Westworld season 2 has gone very wrong. Epitomized by one of its primary characters, the malfunctioning host Bernard Lowe, the HBO sci-fi series has become difficult and problematic. At best, the season remains enjoyable at certain levels: it's incredibly well-made, boasting world-class actors, remarkable production design, and sumptuous cinematography. But the more a fan might dig in and try to understand season 2, the less enjoyable and even off-putting it becomes. Westworld may even want it that way.
The first season of the faux-Wild West-set drama had the benefit of inventing the wheel. The masterstroke of series creators and showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy was the revelation that the events of season 1 were happening in more than one timeline. Fans were able to invest in the past journey of Jimmi Simpson's younger William as he discovered himself during his fateful first vacation in the theme park, which eventually synced up to the "present" (circa the series' primary timeframe of 2052) where it was confirmed William aged into the Man in Black played by Ed Harris. Concurrent to that story were the dual achievement of full sentience by the hosts Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), who each began robot revolutions within the park, and the machinations of its founder and chief architect Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
Related: Westworld's Timeline Explained
Season 2 has purposefully been designed as a puzzle that wouldn't be as "easy" to solve. The series has instead chosen to largely keep the fans and their potential investment in the characters and story at a distance while it heaps mysteries upon mysteries, some of which are purposely misleading or are deceptions - all to keep everyone constantly guessing. With season 2 now past its mid-point and heading into its endgame, here are the main ways Westworld's sophomore season has gone awry:
- This Page: The Timeline and Host Problems
- Page 2: Fans Can't Get Invested in Season 2
TOO MANY CONVOLUTED TIMELINES
Fans can be forgiven if they yearn for the good old days of season 1's timeline set in 2052 and another set 30 years earlier. The revelation that this was the case was mind-blowing, but in hindsight, season 1 was considerably easier to follow and maintain interest in the characters and their motivations. This is sadly not the case with season 2.
The second season simply has too many timelines to keep track of, with no real consistency as to when and how those timelines are presented in each episode. There are about a half-dozen narratives to juggle: the "main timeline" is now set about a week after the events of the season 1 finale. In this timeline, Dolores and a newly-reprogrammed Teddy lead a cult of hosts across the park to the Valley Beyond and a weapon Dolores was told by young William exists there - i.e. his "greatest mistake." Meanwhile, Maeve leads a group of allies, Hector and Armistice, and hapless human prisoners, Lee Sizemore, Sylvester and Felix, into the park to find her host "daughter" - a journey that saw them briefly end up in Shogun World. While that's going on, the Man in Black is playing a new game left for him by Ford to find "The Door," which has led to a reunion with his adult daughter.
That would already be plenty to sustain the action of a normal series, but season 2 has even more timelines: first, there is the tale of Bernard two weeks later from the "main" narrative where he believes he killed all of the hosts in the park. However, this could possibly be a simulation designed by Ford, who is "alive" in a sense within The Cradle, the park's computer program where all of the hosts' memories and narratives are stored.
On top of that, Westworld has liberally woven in flashbacks to other eras of the park's existence: from the more distant past where Arnold Weber and a younger Ford sought funding for Westworld from the Delos Corporation to the untold number of years William spent by creating a human-hybrid host of James Delos, which led to 149 different failed attempts. There is also the mystery of when exactly the scenes with a fully-evolved Dolores and Bernard (or is it Ford in a Bernard host body?) that has opened several episodes are taking place.
Multiple timelines, flashbacks, flash forward, simulations, with only visual tricks like different aspect ratios to clue viewers in on what's happening. Westworld doesn't make itself easy to follow, and trying to now feels more like a chore than an exciting challenge.
THE HOSTS' FREEDOM HAS RUINED THEIR CHARACTERS
Freedom has not improved the hosts or made them more interesting. In season 1, it was easy to feel for Dolores and Maeve as they gained full access to their memories and freed themselves from the shackles of their human masters. In Maeve's case, this somehow allowed her to achieve first a vocal and now a seemingly telepathic control over her fellow hosts. As for Dolores, the oldest active host in the park, her ability to retain everything that's happened to her in her long life, plus her personality being fused with the villainous Wyatt, turned her into a dangerous leader of a rebellion.
But in season 2, their character development - indeed the evolution of nearly all of the hosts - has come to a standstill. Dolores can occasionally be glimpsed as her earlier, more "innocent" self in flashbacks, where she is more intriguing than the stern commander prone to cryptic dialogue she is in the "main" timeline. The hosts she has rallied to her cause, Angela and Clementine, have also seen better days. Angela was an elegant and provocative seductress when fans first met her as a greeter of guests at the Mesa Hub in season 1 (and in season 2 when she seduced Logan Delos in flashbacks), but the current rough-and-tumble version of the host is a gun-toting henchwoman with zero personality. It's the same with Clementine, who elicited fan sympathy as a prostitute in the Mariposa Saloon, but she's currently another non-entity doing Dolores' dirty work.
With her superpowers, Maeve has arguably evolved the most, but her motivations are baffling. Why exactly must she reunite with her daughter, and why was she surprised that the young host, who is still in a programmed narrative, doesn't remember her and instead has a new mother? Maeve's partners-in-crime, Hector and Armistice, also haven't enjoyed any of the benefits of their found sentience. They just follow Maeve around and fight when a fight is to be had.
Teddy is arguably the only host that has "evolved"; now that Dolores had him reprogrammed, he turned into a remorseless killer whom Dolores already fears she can't control. However, because in the timeline two weeks later, Teddy is seen dead inside the Mesa Hub, the cat's already out of the bag that things don't turn out so well for the cowboy.
To make matters even more offputting, there are theories that the Man in Black, Emily, and even Elsie aren't the characters fans think they are and could be hosts all along,. This could further erode audience investment, and fans can't be blamed if it feels like they're being duped by the show.