Westworld: Let’s Be Honest

**very mild spoilers to follow**

After the end of Westworld’s first season I wasn’t sure exactly what the show was going to do. It’s a mystery based fiction, bouncing ideas around and seeing if the audience can discern which ones should be sticking. The end of season one essentially put an end to the mystery (the maze) and seemed to leave only room for a plot-based show behind. What would season two bring us? Another mystery? A tighter focus on characters? A political breach into the real world, jumping genres altogether?

Than answer is all of that and none of it. The deeper mystery is gone; there is no replacement for the maze this time around. Instead we get a forced mystery due to one character’s inability to discern between memories and present events. The result is that there’s now an excuse for the show to jump around in the timeline from within the story. Except they did it the entire season before, and continue doing it after the character in question gets their mind straightened out. And also, well, the show has never been from this character’s perspective so even the in-universe explanation makes little to no sense. But stylistically it seems to fit.

Stylistically, it seems to fit.

That, more than any mystery about humanity, consciousness, and ethics seems to be this show’s main thesis. Content-wise, the show is an absolute mess. The question of whether artificial life can actually rise to sentience has been quickly asked and answered, and that answer seems to be it’s hard for it not to become self-aware. We see radical freedom fighters kill their own side and then come back to literally say that they changed their mind. We have characters trying to free their people turn some of their own into slaves. We have more plots that hinge on unfounded technobabble than a Star Trek episode. In short, we have a mess of a show.

But we also have stylistic cohesion. That’s actually what allows the show to jump around decades without letting the viewer know when each scene takes place. The singular look of the show’s design is set up as an editing gimmick. It looks good, yes, but when not looked at in awe for the trickery of it, it means the show has to remain stagnant as hell in order to keep marching on, out of sequence.

I think it’s time that we’re all honest about what Westworld really is. And that is, not a very good show. It’s plodding and confused and sometimes a chore to get through. It can be entertaining, but a lot of that hinges on how invested you’re willing to let yourself become. But Westworld is the dumbest parts of Lost wearing a clever show’s suit. That’s not saying it’s worthless as entertainment. I know a lot of people who still watch it. Hell, I still watch it. I know a lot of people who still watch it and also think it’s really dumb. While this may sounds like damning with faint praise, the show does pull in viewers.

I do wish, though, that it would be a bit more honest with itself and with the audience. I came to it looking for intelligent science fiction that would analyze and parse what it meant to be human and what it meant to be a person. Instead I found a show that looks like a thesis project in how to engineer a prestige television show. It shows of production value without creating a particularly interesting look. It asks a whole bunch of big questions and never gets around to answering them. And it casts some amazing talent, and then lets them flounder with thin and/or repetitive material. If it were more honest then maybe it would lean away from the think-piece fodder it currently bills itself as and could lean into the schlocky side of having a show featuring an army of killer robots. Instead it’s just an exercise in constant buildup and mild disappointment. If only Westworld could bring itself to be less, the show could become something so much more.

Or don’t. I’ll probably still have this show on in the background either way.

Appendix

If you are looking for robot shows that do a bit more in the philosophy side of things, I would like yo draw your attention to the following shows:

  • Humans (UK)
  • Battlestar Galactica (the remake)
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • Person of Interest
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (for Data’s story) or Voyager (for 7 of 9 and the Doctor’s)
  • the too-soon aborted Almost Human
  • I dunno, Altered Carbon maybe
  • Probably some episodes of Black Mirror or something
Adam

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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