Is This All Westworld Can Be?
What makes this all sting is that we know Jonathan Nolan can do better. He has a history of timeline twisted stories throughout his career, mainly in collaboration with his director brother, Chris: he authored the short story on which Memento was based, and co-wrote the screenplays for The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. Three of those directly use non-linear, time-jumping narratives with finesse to tell emotionally-involved tales of loss (and Rises definitely watches with a similar fluidity). The parallels, especially between the intertwined The Prestige, are right there in Westworld Season 1; both could be told in chronological order, but the complex nature of the inter-character relationships are clearer, and the gut-punch reveals of the multiple twists more effective as a result.
Now, Westworld Season 2 isn't complete and so the payoff isn't yet known, but that integral purpose and connection isn't there thus far. The show unfolds with the sense shocking turns are dreamt up and then how they can fit into the story is manufactured after, with the manner usually being falling back on the twisted chronology; the multiple timelines are being used seemingly because they worked before, not because they're necessary, and in practice this serves just to hide information in a lazy manner.
The latest episode reminds less of Game of Thrones or anything from the Golden Age of TV, and more Lost - or rather, its misguided imitators. A great show my any metric, Lost was nevertheless one of tricks and sleight of hand that worked where many follow-ups failed mainly due to the constant prominence of character (that's why the finale subverted expectations). Parallels to Lost's mystery are easy to spot in Westworld Season 2 - hiding the identity of James Delos at the start of Episode 4 is a riff on a classic Lost season premiere trick and the underground bases hiding deeper secrets and a bearded Scotsman are so Dharma you expect to start hearing the numbers - but the distinction lies in the handling of the timeline. Whenever Lost jumped back, forward or sideways, it was about exploring the characters. In Westworld, with Dolores/Wyatt utterly confusing and what William's up to aggressively vague, the timeline jumps are entirely about impressing with the methodology. Westworld as it is currently feels like Damon Lindelof without the heart.
Westworld Doesn't Even Need Multiple Timelines
This all makes for exasperating viewing, but considering what we're dealing with becomes obtuse. When was it even decided that a Westworld TV show would be so dominated by obfuscating continuity rather than exploring the nature of the rampaging robots? There's nothing ingrained into the multiple timeline feature that relates to this more than a political medieval fantasy or sci-fi Castaway and yet it's what the show has honed in on regardless.
The only aspect that remotely attempts to justify its inclusion is the host memory bleed, but even that doesn't hinge on it and doesn't factor into the storytelling anywhere near as much as other forms of time period jumping. That's why the fact it wasn't present in the premiere, which cost an extortionate amount and wound up repeatedly delayed, is so interesting: it's almost like the showrunners never cracked the central consciousness debate and have instead fallen back on Nolan's tried-and-tested time-muddling to plaster over that deficit.
There's still six hours (give or take depending on episode length) of Westworld Season 2 to make sense of its tangled web. But even if what's to come is astounding, when it comes down to it, narrative clarity isn't as important as the story journey to get there. That is what Lost really taught us.