Back in 2016, a show premiered on HBO called Westworld, based off of the Michael Crichton novel and the Crichton-directed film. It followed a theme park populated with “hosts”, androids designed solely to satisfy the desires of anyone who came. People came to drink, to kill, to be intimate and to ultimately escape from the real world and show off their true natures. The hosts weren’t real, after all. The show explored occurrences happening around the park from the perspective of hosts and guests. The season ended with a host uprising, as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) killed Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the visionary behind the park and Maeve (Thandie Newton) finally broke out–though went back for her daughter. Be warned: this review will be filled with spoilers, and if you haven’t seen Season Two yet, shy away now.
As far as sophomore seasons go, this is one of the best. Westworld is a very cerebral show, and this season continues the trend with an equally mind-bending ten episodes. The first season tricked us all with its depiction of multiple timelines, and while Season Two isn’t as crazy in that regard, the show isn’t done with what it has to say about power and how it affects everyone. This is most evident in Dolores’ story arc, which focuses on her quest to gain complete control.
I personally didn’t like Dolores’ role in this season as much as I did last season. I found it to be quite repetitive and annoying, never clearly getting a grasp on why she is doing what she’s doing. It goes from her trying to finish off the remaining guests and going to the Valley Beyond to trying to protect her father. The most compelling area of her story was in Episode 2, “Reunion” where we learn of her existence before the park was actually put into motion. Evan Rachel Wood is an amazing actress in this show but her character was very uneven this time around. That being said, I do really like the exploration of her relationship with Teddy (James Marsden).
It’s such a shock to see how far the characters have come from their innocent beginnings, but their relationship took a dark turn this season. Like I mentioned prior, the focus is still heavily on control and there’s no better example than that of their bond. Teddy’s always been loyal to Dolores, and after protecting her for the first half of this season, she pretty much got sick of his personality and reprogrammed him to be a brutal, relentless killing machine. By the end of the season, though, he had found himself. He had remembered everything on his own, even the moment when he first saw Dolores and fell in love with her. However, he could not become what she made him, and in a beautiful moment, ends his own life. It’s especially poignant, as Dolores finally feels the weight of her actions, seeing that this is a consequence she didn’t think would happen, making it all the more shocking to her and the audience.
Maeve’s arc was by far the most impressive shown this season. Despite Dolores ultimately being the lead, Thandie Newton gave an impressive follow-up to her character’s story in Season One. Hers was always the most interesting. Newton has a charisma that delivers exactly what the show needs to keep balance: a powerful character with logical, touching motivations and true, complex thoughts. The journey to find her daughter was utterly brilliant, and while it was a bit predictable in the end, it was executed perfectly. Which leads us to what is easily one of the best episodes of the entire season, “Akane No Mai”.
We finally got to see Shogunworld in the flesh, which was really nice. What made it amazing, though, was the parallels that the Edo-era town had to Westworld’s own town of Sweetwater. Ramin Djawadi’s amazing instrumental rendition of “Paint It, Black” returned as the characters from the more intense park showed off their skills–in an almost shot-by-shot rendition of the scene from the series premiere. Aside from that, the episode was great because of the fact that there’s something in it for everyone. For those who expect some maturity from an HBO show, there’s an extremely bloody standoff. For those who want some emotion, there’s the heartbreaking scene where Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) stares at her replacement in Sweetwater’s saloon. Some of the best Dolores/Teddy moments are in this episode, too, at least confirming that their story arc wasn’t a complete bore this season.
The Man In Black/William (Ed Harris) got much more development this season, which was somewhat of a lovely surprise. I always considered the Man In Black a character that, while captivating and extremely interesting, one that didn’t reach his full potential. Luckily, there’s the excellent penultimate episode “Vanishing Point” to throw that in our faces. Not only did it craft a mesmerizing backstory to the most troubled character on the show, but it made you care for characters rarely shown on the show, most notably Juliet (Sela Ward), William’s wife, and Emily (Katja Herbers), his daughter. Emily was honestly not one of the most compelling characters this season. She always felt like a plot device created solely to move the story forward, but even in her final moments, there was a sense of emotion behind her relationship with her dad. When he had to face the fact that he was wrong about her being a host and killed her, it was utterly depressing to see him with a gun to his head.
And then there’s “Kiksuya”, which is by far the greatest episode in this season’s run. So much time was spent focused on Dolores’ uprising and Maeve’s grapple with her own consciousness, the show totally forgot about one of the most sidelined groups of the first season: Ghost Nation. It’s easy to see why there wasn’t much time invested in them; they weren’t key players, and there was an increasingly complicated story to tell already. But when Westworld gets a chance to really flesh out its characters, it does. The episode revolved around Akecheta as he pretty much underwent the same process as Maeve as he regained consciousness. It was one of the most impactful episodes the show had ever delivered, with Akecheta eventually choosing to die for the first time in almost a decade just so he could go into the Mesa to find his wife, who was sadly decommissioned.
Ramin Djawadi’s score for this season is just as good as the last. Many were split on whether it was a good choice to put orchestral renditions of popular songs in the show, but I was all for it. The first season really surprised me with covers of Soundgarden, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse and more, but this also had some greats. Covers of Nirvana, Wu-Tang Clan, The White Stripes and even Kanye West show up. However, it’s the way the songs are executed that makes them so wonderful. For instance, since the opening scene of Episode 3, “Virtù e Fortuna”, takes place in an Indian-themed park called the Raj, it’s only fitting that the “Seven Nation Army” cover be played on a sitar. It’s the little things that make a difference, and for a show like this, it’s perfect to have neat little nods to the outside world.
The second season of Westworld expands on its predecessor in brilliant ways. Many of the episodes continue to force us to question the nature of the show’s reality and the choices made by the characters. Akecheta, William, and Dolores all get extremely well-realized backstories with thought-provoking messages to go along with them. The exploration of two of the other “Delos Destinations”, the Raj and Shogunworld, create an ultimately more interesting environment and contribute to a more thought-out atmosphere (because who wants only Westworld?). Certain story arcs were a bit lacking in some aspects (namely Dolores’, which was a bit of a bore), but the show speaks for itself. It’s a cerebral masterpiece, and I cannot wait for next season to arrive.
Westworld stars Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Fares Fares, Luke Hemsworth, Louis Herthum, Simon Quarterman, Tallulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Gustaf Skarsgård, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins. Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.