Westworld is one of HBO's biggest TV shows, but it has a lot of issues it needs to fix in season 3. The second run of the A.I.-centric drama, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, wasn't as well-received as the first, with the writing creating a number of problems. The good news, though, is that they should all be easy enough to put right.
Launched back in 2016, Westworld, based upon the eponymous movie by Michael Chricton, centers around the titular theme park, which is filled with robot 'hosts' and where guests can live out their deepest, darkest, and weirdest desires. With a sprawling cast, huge budget, and lots of sex and violence, Westworld is HBO's biggest attempt so far at crafting a replacement for Game of Thrones, but it's not even close to it yet.
Westworld started strongly, with a premiere episode that pulled in more viewers than Game of Thrones' did, and plenty of critical acclaim too, with praise for its production values, cast, and twisty plot. Season 2, on the other hand, saw the show lose viewers and come in for some heavier criticism, largely for its writing. Westworld will return for season 3 sometime next year, so just how can it get itself back on track?
Westworld Needs Less Timeline Jumping
The first season of Westworld had a big trick up its sleeve: although the action we were seeing was being presented to us in a linear fashion, it was secretly happening across multiple temporalities. This allowed the show to deliver its biggest twists, becoming a key part of its labyrinthine narrative. It worked to keep us guessing (although fans did figure out some major plot points), but it also helped to develop characters and push different stories forward in exciting directions.
However, once the multiple timelines were revealed and the story as presented to viewers essentially coalesced, there wasn't much reason to stick with the format, or at least not as much as they did. Season 2 doubled-down on this, playing around with even more time periods, typically within the same episode, but without any of the same sense of purpose. In season 1, the timelines served the narrative. In season 2, they were the narrative, with Westworld using them for cheap tricks and seemingly just because they could, rather than focusing on a good story.
With where Westworld leaves things at the end of season 2, there still needs to be a couple of timelines, but that should be it. It can tell a strong linear story by picking up with Dolores, Bernard, and Charlotte and progressing from there, while hopping into the future to pick up with William. But it mustn't continue to jump all over the place for the sake of continuing the gimmick, when that comes at the cost of good storytelling.
Don't Be Afraid Of Reddit & Fan Theories
Both seasons of Westworld so far have been at least partially defined by fan theories, albeit in very different ways. It's the kind of show that, with a mysterious plot and plenty of surprises, is naturally going to invite a lot of speculation and theorizing, in a similar vein to, say, Lost. That provided plenty of fun for viewers in the first year, but it did also mean that a number of the show's biggest twists - including William being the Man in Black, which was designed to be its trump card - were figured out ahead of time.
For season 2, then, Jonathan Nolan actively wanted to prevent theorists from figuring out the twists, and even went so far as to Rickrolling fans after promising to reveal spoilers before the season aired. That might've been intended in good humor, but it was indicative of how Nolan and Joy allowed Reddit to dictate so much of their writing for season 2. The onus was less on building twists organically, regardless of whether they'd be figured out or not, and now simply trying to confound viewers so that nothing would be solved. The problem with that, though, is the result wasn't a triumphant, rewarding plot, but just a more convoluted story that put twists and fooling its audience ahead of story and character.
Plot twists are always going to be a big part of Westworld. They're baked into the fabric of the show, and it's not even a bad thing. Part of the fun of a show like Westworld is being a more active participant by theorizing on what's going to happen. People figured it out in season 1 but, because the twists were earned by the story, it still worked. In season 3, they need to embrace, or at least ignore, the fan theories, rather than being afraid of them.
Have A Tighter Cast
As is the case with Game of Thrones, Westworld as a huge ensemble cast filled with some brilliant talent. While this works for Thrones, though, Westworld hasn't quite been able to pull off the same kind of balancing act so far. With the majority of characters concentrated in the same location, it doesn't quite have the same need to break them up, but more so it hasn't been able to develop them all fully either.
There's great potential in characters such as Maeve, Dolores, William, and Bernard, but on top of the Reddit-baiting writing that impacts them, there's also the fact so many other people are involved. It's a lot of screentime to go around, and means Westworld can't give enough focus to its most important characters. Instead of having so many people on screen (Westworld had 20 main cast members in season 2, and almost 60 named characters including the recurring and guest appearances), it'd be better off keeping things tighter. They can still be split up into different groups, but it would at least allow for them to have more development, and stop the story from running away from them.
Don't Lose Sight Of The Parks
Although Westworld at first only introduced us to the titular park, it teased at least one more land towards the end of season 1. That promise was followed up on in season 2 with the introduction of Shogun World, and we also got to see The Raj as well. Neither park was given a huge amount of attention though - although Shogun World did get some great scenes with Maeve, and an excellent cover of "Paint It Black" - while it was revealed there are six parks in total.
We've only seen three of them, but now Westworld is leaving the parks altogether for the real world in season 3. That offers up its own sense of excitement, but it further risks losing sight of the parks, which should be the story's main setting. With so many of the principal characters on the outside, it's going to be hard to dive deeper into the mysteries and secrets of what else Delos has built.
In theory, the possibilities for these parks are endless. So far we've seen themes around the Wild West, one around Japanese history and culture, and another based on, er, colonialism in India, all of which are interesting enough and provide good launch pads for drama, but what else is there? With the ability to do almost anything, Westworld currently risks doing nothing.
Develop Human Characters And Genuine Stakes
Westworld has a problem balancing its cast, but when it comes to development it has an even bigger one in terms of its human characters. It's understandable - if sometimes frustrating - how they handle the hosts: they're re-programable, so Dolores becoming Wyatt, or Bernard struggling with his memories, do make some degree of sense. But the human characters should have a more solid grounding in terms of who they are, and what they're doing, while still being interesting to watch.
That's something Westworld hasn't yet achieved. Outside of the Man in Black - who is now a host-human hybrid anyway - and Dr Ford, the series has struggled to do much of anything with its human characters. It's the hosts who get the exciting plot lines, but also more of the emotional development too. That might be because of its attempt at commentary on what makes us human, but it's also born from its desire to keep us guessing so much about who is a host and who isn't. Since seemingly just about anyone can be a host, or can survive as one after their death, it makes it difficult to craft compelling human drama, and also leaves the show without another key element of rich storytelling: stakes.
So far on Westworld we've seen a lot of people apparently die, but very few actually stay dead. If things can be reset, people can come back in some way or another, and choices don't necessarily last, then why should we care about the things that are happening? In season 3, Westworld needs to build up genuinely great human characters - perhaps the addition of Aaron Paul can help - especially as it's going to the outside world, and finally introduce some real stakes as well.