Journey Into Night
Virtù e Fortuna
The Riddle of the Sphinx
Akane no Mai
When it launched back in 2016, Westworld’s intellectually challenging narrative and slowly revealing mysteries were criticised by man for being too pretentious and lacking major plot progression for large chunks of its 10 episodes. Still, there’s no denying that Westworld’s absorbing, intellectually stimulating storyline was graced with slick cinematography and clever editing all culminating in a truly shocking finale few episodes making it one of 2016’s most unique offerings on TV. Returning for a bigger, bolder and more cohesive second season, Westworld tells a much more coherent story this time around (with the exception of its finale) but struggles to maintain the same wondrous, absorbing mystery found in the first season.
Having been off-air for a solid 18 months, those out of the loop with Westworld’s intricately presented puzzle box of a first season really owe it to themselves to go back and re-watch the show before diving into the second season. There is a 3 minute recap here but it barely scrapes the surface, missing some crucial information and numerous symbolic references that help to flesh out and make sense of some of the early confusion evident in the second season. Whereas the first season predominantly focused on Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her slowly awakening from her world, the second season sees her share the spotlight with three other key players: Maeve (Thandie Newton), The Man In Black (Ed Harris) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright).
Maeve’s storyline is much more simplistic than the other three, revolving around her continued journey to find her daughter as she travels out of Westworld and into Shogun World and beyond. With the promise that Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) new narrative has been designed around him, The Man In Black continues his pursuit of just what Westworld’s hidden meaning is that slowly infects every facet of his world, blinding him from what’s real and what isn’t before a violent and very painful wake-up call to just how damaging his mental state has become to those around him.
After being the lead protagonist for much of the first season, Dolores’ apparent freedom and descent into vengeful sociopath Wyatt contrasts nicely with Maeve’s more homely story. As she continues to recruit more people to her blood lusting cause to overthrow the humans and find a way out of Westworld, Teddy’s (James Marsden) loyalty begins to wane resulting in a pretty devastating and consequential shift in his relationship with Dolores. Rounding out this trio is Bernard whose mind bending jumps between different parts of his memory keeps the confusion and mystery high during these parts of the story as he tries to piece together his reality before falling headfirst down the rabbit hole and coming face to face with an old friend late on in one of this season’s more surprising and shocking twists.
Most of Westworld’s 10 episodes play out as four separate parallel stories that converge at random moments before joining together for a mind-bending, confusing finale that sees all the characters join at a place called The Valley Beyond. This 90 minute finale finishes a few of the character’s main narratives while leaving the door wide open for a third season. Just quite where the show goes from here is certainly open for debate but suffice to say, the ending turns most of what we know on its head and certainly benefits from another rewatch to try and pick up on the intricately placed clues during this time-jumping climax.
With last year’s mystery all but reserved for Bernard’s story, there’s much more emphasis on thought provoking themes around humanity and what it means to be onscious and living. No more is that felt than in Westworld’s beautifully written stand-alone episode Kiksuya. When the dust settles at the end of this second season, it’s arguably going to be this episode that’s likely to leave the biggest impression. A beautiful, enriching tale about one host’s journey into discovering the true nature of his world, Kiksuya strips the show down to its basic elements for the better. The episode explores consciousness, humanity and loss all the while showing just what an impact these things have on the hosts themselves in an astonishingly raw and emotional way. All the while subtly answering some crucial questions hanging over the first season, in particular why some of the native hosts were unable to be controlled.
Westworld’s second season is likely to be divisively received. Those out of the loop with the first season may well be severely lost here and the opening few episodes do the show no favour as they sporadically jump between time periods and plot lines with reckless abandon. Most of the series plays out in a relatively straight forward manner though with the four parallel storylines converging at the end for the climactic finale that, while action packed and shocking in it’s own way, fail to really emulate what made the first season such an endearing prospect. Still, Westworld is a thought provoking show packed with gorgeous cinematography and some clever editing making it one of the better shows on TV right now.
Verdict - 9/10