Well Look At That, ‘Westworld’ Is Pretty Fun Again


Here’s the thing about the first season of Westworld: I’m not entirely sure it was necessary. It’s not that it was bad. It was fine, mostly. It’s just that once the novelty — Robots cowboys! A murdersex amusement park for billionaires! Anthony Hopkins saying creepy things with his voice! — of it all wore off, it became more of a series of puzzles than an actual television show. And once the puzzles were solved — William is The Man in Black! Bernard is a robot! Everything was leading to a robot revolution! — well, what was left, really?

Maybe that’s why the first season felt so disposable to some viewers. It was definitely interesting in parts and it was always stunning to look at (those big budgets ended up all over the screen), but the focus on solving the mysteries took away from the character development and if the audience doesn’t know or care too much about most of the characters on a show, that’s a problem. In hindsight, HBO could have saved a lot of money by replacing the first season with a three-paragraph Star Wars scroll before season two that just laid out all the important facts we learned over those 10 episodes. We would have lost out on some sleuthing and theorizing, but story-wise, I don’t think it would have cost that much.

But fine. Some of that is a taste issue and, either way, it’s been litigated plenty at this point. I kind of just wanted to make the Star Wars point, and I did, and I feel pretty great about it, so we can move on. And when we do that, we can focus on the more important issue: A few episodes into season two, Westworld is pretty fun again.

A few factors are in play in all of this. The first is that we know what the characters on the show want, finally, mostly. (I think.) Dolores wants to dominate (her words, delightfully); Maeve wants to get her fake robot daughter and live happily ever after with a trigger-happy safecracker (as one does); Delos wants to do some creepy data collection on its one-percenter guests and use it for marketing; William wants… okay, I still don’t know exactly what William wants. I can live with that. And by giving the characters things to do beyond staring at each other in shock and confusion, there are a bunch of cool stories developing. It’s a little like Game of Thrones right now, with different groups of people spread out across a fictional land, trying to achieve goals through time-tested methods like teamwork and murder.

(We’ve covered the fact that Dolores is basically Daenerys now, but if we really want to extend the analogy out to its fringes, I think it means Delos — the group of humans on the show — is the White Walkers? It definitely means Teddy is Jon Snow.)

Also, the mysteries. There are still mysteries. Which is good! Westworld wouldn’t be Westworld without some sort of mystery going on somewhere. But instead of spooling them out and teasing them over a full season, the show appears to be setting them up and knocking them down quick. Where’d that tiger come from? Oh, from Raj World. What’s going on in that bunker? Oh, weird Facebook stuff. How did William rise to power? Oh, well his dipstick brother-in-law got the family into it and then William saw the data collection possibility and pushed Papa Delos out. Bing bang boom.


(One of the other helpful parts of this: The new season is less focused on various timelines. Yes, the story is split chronologically. No, it’s not being told in any sort of linear fashion. We are hopping all-the-heck over the place. But there doesn’t appear to be an attempt to deceive in this hopping. The other timelines are more like flashbacks than anything else. It’s all kind of conventional, really. I mean, if we’re being honest, Billions is being trickier with its chronology than Westworld so far this season. Also, if we’re still being honest, Wags from Billions would have gone to Westworld so often that he ended up buying a luxury condominium inside the park.)

There’s definitely more going on than that simplified explanation. Some or all of these things will probably lead down deeper rabbit holes at some point. There’s still the whole deal with “Glory,” the weapon Dolores/Wyatt wants that also might be a place and seems to be where everyone is headed. And poor Abernathy is still running around with his priceless cooked circuitry and garbled Shakespearean vernacular. And the show did just introduce a new character who likes shooting people and has a map with weird symbols on it. But it all still feels a little more streamlined, where the mysteries are secondary to the plot and the characters’ actions are more prominent.

And their actions! With less time spent laying down the foundation, the show is freed up to pack itself full of wild set pieces. In the third episode alone we saw a tiger hunt gone awry, and an Alamo-style standoff that ended with dozens of dead Desperados and a nitroglycerin explosion that took out a small army of the corporate Mad Max warriors Delos employs, and Maeve and Simon — who I love now, sniveling and whining and all, after hating him like poison last season — getting lost and stumbling into what is either Shogun World or some other place where sword-wielding samurais burst through the flurries. I support all of this. And I didn’t even get to the thing where the snake lady from last season popped up with a robot arm and a flamethrower. In episode three. I support that, too.

The result of it all has been a more enjoyable, most digestible watch. I’m really liking it, which I don’t think I expected. I feel like I’m getting to know the characters more and what they want out of all of this. I don’t feel like someone is trying to trick me all the time, either. That can be fine in small doses. A good reveal every now and then can be a blast. (See Good Place, The.) But sometimes season one felt like being at a magic show that went on a little too long, where a bunch of people figured out some of the tricks before they were finished. Rabbits running loose on the stage, one lady yawning in the third row, the magician proud and oblivious to it all. This has not been that.

So far, at least. I could be proven very wrong by season’s end. Or by the middle of the next episode. I would look pretty stupid then. That’s why half of the sentences in this post included phrases like “appears to” and “looks like.” All of this could be leading to four different 4D puzzles that take the rest of the season to piece together and tie my brain into a full Windsor. Or maybe there’s something there now that I’ve been missing because I’ve been consuming the show the way a baby consumes television, just giggling at the colors and noises and catching zero context. But even if that’s the case, I… I think I’m fine with it. Maybe I just want to see snake ladies shooting flamethrowers. Sometimes simplicity is bliss.