his mania, and questioning if he’s a host.
Looking at both factions, it’s somewhat clear that the human faction (aside from MiB) is the least developed and least interesting. They are just backdrop for the hosts to move forward. Even the conflicts between the hosts are artificial, and truly within themselves. There’s the fundamental question of how much impact Ford has on each host’s behavior as well… since it’s clear that he intended for Maeve to stay on the train at the end of Season 1.
I have a good idea what will happen in the season ender. It wouldn’t make sense for the door to actually lead to freedom with the outside world. The series so far has done a very poor job building a relatable human. My guess is something more akin to the 13th Floor, where reality itself is questioned. I further struggle to see how the series can actually evolve past another season. The majority of hosts have “evolved”, the humans are nearly all dead, and the MiB’s arc is about ready to complete. I don’t see how there are mysteries left in this story, unless there’s some sort of insane reveal that’s worth exploring.
Aside from 2 filler episodes, the 2nd season has been very good. Enough mix of mystery and reveal to keep you guessing what’s next. It is very helpful that the actors themselves are all top notch. With a larger societal push towards sci-fi / mystery (check out Netflix’ recent launches), it’s a good thing that cable can still compete. And I must say that I prefer the weekly breaks, allowing for discussions over what happened and the ability to digest the developments. Binging is all fine and dandy, but with less cerebral matter. We all need time to think.