Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Season 2 of Westworld is a huge disappointment

By Sati. Wednesday, June 27, 2018 ,

With the largely negative reactions to the finale and the ratings dropping throughout the entire season, people keep comparing what happened to Westworld with what happened to True Detective - great first season, disappointing second season. I actually liked season 2 of True Detective (Rachel McAdams' amazing performance in particular) so this one was an even bigger drop in quality for me. The truth is that this season of Westworld was a massive let down.

The first season was fantastic. The idea of a an amusement park where people go to do things without consequences while their victims - hosts - slowly become aware of that fact was brilliant. We had interesting protagonist in Dolores who we immediately rooted for because of seeing what she has been through. We had Maeve who was so capable, witty and likable. We had interesting supporting characters with so much potential - Armistice, Hector, Abernathy, Clementine. We had Ed Harris playing a menacing, mysterious villain. We had Anthony Hopkins in his greatest performance in years.

The finale last year was well done. The twists last season were clearly thought out and signaled to the audience throughout the episodes. There was a path to the reveal of Bernard being a host and William becoming The Man in Black. The problem with Westworld - and there are many, but the biggest one - is that it abandoned its set up way too soon. By having the hosts' uprising start as early as season 1 finale it has thrown the entire show into the path of utter chaos. We could have spent whole seasons inside the functioning park - getting to know the characters, sympathizing even more with the hosts and detesting the villains more fiercely whenever they did something evil.

Season 2 was a complete mess. Not only did the whole 'park' thing got completely thrown out of the window, seeing how the park is now in the state of utter anarchy, but the writers didn't use the characters well. Dolores became cliche Terminator hell-bent on revenge and while previously Evan Rachel Wood's performance had sweetness to it, now it's basically like watching a machine. The transition from heroine to a vigilante was horribly handled by the writers and in the end the audience lost the character we could root for.

With Maeve, she was handed a ridiculous storyline that inexplicably lasted whole season. The show that repeatedly told us backstories don't matter had her search for 'her daughter' from her previous role. And that wouldn't be the worst thing, but Maeve's storyline was filled with wasted potential and lazy writing. The whole detour to Shogun World, an episode I enjoyed but the consensus seems to be that its the show's worst episode, didn't really relate to the plot in the end. All we got was that the Shogun World's equivalent of Armistice joined the group but she was utterly underused - in fact I think she didn't have a single line after joining Maeve's team.

But the worst thing the show did in season 2 was an unforgivable and insulting reveal that Maeve was Ford's favorite and he has been helping her. Yes, it would explain why Maeve was doing things witch such ease back in season 1, but it was not hinted at anywhere, in the show that supposedly leaves bread crumbs for the audience. Ford and Maeve shared a single scene in season 1 and that was it. There was really nothing to suggest that she was his favorite. And that was one of the many moments this season where Anthony Hopkins was used to show up and explain things.

The lazy writing was so evident. We had Maeve, a host, get shot and die when William, a human, is walking around with multiple gunshot wounds. We had Sizemore willingly die for her after spending few days with her. We had Hale going from opportunist and a hedonist to full on villain. We had Clementine (another utterly wasted character) riding a horse and infecting other hosts with virus hidden in her programming. But the writers don't think you get that blatant symbolism so Hale starts talking about the four horsemen. And we of course have completely inept security teams, losing to hosts and acting like complete morons.

Then there is Stubbs just randomly letting Hale go. I can't even process that. And at one point of the finale I was reminded of The Matrix Reloaded. That's how bad things got.

The show now lacks heart and the characters that are well used by the writers and that we can root for. How can we root for Dolores after what she did to Teddy? Oh, Teddy. Now stuck in some sort of digital heaven for robots, beamed into space. Read that sentence again. That happened.

The most interesting thing to watch this season was Man in Black and his quest. While inexplicable in the end - why did he suddenly decide he doesn't want immortality? What was the point of that scene at the bar where Ford tells him he has one last game for him? Why have him spend the entire season heading to the Forge only for him to collapse right in front of its door - at least thanks to the incomparable Ed Harris it was entertaining to watch.

Still, even William's own episode "Vanishing Point" was a missed opportunity. While it was beautifully acted and the twist of William killing his own daughter (another character that we could root for and we lost this season and played by delightful Katja Herbers who hopefully comes back, at least as a host) was one of the very few twists that actually felt earned this season, it was still lacking. Yes, it's understandable that Juliet would kill herself but the whole horror and weight of her discovery of William's profile wasn't depicted well. We also didn't really get to see what impact her death had on him.

There were only 2 really good episode this season - episode 4 and episode 8, with only episode 4 being truly close to greatness. They were actually quite straightforward and they didn't focus on our protagonists - Dolores and Maeve. When the show focuses on the characters that have interesting arcs, gives actors more than bad lines and lazy writing and isn't primarily concerned with tricking the audience it is good. The problem is Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are more concerned with fooling the reddit community devoted to the show than they are with writing interesting characters and a gripping story. And they are failing even with that, providing answers in interviews after the show, instead in actual episodes. Not to mention that everything in the show is either guessed by the audience before the reveal happens, more interesting than actual reveal or the show serves a twist so insane and so out of the blue there was no way to guess it.

The show is still tremendously well acted - Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris never phone it in and at times carry the whole show. Jeffrey Wright is capable of selling even most ridiculous plot point (Bernard deciding to help Dolores because Hale shot Elsie). Thandie Newton and the entire supporting cast are brilliant. Rinko Kikuchi and even more so Peter Mullan were brilliant in their guest appearances. Only Evan Rachel Wood delivers boring work with only few standout moment this season. The execution can at times, mostly thanks to the amazing Ramin Djawadi, be absolutely breathtaking. And the finale's post credit scene was delightfully wicked.

But you cannot have a story without heart. And you cannot construct a good show without the interesting characters the audience wants to follow. Let's hope when the show returns the writers find the humanity in the world of technology.

8 comments:

  1. I agree with you. I didn't hate this season, but it was a massive drop in quality from the first. They shouldn't have had the hosts go rogue in season one. Worse, I don't know what they could possibly do in season three. I'll still watch because while it was a drop in quality I wouldn't call it a bad show by any means, but it's still disappointing. This is supposed to be the show that carries HBO after Game of Thrones ends.

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    1. Yeah there is no way they can replace GoT now. GoT even at its worst had interesting characters. Hell, I still watch just for Cersei.

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  2. Yeah, it was slightly disappointing to me as well and I get your points. Still this is a show I can't wait to see when a new season/episode comes out which is saying something as I don't have that often. But you make a lot of valid points!

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    1. Yeah it's still something to watch but it's a shame they aren't using the show's potential better

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    2. Definitely! I heard rumours that HBO thought the show was costing too much and that's the reason a lot of main characters were killed (although some can always be revived of course) and moving it off the island might allow them to bring the cost down.

      What did you think were the best episodes this season? Personally it's the one about Akecheta and his search and the James Delos episode. It should focus more on character and less on mystery. Kind of what Lost did back in the day.

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    3. Episode 4 - the Delos one - was the best episode for me. It was brilliant. Episode 8 was good but very slow. Everything else was so-so but the premiere was utterly boring.

      HBO shouldn't be cheap here but there is no way that show replaces GoT now.

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  3. What a shame! Honestly I haven't even seen any of Season 2 yet and I wondered why I hadn't heard much hype about it. When I saw Season 1 it was a case of watch it asap because spoilers are everywhere!
    I'll definitely catch up at some point though - do you reckon it's redeemable with Season 3?

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    1. I don't know, the show just took a disappointing direction and there is no way they can come back. They can maybe come up with interesting ideas but the park narrative which was interesting is largely dead rn

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