Warning: Spoilers for Westworld Season 2 Episodes 1-4.
Westworld Season 2 has thus far proven a mixed bag, and the root of its problems are a near-obsessive approach to multiple timelines. Once the show's ace, it's become an interchangeable predictable and tiring trope, and in Episode 4 goes simply too far.
That Westworld has struggled with the tricky second album is somewhat surprising given how much of the broad story is mapped out by the concept. The show is based on Michael Crichton's 1973 film of the same name depicting a futuristic theme park gone wrong where the robot hosts turn on their guests with bloody precision (although many of its ideas of robot identity and nefarious corporate dealings didn't manifest until sequel Futureworld), and HBO made clear there was five-season plan from the off. Given how Season 1 was very much focused on getting up to the original's starting point - it ended with creator Ford allowing himself to be killed by way of host Dolores gaining consciousness and in the process untethering the rest of the robots - it was assumed Season 2 had it easy: it's finally delving into the base premise.
However, the first four episodes have been tough going. The show is still incredibly well-made (bar its fight scenes), with top-level acting, visuals and overall aesthetic design, and overall achieves a "good" descriptive, yet the story it's telling feels off to the point it can be exhausting. So many of its plot turns - the park is Facebook, the park is about immortality - come on the fly, as if what would happen after Dolores pulled the trigger wasn't even considered before renewal. It's even unclear quite how the "free" robots work.
Season 1 tied everything together with gusto, but if this run has a similar trick up its sleeve, the journey is questionable. There's a lot of elements of the show's storytelling to unpack in response to this: episodes run too long; it's following Game of Thrones' structural formula without the roadmap George R.R. Martin provided; the themes and character arcs are yet to be in any way clear. However, after the fourth episode, an emblematic concern has emerged: timelines.
- This Page: The Evolution of Westworld's Multiple Timelines
- Page 2: Where Westworld Season 2 Has Gone Wrong
- Page 3: Westworld Shouldn't Even Be Using Multiple Timelines
Multiple Timelines Was Westworld Season 1's Masterstroke
Multiple timelines are baked into Westworld as a show. They were first introduced in Episode 2 of Season 1 and went on to define the entire story of that first run. Throughout the debut season, we're led to believe that everything is unfolding concurrently, but eventually things fracture. First, we learn that technician Bernard is a perfect host replicant of park creator Arnold and his philosophical conversations with Dolores take place decades before. Then, in the final episode, it's revealed that everything involving hedonistic Logan and mild-mannered William is also in the past and really an origin story for the Man in Black, a grown-up William, with Dolores straddling timelines.
It's was a genius move, one that gave Westworld a scope grander than previously suggested and tied the character and thematic threads together. We got to unknowingly gain compassion for the Man in Black while obliviously seeing older William do horrendous things and, in doing so, upon reveal immediately understood the motivations behind multiple distressing moments. Fundamentally, though, it perfectly conveyed Dolores' journey through the Maze consciousness; she was lost in her own memories as the audience was, and bringing it together elevated perceptions.
Nevertheless, the move proved controversial, in part because it was overly complex, but mainly due to how fans on Reddit managed to crack it almost immediately. Jimmi Simpson's eyebrows were plucked to better mirror Ed Harris', Clifton Collins Jr. appeared as two characters simultaneously without comment, Dolores kept crosscutting from William and her own, solo journey, and so much more. It was "obvious" in the most obnoxious, over-informed sense. However, that's hardly a problem (no matter what showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy feel); it was only a theory (unlike screener-influenced speculation on Grace's relation to William) and even if its accuracy verged into spoiler, to suspect mostly accentuated the emotion of the show, not dissimilar to how R+L=J's popularity did nothing to quell its eventual confirmation on Game of Thrones. It was balanced.
It's also worth noting at this point in the article that, as integral as this all was to Season 1, it wasn't alluded to in any firm way in the pilot: we were introduced to the Man in Black and had Peter Abernathy affected by time displacement, but the suggestion the show wouldn't be linear was nowhere to be seen. That only came with William's introduction in Episode 2. It's thus possible this wasn't part of the core pitch and only became a major trope as the bigger picture developed. That will be important as we see things go off the rails in Season 2.