Westworld is great television. With its mind-bending narrative, the show assaulted our imaginations without reprieve and delivered ten episodes where each one was seemingly better than the last. Like the eponymous theme park, Westworld is an immersive experience - one that demands your fullest attention and empathy. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, the show could have jumped the shark in a number of instances, jettisoning its restraint for immediate gratification.
Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy stayed true to their narrative for each of the ten episodes, delivering a rousing first season while ensuring the sophomore follow-up has room to grow. And grow it will, given the nearly two years Nolan and Joy have to up the ante. While we won’t be reentering the park until 2018, we already know which new elements we’d love to see introduced and reemphasized in the upcoming second season.
Deeper Knowledge of the Hosts
The theory of the bicameral mind was laid out early and often. While the Man in Black sought an external labyrinth, the maze amounted to nothing more than an internal experience for the hosts. The maze was never meant for William, because it was meant to bring the hosts to total consciousness. It’s a hallmark of the show. For all of its epic scenery and scope, Westworld is ultimately a journey of the soul.
Season 2 is in a prime position to dig deeper into the physical and psychological makeup of the hosts. We’ve seen them constructed in the starkly modern rooms, their sinews and marrow attached in a milky glaze. But how do they survive such traumas in the park? What is their skin made of? Jonathan Nolan has hinted that the exploration of the hosts’ physical capacities is on deck in the upcoming season. As he told Entertainment Weekly:
“Their construction and their power source is something we’re really going to get into during season 2. So we’d like to keep that mysterious. They’re closer to biological than they are mechanical, but they don’t suffer brain death the same way we do. They’re largely indistinguishable from human beings, but their brains don’t require oxygen—which opens up interesting possibilities... [In] season 2, we’ll be exploring more of the nuts and bolts of what they are—as the hosts themselves are trying to understand.”
Thanks to the expert storytelling of Nolan and Joy, we've taken the hosts at face value and with little doubt. As the showrunners map out season two, however, you can bet they'll delve into the DNA behind the androids.
A Wider Range of Parks
Despite all of the plot and character revelations, the fleeting glimpse of Samurai World (or perhaps Shogun-World) was most exciting. The presence of multiple theme parks isn’t foreign to the HBO series, as the 1973 feature film of the same name had multiple worlds beyond its cowboy frontier. Japanese warrior culture is a very specific universe, however, and one that receives infrequent attention from Hollywood. The concept of Westworld tackling such a rich history and culture is truly tantalizing.
Dolores, Teddy, and the Man in Black aren’t going anywhere, and as their journeys develop, the show’s second season could benefit from a total expansion into other theme parks. We’ve seen a lot of Westworld, and as mysterious as the terrain may be, the honeymoon is over. From Sweetwater to Pariah, we’ve seen a range of towns and grown familiar with their offerings. It may be the perfect time to introduce a totally different universe to the show. Nolan admitted to a similar feeling, telling The Hollywood Reporter,
"For Lisa and myself, with this show, we never had any intention of staying in one place. We don't want to shoot on the same sets for 10 years. We want to blow the sets up and move onto another piece of the story."
On that note, we have previously written (to endearing backlash) about introducing the Game of Thrones/Westeros-world mashup, though we’re not holding out for Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy to follow suit. Either way, the purpose of this expansion isn’t merely to “shake it up,” or give the show a new aesthetic, but to reinforce the totality of Delos’ vision. If Arnold’s mission was to essentially free slaves from their master, then the existence of Samurai World further substantiates the pandemic.
Again, the showrunners exercised a remarkable amount of restraint to not exploit the other parks, and indeed, their depth of detail in Westworld was key to the first season’s success. Jonathan Nolan revealed that the sophomore outing would prioritize chaos over control. If the first season is any indication, chaos in the park becomes contagious. Samurai warriors fighting cowboys? Imagine the possibilities.
Revealing Delos' Mission
Expert gamer that he is, William (the Man in Black) was devastated to learn of the park’s limitations. His decades of searching and destroying had no greater meaning other than exposing himself to be a violent and menacing man. When Dr. Ford reminded William that he would never find what he sought, he seemed to speak of Westworld as a whole. Despite his dedication to the hosts, Ford and his creations are clearly a tertiary interest for Delos. They’ve been smuggling out prized data for weeks, information that feeds their “little experiment.” Like William in search of the maze, we the audience have possibly been caught in a season-long McGuffin while the real story (more genuine than any narrative Ford could concoct) has evolved behind closed doors.
There’s a reason park-entry waivers have guests sign off on their images, their actions and even their bodily fluids. If you go to Westworld, Delos owns you. It’s not just the ubiquitous cameras, but the libraries of blackmail and DNA that guests inevitably leave behind. What does the mega corp want? Are they building clones? Conducting an extended, immersive scientific experiment for medical purposes? Are they in pursuit of immortality? Whatever Delos is after, season two has a rare opportunity to flip the story on its head. While fixated on the plights of Dolores and Teddy, audiences will be shocked by a bait and switch that renders the hosts’ journeys irrelevant in light of Delos’ masterplan.
A New Group of Guests
Westworld has the rare ability to compel viewers to look within. Given the lawlessness of the park, there is boundless potential for unmitigated violence, sex and moral depravity. The curious mind would be hard pressed to watch the show and not ask: “how would I live in Westworld?” William arrived as a total gentleman, a good Samaritan with empathy through the roof. It didn’t take long for him to become a total monstrosity, however, someone who used the park as a way to expunge instincts that wouldn’t be tolerated in the real world.
Westworld thrives in displaying and examining the complexity of human behavior. Season two could profit from introducing a new gang of guests who come from a different sort of background than William and Logan. Because they had an interest in taking over the company, their motives were more heightened than the average patron. Given the chaos in the park, it could be compelling to dedicate an entire episode to the perspective of first-time guests as they navigate the temptations of the park.
Real World Consequences
Maeve was painfully close to taking that bullet train out of Westworld. Whether it was fate or fear that stopped her, Maeve’s failure to exit the park shot down our best opportunity of seeing the outside world. While we’ve seen a photo of William’s ex-wife (presumably standing in a New York City-like metropolis), little is known of the “real world.” We don’t even know what year it is (though tomfoolery on the Delos Incorporated website suggests it’s 2052). Indeed, for all of the guests coming in and out of the park, you’d think a political or social reference here and there might slip into the conversation. Those zeitgeist quips were few and far between, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that employees of the park lived and worked in the Delos Hub like it was a city unto itself.
Some viewers have long wondered if Westworld takes place on a different planet altogether, given the extreme advancements in artificial intelligence and scientific progress. While assumptions won’t get us very far, we can expect season two to dig deeper into the relationship Westworld shares with regular society. Imagine spending a week-long vacation in Westworld, then returning back to the humdrum 9-5 work week. Great actors complain about the struggle of leaving roles behind, but this would take the separation anxiety to a whole new level. In all seriousness, it might be a bit dangerous for an emotionally edgy individual to “cut loose” in Westworld then assimilate back into the real world. Given the seductive humanity of the hosts, how will certain guests know where the gaming ends and normal life begins?
Furthermore, what kind of posh society enabled a theme park that charges $40,000 per day? The wealthy have always had their toys, but this is unprecedented. The cavalier nature of the bourgeois guests hints at a wide chasm between classes, with the world’s elite paying a pretty penny to experience the park.
As for the hosts, it’s only a matter of time until one sneaks out. What will happen then? Whether or not they can survive in the real world is up for debate, but season two is in a prime position to explore that possibility.