TL;DR – When it works it is some of the best TV on the planet at the moment, when it doesn’t well at least it is still well shot and acted.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
With The Passenger (see review) coming to a close we have reached the end of Westworld’s Season Two. It was a season of competing timelines, the coming of a war, a mother searching for her child, and a lone warrior standing up when everyone needed him too. Today we are going to look at the highs and lows of Westworld’s sophomore season as we return to the holiday destination now turned into a massacre. So say goodbye The Maze and hello to The Door.
So to set the scene, at the end of Season One after a long season of trying to find out what is at the centre of the maze it is revealed not to be a prize or reward, but instead, it is the consciousness/sentience of the hosts, for they Wake Up. Important members of the Delos board find this out the hard way when at the celebration dinner for what they all think is Robert’s (Anthony Hopkins) final ever storyline. Instead, what they witnessed was history repeating itself when Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) walks up and shoots Robert in the back of the head, just like she had done with Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) all those years before. However, unlike all those years before it didn’t stop there and ‘These Violent Delights’ spreads through the hosts who turn on the guests shooting them where they stand now apparently free of the restrictions not to harm them. We start Journey into Night (see review) two weeks after the shooting as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) wakes up on an ocean shore only to immediately run into Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) and the leader of the response team Karl (Gustaf Skarsgård). What we find is a park in chaos as Dolores has started a crusade, slaughtering the humans and putting her band together with the goal of taking over the world, no not Westworld, the world. However, this is not a season of just one timeline and soon we are jumping back to the moments after the revolution happened, to two weeks later, and even going back into the distant past.
Now as I said from the outset this is a season of highs and lows, and before I get into the lows, I do want to take some time talking about the highs because when this season worked it was absolutely beautiful. We cannot talk about the highs without talking about all the production work that went into this season and here is where I will start with the composer of this season’s score Ramin Djawadi. When you talk about the musical score for Westworld the first thing you think of is the expertly covered songs that are translated into the musical language of the show. For example, you have The White Stripe’s Seven Nation Army playing on the sitar as we pan into The Raj in Virtù e Fortuna (see review), or the Rolling Stone’s Paint it Black and the Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. in Akane No Mai (see review). Now yes, of course, this is an important part of the musical feel of the show, something you look out for once you know it is there and Ramin is so good at it. As well as this, I have really been impressed this season with how he has crafted the orchestral sound of the show. Music is one of those things that quite often you don’t notice until it is gone or something is wrong with it, but this season his score has crafted moments of sheer beauty.
To add to this, the production design of the show is still stellar. The costumes are perfect, the sets are fascinating, the locations are amazing, and as I mention in one of my reviews that this season they have weaponised sunsets. This is a season that we finally got out of the Westworld park and got to explore both The Raj and Shogun World and here out of their comfort zone they still created unique worlds that you kind of wish we had gotten to explore a bit more.
Where we hit the lows is with some of the stories this season that just didn’t have the same impact as last season and at times felt like a missed opportunity. In the Season One, there were these two big ‘oh my god’ moments in the series that had the whole internet freaking out about. The first was when Bernard was revealed to be a host, and the second was when William (Jimmi Simpson) puts on the hat and we realise that we are in two different timelines. Because these were the plot beats that resonated so much with people in Season One you can understand them wanting to use them again but this is where it all falls apart. While the two timelines were really interesting at the start and did resolve itself in the finale, the narrative legwork needed to keep it going really lead to large chunks of the season to feel like it was dragging.
Adding to this, there were a couple of moments in the season that they teased the timelines crashing together only to be like whoops not this time, and there can only be so many ‘Our Princess is in Another Castle’ moments. I think for me these issues were exacerbated by a lot of the season focusing on Dolores and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) two characters that I didn’t care about from about The Riddle of the Sphinx (see review) onwards. Dolores was one of the most fascinating characters in Season One, but here she became one note and after the novelty of her killing the guests and staff wears off it became frustrating and the Man in Black is just a repugnant character. This culminates in Vanishing Point (see review) where both of them lose the ones most dear to them through their own actions and while the show makes you want to feel sympathy for them, I was having none of it. At least for Dolores, they set up an interesting direction for her in Season Three and it was clear that Evan Rachel Wood is throwing everything at the role.
While there is that frustration there were moments in the season where the story did shine and showed just how powerful it could be. The first example is clearly the whole episode of Kiksuya (see review) which might be the best episode I have seen in the series. Here we get introduced to the story of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) where when talking to Maeve (Thandie Newton) through her daughter (Jasmyn Rae). It is in the episode that we get the context to something that had been happening in the background and hinted about all season, it was full of big reveals, but unlike a lot of the episode, it worked because the kept it simple. This is a man telling the story of his life in his own language and that is such a powerful drive you don’t need to add stuff like multiple timelines to it to make it shine. This is amplified by some amazing acting from Zahn as well as Martin Sensmeier, Irene Bedard, Booboo Stewart & Julia Jones.
The other storyline that has been compelling to the point where it was the thing that was pulling me through the season was the story of Maeve trying to find her daughter. At the end of Season One, she had a choice where she could have left Westworld before the chaos erupted, but she could not leave her daughter behind, with monsters like the Man in Black roaming around. So throughout the season, she built up a team hunted to the ends of the park and beyond with one purpose. In the finale, she finally is reunited with her daughter but she has to sacrifice herself in order to save her. Now yes this is an old trope, but when it is excellently written and performed it is a wonder to behold and it was. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of this season was just how good the acting was with Tessa Thompson, Shannon Woodward, James Marsden, Anthony Hopkins, and more were giving these powerful performances. Yes you have the big set-piece moments, but then you have these smaller and no less powerful moments throughout the show like with Logan (Ben Barnes) desperately asking his father James (Peter Mullan) for help and being turned down or Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) bringing the heart of her daughter Sakura (Kiki Sukezane) home. Seriously, I think a lot of these are Emmy winning performances, and I would not be surprised to see a big turnout there.
In the end, do we recommend Season Two of Westworld? And well this is actually a tough question to answer. When it works it is amazing and there are some real standout episodes here, and the finale did tie everything up and then propel it forward at warp speed. However, there is a lot and I mean a lot of moving people into place just to make the two timelines work, and that is a struggle to get through. I know there are some people that have stopped watching and are just catching up on the synopses, and I think that is a shame because even when the story does not work, it is a beautifully framed, scored, and acted show.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen Westworld yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Westworld
Directed by – Richard J. Lewis, Vincenzo Natali, Richard J. Lewis, Lisa Joy, Craig Zobel, Tarik Saleh, Nicole Kassell, Uta Briesewitz, Stephen Williams & Frederick E.O. Toye
Written by – Lisa Joy, Roberto Patino, Carly Wray, Jonathan Nolan, Ron Fitzgerald, Gina Atwater, Dan Dietz & Jordan Goldberg,
Based off – Westworld by Michael Crichton
Created by – Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Music by – Ramin Djawadi
Starring in Season Two – Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Rodrigo Santoro, Angela Sarafyan, Zahn McClarnon, Shannon Woodward, Ed Harris, Clifton Collins Jr., Talulah Riley, Louis Herthum, Katja Herbers, Gustaf Skarsgård, Fares Fares & Anthony Hopkins with Ben Barnes, Neil Jackson, Jimmi Simpson, Oliver Bell, Giancarlo Esposito, Betty Gabriel, Christopher May, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Tao Okamoto, Kiki Sukezane, Jasmyn Rae, Martin Sensmeier, Irene Bedard, Booboo Stewart & Julia Jones.