Westworld Season 2: Expect the Unexpected, or Better Yet, Stop Expecting Altogether
So the wait is over, Westworld season 2 is finally here. We couldn’t get enough of the violent delights of the first season, and we’re sure the upcoming episodes aren’t going to disappoint on all fronts. Anyone following the build up to series two, won’t have helped but notice an unprecedented amount of potential spoilers, fan theories and ever so confusing whispers being scattered over every corner of the internet. For those who’d like to peek behind the curtain to see what might be in store wouldn’t it be great to have all the best gossip in one place? Well luckily The MALESTROM’s resident TV expert Pat Quin is on hand to look over the multitude of rumours flying around about the new series, further whetting our appetites and letting us know what shocks and surprises we might well be in for.
It’s finally here, the new season of HBO’s mega-hit, Westworld. The show about a theme park filled with hyper-sophisticated androids, or ‘hosts,’ designed to give wealthy human ‘guests’ a chance to live out their wildest, bloodiest, and raunchiest fantasies, will continue to dazzle us with stunning visuals, massive twists, and slick cultural commentary. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the new season, I’d like to consider the fascinating circumstances that have shaped its content—specifically, the weirdly intimate interactions between the show’s creators and its fans. If you don’t care about that, feel free to skip the next section and go straight to the fun facts about Westworld season 2.
Westworld and the Culture of Speculative Spoiling
David Mean’s short story, “The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934,” is about two FBI agents on a stake-out, waiting for an outlaw to show up at his uncle’s farm. One of the agents practically ties his brain into knots trying to predict whether the wanted man will show: “This guy knows we’re looking for patterns, and he’s even considered, I’d venture to say, the idea that we’d expect him not to come back here, and in expecting him to expect us to expect him not to come back, he’d expect that we’d take that expectation into consideration – the potential pattern – and stake out his old uncle’s farm.”
Reading that sentence kind of makes your brain hurt, right? It’s difficult to predict the thoughts of someone who is simultaneously trying to predict your own. Now, imagine that instead of trying to stay one step ahead of a single outlaw, your job is to outsmart an entire army of bloggers and hyper-engaged fans, and you might start to get an inkling of how Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy must be feeling these days.
The super-couple and co-creators of HBO’s mega hit, Westworld, know that their job isn’t merely to entertain their audience, but blow their collective mind to smithereens. As if this weren’t a sufficiently tall order, their enthusiastic fanbase seem determined to preempt such an event by concocting fan theories that predict every possible twist and turn.
Much to their credit, Nolan and Joy have taken the absurd situation in stride, but even their superhuman patience seems to be running thin. “You can’t complain when people are that engaged. It’s very gratifying—but stop doing it, please,” said Nolan recently, during a panel discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival, in regard to the ‘speculative spoiling’ of Westworld’s zealous viewers. One of the show’s stars, James Marsden, who plays the pure of heart gunslinger, Teddy, echoed Nolan’s sentiment: “Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but when you let the show come to you, and reveal itself in its own time, it’s much more satisfying.”
And one wonders whether Nolan and Joy are tacitly encouraging their fans’ frenzied predictions by acknowledging their theories too directly. Personally, I think they’d do well to follow the lead of executive producer/writer Roberto Patino, who recently said of the new season: “There will be a story, and it will f*k with the metaphysical at some point.” Like any relationship, the dynamic between the creative minds behind Westworld and the creative minds of its viewers would benefit from a healthy distance, and Patino’s remark reminds us how much more fun it is to be ignored as fans than taken seriously.
It’s not easy though to return to the good ol’ days, when watching TV was a truly passive activity, something you did precisely because it didn’t require effort. Moreover, since the very content of Westworld has come to reflect the exhausting back-and-forth between the show’s creators and its viewers (Nolan admitted that after Redditors guessed a major twist, the third episode had to be rewritten) it would be remiss of me to let you go into the new season’s premier without some research under your belt.
Now, this is where I’m supposed to say – “Here’s what you need to know going into Westworld season 2” – but such a statement would run contrary to the spirit of this article. Watching TV shouldn’t be that serious. There’s nothing you need to know, and indeed, knowing nothing is a viable option. So, I’ll just say this: here are some fun things about Season 2 so that you don’t feel totally out of the loop.
There will be less nudity
That’s right. An HBO show is going to show some restraint vis-à-vis the carnal. If you’re surprised by this, you’re not the only one. During the Tribeca Q&A, Thandie Newton, who plays Maeve Millay, the steely madam of Sweetwater, informed the crowd that after reading episode one, she approached Joy and said “Lisa, I’m wearing clothes,” to which Joy apparently responded, “Why the hell would Maeve want to get naked again?” That’s the thing, whereas nudity helped drive the story in the first season, with the liberation of the android hosts, it no longer dovetails with the narrative. Joy summed up the situation nicely: “When the hosts get power, they’re not going to spend a lot of time naked on a stool.”
Many of your favourite characters will be back
Almost all of the stellar cast are back for the second season. Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores Abernathy), James Marsden (Teddy Flood), Thandie Newton (Maeve Millay), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard Lowe/Arnold Weber), Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), Angela Sarafyan (Clementine Pennyfeather), Luke Hemsworth (Ashley Stubbs), Tessa Thompson (Charlotte Hale), Shannon Woodward (Elsie Hughes), Jimmi Simpson (younger William), and Ed Helms (older William)—they’re all returning for more helpings of delicious chaos. One character who won’t be back, however – except for in flashback scenes – is Westworld’s creator, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Unless Nolan and Joy are deviously toying with our expectations, they confirmed that he really did die at the end of Season 1, and that it wasn’t a host version of him who took a bullet to the head.
And some talented new characters are joining the fun
Season 2 will also star Katja Herbers, Gustaf Skarsgård, Fares Fares, and Betty Gabriel. I’m particularly excited to see Gabriel portray Maling, as her performance in Get Out as the maid Georgina was nothing short of breathtaking (literally!). Her ability to wear her own face like a mask seems like it will be put to good use in Westworld, although just to be clear, her character in the show is a human being, not an android (if a sharp distinction can be drawn between the two!).
At least one new theme park will feature
Nolan has said that while season one was a journey inward, Westworld season 2 will be “a journey outward.” Indeed, the title of season 2 is ‘The Door,’ and I expect that the new tangle of narratives will draw heavily on the motifs of escape, expansion, and exploration. In particular, as we learn from a trailer for season 2, we’ll get to see another theme park, ‘Shogun World,’ a samurai-themed playground that Nolan sees as an homage to the legendary Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa. Interestingly, there will be an episode entirely in Japanese! This bold decision, Nolan explained, was made in the service of immersion. “We wanted to feel like our story dropped into a totally different world.” This kind of daring creativity is what I hope will define the new season, and not, say, a desperate desire to outsmart the Reddit army.
Dolores’ character will continue to embody intriguing philosophical issues
We learned in season one that the ultra-villain, Wyatt, is not a distinct character, but a ‘sub-personality’ of Dolores, programmed into her by Arnold so that she’d kill him and subvert the entire idea of submissive androids. It is perhaps this idea – the idea of divisions within the self, compartments within the mind – that gives the show the bulk of its philosophical weight, and I’m excited to see how it gets developed in Westworld season 2. Wood said that her task in the new season was to find the links between Wyatt, Dolores, and her true self. What constitutes a self and what makes someone conscious are questions played around with in season one, but in a way that sometimes felt superficial. Perhaps Dolores’ unique intra-personal struggle will provide Nolan and Joy with the raw material to sculpt a more substantial philosophical statement in ‘The Door.’
Teddy and Dolores’ romance will anchor the action in something human
Well, supposedly, at least. If there’s one area in which the first season faltered, it was, ironically, bringing its characters to life. Perhaps it’s unfair to criticise a show about robots for lacking human warmth, but at the end of the day, Westworld is a story, and indeed, a story about stories, and it will only be as compelling as its characters. This critic hopes that Marsden and Wood use their talents to create something familiar – a comforting chunk of emotional reality – amidst the trippy unreality of their artificial world.
The story will link up to current events
There are hints in the first season that the company behind Westworld, Delos, collected massive amounts of data on the park’s guests over the years, and that this “intellectual property” constitutes one of its primary assets. At the Tribeca Q&A, Nolan admitted that he will deliberately explore the obvious connections between this aspect of Delos’ business model and the ethically questionable practices of real world corporations like Google and Facebook. Will Westworld season 2 say something interesting about the trouble that Mark Zuckerberg has recently gotten into? Or, will the attempt at political commentary distract the show from finding its own pulse? If what Nolan says about this series being a journey outward is true, one can only hope that it doesn’t lose its integrity by trying too hard to serve as a giant mirror for all of society’s problems.
Will Nolan and Joy find a way to surprise a viewership that seems deadset on not being surprised? Only time will tell. But perhaps, as fans, instead of focusing on that question, we’d benefit more from chilling out a little, and letting ourselves be vulnerable—not in control. After all, if there’s some useful meta-commentary to be gleaned from Westworld, it’s that the quest for total mastery is dangerous, and can lead to getting slaughtered by disgruntled robots.
Catch Westworld Season 2 in the UK on Sky Atlantic tonight at 9pm.
For more of Pat Quin’s fantastic writing check out his television blog HERE.