WARNING: Spoilers for Westworld Season 2.
Westworld Season 2 failed because it couldn't get over the mystery-cracking fans on Reddit. A show going bad is nothing shocking - most series run out of steam after a few years on the air, with only a handful of true greats making it to a finale without a dip - but this is a rather startling case; Westworld not only had the drop occur in its second season, but the downfall comes from the very facets that made it so exciting in the first place.
Season 1 was a massive hit for HBO, netting ratings that almost matched Game of Thrones' debut year and placing highly in a host of "Best of 2016" lists, and so expectations were high for Season 2. However, it only took a couple of episodes for something to feel off. Westworld still looked great, but its story lacked the finesse and, as it moved on, required confidence to buy into such a complex magic trick. Episode 8, "Kiksuya" - almost a home run - aside, the show never suggested anything truly inspired.
Now it's finally over and while the Season 2 finale did at least answer many big questions - to be clear, Westworld still make sense - it did nothing to justify the journey. How did this happen? How did Westworld go from the apex of HBO's lineup to just another convoluted sci-fi series? And what lessons do showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy learn for the impending Season 3?
- This Page: Westworld Season 2 & The "Plan"
- Page 2: The Two Big Mistakes Westworld Season 2 Made
- Page 3: How Jonathan Nolan's Hatred Of Reddit Broke Westworld
Westworld Season 2 & HBO's "Plan"
One thing that multi-season epic TV shows really like to push is that they have a plan. Narrative cul-de-sacs and years of buildup are excusable if there's a destination and thus greater purpose to everything that's being told, right? The logic is somewhat flawed given how classics like Breaking Bad were famously constructed on the fly (Vince Gilligan introduced the machine gun in the Season 5 premiere with no clue to its payoff), but something has to be said about knowing where your heading.
The problem comes when showrunners exaggerate the nature of that plan. When Lost's Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse managed to wrangle a firm end date during Season 3, it looked like they were going to be enacting a longterm gameplan, and yet all they would say was set in stone was the show's "final image". That ended up being Jack's eye closing, a mirror of the first image and recurring motif throughout the show, so hardly indicative of narrative (which we now know was defined more season-by-season). The same is true of How I Met Your Mother: Carter Bays, Craig Thomas shot the postscript with Ted's children imploring him to ask Robin out following the mother's death way back in 2006 after Season 2 (due to the risk of them ageing out), but that didn't mean any grander scope for the actual meeting existed (and it also locked the ending in place even as the show moved away from the ideals it spoke of). Plainly, there's a difference between and plan and an vague end goal.
Westworld appears to fall into this set. It was, from very early on, sold as having a multi-season plan, with as many as five in discussion. From the standpoint of the tightly-wound Season 1, that led many fans to believe we were dealing with a grand story; one that justified using up the base premise in the first ten episodes. However, Westworld Season 2 would seem to refute that: nearly all of its narrative points relating to The Door, human-host hybrids and Delos' true goals all come exclusively from this run, with none of it ingrained in the previous season (while certain things, like what's in Abernathy's brain, is changed). In terms of a longer plan, it reads as having a start - the host uprising - and an end - Dolores and Bernard moving into the real world - with everything else filling in the gaps.
Now, both Lost and How I Met Your Mother are well-remembered, so this fill-in-the-blanks style of TV show writing needn't be immediately flawed. However, the risk is that it skews focus away from the journey - the majority of an ongoing TV series - to the lynchpin shocker points; no journey, no fun. You can feel that in Westworld Season 2, with everything purporting to be to some greater purpose yet that cohesion lacking for most of the trek. This is the start point of Westworld Season 2's issues, but it goes deeper.