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Feature Article

Why Westworld Season 2 Isn't Really Working

Westworld Season 2 spoilers below!

It's not just you. The sci-fi western that ignited fandoms back in 2016 is back--Westworld Season 2 is airing on HBO, and it's already almost halfway over. But it just doesn't feel the same. Westworld Season 2 isn't the cultural event--the only thing anyone can talk about Monday mornings, the source of as much speculation and theorizing as every new Game of Thrones episode--that Season 1 was.

It's a bit of a mystery why exactly that might be, but I have some theories.

Westworld Season 1 ended on a banger. The Man in Black was William, Bernard was a host, and Ford sacrificed himself to catalyze the robot uprising. If you were part of the massive online community of Westworld fans who combed through each new episode looking for clues, you probably saw those surprises coming. If you weren't one of those people, you might have been shocked by all the twists. But Westworld Season 1 gave even casual fans plenty of reasons to keep watching every week, whether it was the emotional resonance of William and Dolores's journey, the mystery of the Man in Black's maze, or simply wondering when the blood will start flowing through Westworld's dusty, simulated streets.

Besides a few tertiary, leftover questions--like "Is [insert character] really dead?" or "Does Westworld have a greater purpose?"--Westworld Season 1 had a fairly satisfying arc that wrapped up all its central plot lines. With the hosts apparently achieving sentience and the maze solved, did we really need to see what happened next? The season may have ended with the start of the host uprising, but it felt more like a conclusion than a beginning.

That said, Westworld Season 2 really has done a decent job picking up where Season 1 left off. There are new mysteries, characters, and locales, and we're learning more and more about the park's true purpose. So why does it feel so much less exciting?

No Emotional Core

One big problem with Westworld Season 2 is the lack of an emotional core that we, as the audience, can identify with. That role was filled with redundancy in Season 1; Dolores, Maeve, William, Bernard, and several other characters were all sympathetic. Dolores struggled against domineering forces she couldn't yet understand, William was the White Knight who was going to help her break free, Bernard and others running the parks were sleuths following the mystery along with us, and Maeve was trying to piece things together from her own perspective.

All those sympathetic points of view are gone. In Westworld Season 2, Dolores has gone full Terminator, mowing people down in between insufferable sermons about "The Valley Beyond." Our flashbacks to William are past the point where he broke bad, making him just another villain. Bernard is more lost than ever, but he's too unreliable a narrator to identify with (more on that in a second). And Maeve's search for her "daughter" might have worked better if we didn't already know that her daughter is a construct that was written for her and probably doesn't even exist anymore.

Deliberate Obfuscation

Another problem is that Bernard's whole deal this season is way too meta. Westworld Season 2 is using the fact that Bernard is a host to turn him into a completely unreliable narrator. Through the "time displacement" Bernard is suffering, the show is able to keep us utterly confused. Bernard's storyline in Westworld Season 2 feels more like being strung along with a blindfold and earmuffs on than trying to solve an actual mystery.

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Every scene from Bernard's point of view feels blatantly misleading, like the show is deliberately obfuscating basic questions like "when," "where," and "why." No doubt it's building toward some twist, but is it really a twist if the only reason we weren't able to guess it is the show taught us not to trust our own eyes?

Retracing Steps

Season 1's maze was a source of much mystery and speculation among Westworld fans. What is "the maze"? What will the Man in Black find there? Will there be an actual maze with a big red button at its center, or is it more of a metaphorical thing? Just what does the Man in Black really want?

But so far in Season 2, Bill is just retracing his steps. He fetched Lawrence from another bind, returned to that same little town, and has continued to act like this is all a game. To Bill, Westworld was always more real than the real world, so it makes sense that he'd continue playing exactly as he did before, even though the stakes are suddenly so high. But it doesn't make for very compelling viewing week to week, and there's no well-defined central mystery. No matter how many creepy child-hosts Bill chats with, looking for a "door" will never be as exciting as the search for the maze was.

The World Has Changed

This might be Westworld's biggest problem, and ironically, it's the one HBO could have most easily fixed: It's not 2016 anymore, and I think audiences have less patience than ever for shows like Westworld stringing us along week by week.

This is the era of streaming, when Netflix drops entire seasons all at once and it's normal to binge ten plus episodes in a single day. Who has time to plod along behind a miserly trail of narrative breadcrumbs every week? For many fans, it's more fun to dive in and submerse oneself in fantasy for an entire season at a time.

Thinking about it like that makes you wonder how Game of Thrones Season 8 is going to be received next year. Like Westworld Season 2, it might be worth it to just wait until it's over and binge it at the end.

Hopefully Shogun World is cool once they finally get around to revealing it.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Avatar image for adso777
Adso777

Couldn't agree more. Season 2 was so unnecessary. Can't recommend it at all. In fact even ruins the masterpiece that season 1 is.

It's just not needed. The first season should have been the only season.

Avatar image for mhz2day
mhz2day

It's not hard to loves game of thrones and saying why Westworld season 2 isn't Realy working!

Avatar image for kiff_82
KIFF_82

Season 2 works fine...

Avatar image for croxus
Croxus

I believe the article refers to the 1st episode alone.

The next episodes render it completely irrelevant...

Avatar image for GM_Strykr
GM_Strykr

I can't even take this seriously. You're really writing this 4 episodes into the season? If you had someone watch the first 4 episodes of Season 1 and asked them to critique it, they would probably be rattling off about the same things you are.

Westworld is clearly a show that requires you to see the entire season before being able to really grasp what the hell has happened. Give it time.

Avatar image for adso777
Adso777

@GM_Strykr: well. Now that it's over I'd say this article it's even more on point.

Avatar image for chrishayner
chrishayner

@GM_Strykr: Four episodes into Season 1 and I was beyond hooked. Season 2 has been all over the map. The premiere was bad. Episode 2 was great. 3, forgettable, 4 intriguing.

Avatar image for ukiyostudio
ukiyostudio

Season 2 is so much more character driven than season 1 its not even funny. Season 2 is way more captivating. Now that the veil of order holding back chaos has been removed from the equation, we're left with chaos. And what do characters do in the face of chaos. How do they handle chaos. Season 1 offered us the idea the people escape life in fantasy. Now we get to see how they handle hardship without any chance of escape.

That's WAY the hell more interesting. I have no idea what show you're watching.

Avatar image for adso777
Adso777

@ukiyostudio: you joking? S1 is a masterpiece . S2 is a piece of garbage.

Avatar image for croxus
Croxus

@ukiyostudio:

Like watching Jurassic Park and start complaining when the dinos got off their cage...

Avatar image for calibretto9
Calibretto9

@ukiyostudio: I agree 100%. I thought the first episode was a little slow, but since then it's picked up so much steam. I'm finding myself enjoying this season more than season 1. Definitely disagree with author.

Avatar image for resonantpictures
ResonantPictures

I disagree with the conclusion that the show isn't working. It is ironic that this article would be written after what is arguably one of the best episodes of the series. Sometimes it seems Westworld is a show that gives back in equal measure what a viewer gives in. Some people don't like that, so I can understand how it isn't universally liked, but I would say I am happy with the progression and have not seen any degredation in the show.

Avatar image for ukiyostudio
ukiyostudio

@resonantpictures: This.

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BongaConga

Season 1 was ok, I fell asleep only 4 or 5 times.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

Episode 4 was bloody incredible....be patient Gamespot...then again- Gamespot critiquing a TV show....

Avatar image for Fia1
Fia1

episode 4 of season 2 is insanely good, it's the best episode i've seen of westworld and i've watched all of it till this point, i do agree episode 1 to 3 of season 2 are kinda mediocre and it feels they changed so much things, but after this episode i think this is getting really interesting.

Avatar image for EMelville
EMelville

Westworld was fun while Westworld was running smoothly. That was interesting to watch.

Avatar image for sebb
SebB

Despite that it works for me. I’m more intrigued in the plot now compared to season 1. And I’m really enjoying the show. Either the robots will take over humanity or live peacefully side by side with them. Or maybe we get a nuclear war and the planet gets wiped out but I think there are also colonies on other planets. Can’t remember.

Avatar image for SOedipus
SOedipus

Yeah, it blows.

Avatar image for DuskStrider
DuskStrider

The retracing of steps is starting to feel like the flashbacks in Lost season 3... You know, where they ran out of ideas and made so that Sawyer has in prison randomly, Kate was married for a while and Jack went on holiday to Thailand by himself to have some fun... yeah...

Avatar image for kachal
kachal

On this very website on numerous articles, I commented that due to inconsistency and large scope of the show (lots of unanswered questions), this show gonna flop. And people wouldn't believe me.

Avatar image for spacecannon
spacecannon

season 2 is far better than season 1.

Avatar image for Martin_Pagan
Martin_Pagan

I stopped watching this show halfway through season 1 when I realised this was just another of the "new wave" TV series like "Battlestar: Galactica" and "Stargate: Universe" where everyone's a douchebag, everyone has an agenda, and there are more twists and turns than I can wrap my head around with things being left deliberately obtuse and confusing. The idiotic, illogical behaviour of the two techs in Maeve's plot was just the final straw.

Avatar image for Dilandau88
Dilandau88

@Martin_Pagan: I believe it's called 'drama'. Movies use it occasionally.

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Sadek

They should change the name to "Lostworld".

Avatar image for chrishayner
chrishayner

@Sadek: Jurassic Park 2?

Avatar image for karin2049au
karin2049AU

Agreed, season 2 is plain boring. They are just going in circles around... pretty much nothing. Kind of a lamer version of "Lost"

Avatar image for cfscorpio
cfscorpio

I agree. The biggest problem for me is the forced mystery. There doesn't seem to be any real mystery to what's going on, the show is just purposefully keeping you in the dark all the time. I'm also not invested in any of the character's storylines this season.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

i cancelled Foxtel recently. It was just lame compared to Netflix. I can't see how it survives.

Avatar image for zeppelin712
zeppelin712

"But so far in Season 2, Bill is just retracing his steps. He fetched Lawrence from another bind, returned to that same little town, and has continued to act like this is all a game. To Bill, Westworld was always more real than the real world, so it makes sense that he'd continue playing exactly as he did before, even though the stakes are suddenly so high."

Did you even watch the episode? William is retracing his steps, sure. But if you say he's playing it exactly as he did before, you couldn't be further from the truth. In season 1 he was the one terrorizing the town. He killed the barkeep and Lawrence's wife to get information about the maze. This time, upon witnessing Lawrence and his wife about to be brutally exploded, he flashes back to his dead wife, and you can see he's conflicted. Ultimately he decides to save them. He didn't have to. He doesn't need Lawrence, or his wife. He would have arguably been better off staying allied with the confederados.

"If you're looking forward, you're looking in the wrong direction."

He needs to look back, to when he first entered the park and chose the white hat, and we just saw the first glimpse of it. I think you might need to watch the episode again if you think he's not developing as a character.

TLDR: I didn't mean for this to be so long and ranty. Just one example of why this article is trash. Written by someone who already decided they hate the season before they even watched it.

Avatar image for Fia1
Fia1

@zeppelin712: yeah episode 4 of season 2 westworld was insanely good, the part of james delos and william was chilling for me, it was great imo

Avatar image for quag-daddy
Quag-Daddy

For the most part I agree with all this. - ...But is like to add, that it feels so much like Lost this season, and as much as I loved Lost, I just can’t stomach the slow and confusing pace anymore.

Avatar image for Terrorantula
Terrorantula

Season 1 was amazing, but the story was wrapped up perfectly. I haven’t even bothered watching season 2, I don’t want to ruin my memory of the show.... I just don’t see the point in continuing the story.

Avatar image for adso777
Adso777

@Terrorantula: I wish I had done the same. Instead I watched it and totally ruined my S1 experience. What can I say? You were wiser than me 😕

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DocMARs

Small nitpick: Game of Thrones Season 8 is actually coming out next year, not 7. :)

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Skittymiao

@DocMARs: Well, Gamespot is dying, so, move along....

Avatar image for chrismmm
Chrismmm

Yea. Westworld season 2 holds a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is the fourth-highest rated series on HBO. But it isn’t working. Typical nerd contrarian b-s, just like the review of Deadpool 2.

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Chrismmm

@timmyp1982: It’s an aggregate site, dumbass, but you probably dont know what that means.

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Chrismmm

@timmyp1982: You sound like an adolescent so I’m going to end this conversation here.

Avatar image for saturatedbutter
SaturatedButter

LESS.

NUDITY.

This is the only answer. Season 1 was crammed with a lot of sex and nudity. Westworld guests doin' the dirty with robots, and robots getting interrogated in the buck. None of that is happening in Season 2.

Avatar image for deactivated-5b2c8e0382c99

This has never been a good show.

Avatar image for Baconstrip78
Baconstrip78

@frosty988: Not enough super heros and transforming robots for you?

Avatar image for deactivated-5b2c8e0382c99

@Baconstrip78: Good one.

Avatar image for autumnvarela
AutumnVarela

"Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?"

That was the big question in episode 1. They abandoned that question midway through season 1 when Maeve just turned up her intelligence and instantly knew everything. The show destroyed itself at that point.

Avatar image for acerimmer
AceRimmer

@autumnvarela That's pretty much right on the money. The Maeve story line just ruined it for me. Everything about it was ridiculous and idiotic. Bernard and William (William primarily) is the only reason I'm still interested.

Avatar image for beowulf1211
beowulf1211

They’re diving deep into the characters. Do you just wanna see Delores get shot everyday? I think it’s going great so far.

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