Westworld – Season 2

Rating:

These violent delights do indeed have violent ends…

Main Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright

Creators:  Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy

Whew! That was a season. If you’re new to Westworld, you most definitely do not want to start here – go back and watch all of Season 1, then come back here to prepare for Season 2. You will be hopelessly lost if you jump into this series at anything but the very beginning. You might be hopelessly lost anyway, but that’s a whole different subject.

So, here we are, at the beginning of the second season of HBO’s Wild West Debauchery Theme Park. During the first season of Westworld we learned about the park – how the “hosts” are sophisticated robots that are there to cater to any and every desire of the “guests”. The guests are fully human and for the most part fully repugnant.  There are some family friendly aspects to Westworld, but most people seem to go there to be the worst versions of themselves. There are no consequences, after all. Right?

If you’ve watched the first season you already know that this isn’t going to be quite the case. A heady combination of hubris and malice has brought the park to a rather serious crossroads, with hosts behaving in a manner the guests definitely do not anticipate. But maybe others do…

There is so much happening in this second season of Westworld. We learn a lot more about the development of both the hosts and the park. We also get a peek at some of the nefarious underbelly (as if the surface is anything but despicable) of secret projects, ill intent, personal vendetta, and desperate longing that combine to drive humans and hosts to push the boundaries of science and morality.

I’m really not going to tell you what becomes of anybody. That’s why you want to watch the season. But I will say that the show maintains the quality, intensity, and complexity that you all enjoyed in the first season. All of the characters are allowed to develop in ways that other shows would balk at, making us decide at every turn whether each human and host is a hero or a villain or both. The amount of content packed into each episode is astounding. So astounding that you really need to be paying attention to every scene. This is not a show you can watch while scrolling through your Twitter feed. It’s easy to get confused, since as in season 1 there is more than one timeline happening, and a lot of stories going on within each one. You absolutely must not nap or you will need to re-watch entire episodes (this hypothesis was proposed, tested, and thoroughly proven in my household).

On the other hand, your attention will be handsomely rewarded. The visuals in the lab and the park are absolutely first rate. One particular scene involving a half finished buffalo is striking as a metaphor for this entire twisted world, careening towards a real or manufactured cliff at high speed. The scenery is beautiful and desolate, the science fiction gadgetry compelling and grotesque. It’s the kind of show that makes me consider buying a bigger TV.

The performances remain rock solid. Evan Rachel Wood surprised me in the first season and she keeps doing so here. Hers is perhaps the most complex character (Dolores, one of the first hosts who knows a lot more than she thinks) and she gets a lot of mileage out of the changes happening to this woman who at the beginning of Season 1 was nothing more than an inanimate object to be abused and tortured. Ed Harris continues redefining himself as the worst bad guy on television, and Jeffrey Wright digs deep into his character of Bernard (a primary programmer who has a HUGE secret).  But I believe my favorite performance of them all (Wright is a close second) is that of Thandie Newton as Maeve. Maeve is a host who has been the madam at the brothel for a long time. But she had other stories and how she chooses to deal with her programming alterations is one of the most interesting and beautifully portrayed storylines in the series. Newton has an incredibly expressive face, and she is stunning in this role.

Overall, Season 2 of Westworld maintains the high quality of season one while digging deep into the stories of all the characters. It’s inventive, intensely paced, and every scene has purpose. I love the series and am thrilled that it will be back for a third season. I can’t wait to see where they go from the explosive end of season 2. Highly recommended for any fans of high quality science fiction, drama, and excellent, complex storytelling.

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