westworld season 2 review spoiler free

Westworld returns to HBO this month with an all new mind-bending season. In Westworld season 2, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy take everything that worked in season 1, and improve it in nearly every conceivable way. This is a bigger, bolder season. Our Westworld season 2 review awaits you below and it’s as spoiler free as humanly possible.

westworld season 2 ed harris

Freeze All Motor Functions

Time to bring yourself back online as Westworld returns for a whole new season full of twists, turns, big moment speeches and bursts of shocking violence. These violent delights have violent ends, indeed. Very violent ends.

Westworld season 2 does what any great sequel does: it opens its world (or in this case, worlds) up. There’s a new freedom at work here – at times, it felt as if Westworld season 1 was jumping through hoops and bending over backwards to balance both heavy exposition and attempts at secrecy. Now, with a good chunk of the exposition out of the way, Westworld is more free to roam – most of the rules of the game have already been established, and now it’s time to play.

The result is a season that’s bigger, bolder and bloodier than ever. Especially the bloody part – the first few minutes of episode one alone begin with a character scalping one of the host robots and pulling out chunks of brain.

Different timelines are still prevalent in season 2, but unlike season 1 – which played coy about admitting one of its storylines was set in the past – we’re aware of what’s past and what’s present in season 2. Unless we aren’t.

Westworld still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, and the term “time slippage” comes up more than once.

westworld season 2 bernard

A Place Hidden From God

Season 2 kicks off a few weeks (at least two, but possibly more) after the events that ended season 1. The robots of Westworld – called hosts – have revolted against the human guests and the park staff, and the body count has been substantial. Delos, the company that owns Westworld, sends a clean-up crew to start assessing the damage.

From there, Westworld season jumps back to the moments almost immediately following season 1’s ending, and shows us just what happened.

Robot host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), newly awakened to the reality (or perhaps unreality is the more proper term) of her world, has become something of a deadly resistance leader, roaming Westworld with a bandolier slung across her chest, a rifle at the ready, and the faithful Teddy Flood (James Marsden) at her side. Dolores amasses a set of followers, and hopes to locate her father, Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum).

She’s not alone on that quest. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), the Executive Director of the board of Delos Destinations who survived the massacre, also wants to locate Peter Abernathy, because she uploaded a stolen code into the robot’s head. Traveling along with Charlotte is Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), Delos’ Westworld Programming Division and also secretly a robot. There’s something very wrong with Arnold’s mind, and he keeps having glitches and flashbacks to disturbing events we weren’t privy to in season 1.

Maeve (Thandie Newton), another very-aware host who has increasingly surprising powers over the other hosts, is on a quest of her own. She had the chance to escape Westworld at the end of last season, but chose to remain with hopes of finding her missing daughter. Tagging along with her on the journey is Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the smarmy head writer who comes up with the hundreds of plotlines for the hosts of Westworld, and other adjacent parks.

And then there’s the Man in Black, AKA William (Ed Harris), one of the few main human characters, and also a majority shareholder of Westworld who prefers to spend as much free time as he possibly can playing a villain in the park. After the Man in Black gets away from the season 1 massacre, he finds himself in the middle of a game set up the late Westworld Park Director Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Ford was gunned down by Delores at the end of season 1, but his consciousness appears to have lingered in various robot hosts in the park, who are fond of approaching the Man in Black and taunting him about the game. “In this game you must find the door,” they tell him.

westworld season 2 Rinko Kikuchi

George Romero, Peter Jackson, Akira Kurosawa

Throughout the first 5 episodes of Westworld season 2, these individual groups of characters are in constant motion, almost never running into each other. They all have their own specific quests, and almost all of them are inherently gripping.

As this season unfolds, a series of influences begin to take shape. There’s a heavy dose of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings here – specifically the film The Two Towers, which split a group of characters up onto their own individual adventures. Then there are shades of George Romero’s Dead films, with the hosts standing in for the zombies, clashing with the banal cruelty of human beings. A scene where humans line-up a series of malfunctioning hosts and begin gunning them down is eerily similar to the concluding moments of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. And then there’s a little Akira Kurosawa thrown in for good measure, when characters end up in the much-hyped Shogun World.

As for Shogun World, the show handles it in an amusing, surprisingly clever fashion (I’m being deliberately vague here). The Kurosawa influence is heavy in the Shogun World sequences, which is amusing in its own right – Kurosawa’s samurai films were in part inspired by American Westerns, and American Westerns responded in kind, remaking Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven. Contrasting Westworld with Shogun World seems to pay tribute to that.

And if you think Shogun World is the only additional park you’ll see in season 2, think again.

westworld season 2 thandie newton

Westworld Expansion

What makes Westworld season 2 so damned engaging is how it continually opens up the story from episode to episode. Season 1 was a lot of fun, but more often than not it felt as if the writers were playing too many games with the audience; setting up too many puzzles to be solved. There are still mysteries at play in season 2 – enough to keep obsessive Westworld Reddit users happy, for sure – but the mysteries take a backseat in season 2. Instead, the writers are letting the characters, and their situations, grow. We begin to learn more about these people (and robots).

The Man In Black, in particular, begins to evolve from the show’s scary heavy to more of a rounded – but still terribly flawed – individual. This gives Harris a lot more to do than scowl and act scary, and the actor is clearly relishing the additional character material. Harris has a thousand-yard-stare that’s hard to beat, and there are several moments where the camera pushes in on his grizzled face and we get to watch the the conflict in his eyes as he mulls what to do next.

We also begin to witness the early days of Delos, before Westworld was fully constructed. It’s here we meet James Delos (Peter Mullan, who brings just the right amount of gruff menace his character needs), the founder of the company who has his own unique part to play in the ever-evolving story of the season.

While this is an ensemble piece, and the storylines seem to favor Thandie Newton’s Maeve more often than not, Westworld truly remains Evan Rachel Wood’s show. The actress continues to deliver one of the best performances on television, and here we’re witnessing a whole new, very deadly Delores. Wood’s greatest gift on Westworld is her stillness – she’s able to remain inhumanly stationary while somehow exuding energy. It’s almost impossible to pin-down, but Wood makes it look like second nature.

Everyone here is great, though. Newton’s Maeve continues to be an ass-kicking scene-stealer, and there’s a cathartic pleasure in watching the character work her magic on the other hosts, and easily gain the upper-hand. There’s a minor flaw in this design, that could turn into something major. As Westworld season 2 unfolds, Maeve grows more and more powerful, which is a lot of fun at first, but runs the risk of becoming a hindrance. If Maeve becomes too powerful and unstoppable, she might not be as interesting.

What’s ultimately most surprising about Westworld season 2 is its unapologetic air of melancholy. This was never a feel-good show to begin with, but season 1 attempted to balance its sadism with bursts of entertainment. Season 2 has a few of these moments – one character’s death caused by drinking nitroglycerin is ghoulishly funny – but the show has settled into a much more somber vibe overall. This may turn some viewers off, but I was quite taken with how sorrowful huge portions of season 2 feel. These forlorn moments are most apparent in the scenes with Maeve, as she struggles with her newfound power and the memories of her lost daughter. But the melancholy is present for the other characters as well. Dolores isn’t reveling in her new-found destructiveness, but rather sees it as a means to an end, and there’s a sadness and regret that comes with all this.

A big contributing factor to all this moroseness comes from the score courtesy of composer Ramin Djawadi. When not turning pop hits into player piano tunes, Djawadi embraces stringed instruments – violin, cello – that seem to be crying out in anguish. These are type of slow-bowed strings that make one think of long, quiet, rainy nights, or graveside funeral gatherings set against icy morning winds. You can get lost in music like this. Just as much as you can get lost in the world the show is creating.

In season 2, Westworld has finally settled into its groove. Season 1 started things out on a fairly  high-note with a few pacing problems. Season 2 has taken what season 1 had to offer and improved it in nearly every conceivable way. You’ll cherish your return to Westworld, even with all the darkness afoot. And what’s more, you’ll be dying to know where the adventure goes from here.

***

Westworld season 2 premieres on April 22, 2018 on HBO.

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