Westworld Season 2 Is Working With Too Many Timelines To Count
It was assumed after the big, weighty reveal that Westworld would be done with multiple timelines. How wrong we were. From the first sequence, the show was jumping through Bernard/Arnold's memories, and the rest of the season premiere took place in two periods: immediately after the start of Ford's narrative and two weeks later when Delos security arrived on the Westworld island. Season 2 had already matched Season 1's volume in one hour. Of course, it mostly worked: we got the narrative continuation sprinkled with dramatic irony and a general scope for what was going on, with a clear indication everything hinged on Bernard's murder of all the hosts.
But it didn't stop there. Episode 2 was the flashback episode, going back through Delos' involvement with the park; it detailed Logan, William and James Delos interacting and defining the future, as well as hinting at some dark secret. A lot of time periods, sure, but a common storytelling device that again worked. Episode 3 maintained the two primary timelines, but also had a micro-episode pre-title of The Raj on the turn of the uprising. Episode 4 is the tipping point, though; we have the Lost-like flashbacks showing William's attempts to turn James Delos into an immortal, human-host hybrid that serves to reveal more about what's really going on at the park, alongside the main run of events, but also through this there's Bernard accessing his own memories to crack what's happened.
Related: Westworld’s Two New Parks Explained
Already we have almost a dozen time periods for the season, and while many were background or contextual, all carried an assumed pomposity. It's particularly important to note that the forms of different time periods are also numerous; we have expositional flashbacks, character memories, cutaway bookends, and, most damagingly, bleed-over. That's a lot of variables for something that has become so singularly defining, and the show seems to relish that. But it's reached breaking point.
Multiple Timelines Are Influencing The Plot And Ruining The Story
Bernard solving a problem by drifting through his memories is where this goes from overwrought narrative device to direct (and negative) plot influencer. It's been implicit that hosts can remember their past lives since Ford introduced the reveries in the series premiere, but never have we seen that bleed in such an explicit way: Bernard moves the plot of the episode forward by essentially going into another timeline and taking information from it. The storytelling device has broken into the open narrative in a foundation-less way, and so suddenly all bets are off. These timelines aren't about presentation, they're able to be - at random - used to influence what's being told. Everything is now cheap because the fabric of the show can bend at will (doubly problematic given the strength of Reddit fandom).
That's bad enough, but when you start looking at how Westworld Season 2 is actually using its dozen timelines, it gets worse. Episode 4 is in three distinct time periods: Delos in the past, Bernard also in the nearer-past, and the uprising in the present. As the episode is mainly about James Delos and William's past and future, the recurring jump backs to the immortality experiments make sense. But why do we get Bernard's equally as prominent, with the big twist of the hour (plus ten) being that he's killed scientists in the past? In Peak TV, the idea of self-contained episodes is wilting (although The Assassination of Gianni Versace did show how to do episodic-as-serialized perfectly) but for something as grand as Westworld - this week's was longer than some movies - that lack of cohesion is problematic. There's so much timeline jumping it's getting messy.
But both of these are more symptoms of how Westworld is starting to rely on the timelines for all its smarts. In "Riddle of the Sphinx", early on we see a tray of host eyes flying in the air, which at the end of the episode is revealed to be part of Bernard's lab massacre. Now, the show acts like this was a payoff. However, it wasn't really narrative foreshadowing or a remotely clever trick: Westworld simply played a clip from a later scene earlier on, then tried to act surprised when the inevitable came to pass. It's not worked into the plot, the show is just using the fact it has so many timelines to throw audiences off.
That's a small example, but it runs rampant. To wit, while how Benard killed the hosts was established as this season's defining aspect by the premiere and is still where everything in the past is heading, it's lost all sense of story prominence in the subsequent jumping. Westworld isn't just tricking the audience into thinking its basic narrative of confused motivations is somehow more nuanced, it's actively burying what it has of interest.