2016, 2018, TV

Westworld (2016)

Westworld was a pretty great concept when it was conceived and it’s a great concept now. It’s been forever since I’ve seen the movie – the inability of 1970s special effects to capture the concept well forever immortalized by The Simpsons – but the idea was so ahead of its time that it feels entirely appropriate to life now. Its themes about artificial intelligence and big data are so current that I feel compelled to say “it’s the TV show we need” even though I hate headlines like that. The problem is that the execution is off and the show just doesn’t work at some fundamental levels, despite excellent production values and a ridiculously great cast.


In his largely positive review of episode 9 of the second season, Zach Handlen writes, “Moments of this work, but despite Ed Harris’s best efforts, William isn’t interesting enough to have earned the amount of time we’ve spent watching him. Again, the show’s insistence on timeline confusion works against its effectiveness as a drama.” I’m not sure I can capture my feelings about this show better than this. Not just specifically about William but about all characters.

I haven’t seen the first season in forever, so most of my thoughts are in response to the second season. And I don’t quite remember the moment I almost gave up on the first season, I just remember being pretty unsure I wanted to continue.

The ideas become even better in the second season as they are finally spelled out a little bit more. There’s so much potential here. I really feel like the bones were here, particularly in the second season, to make a truly great show. But the execution is lacking, as I said before.

There are so many open-ended questions about how things work and why some things work at times and then don’t other times. For example: some hosts die immediately when they are shot, never to be revived. Some hosts get shot many times and are revived and at least one host gets shot all the time and doesn’t die. They never care to explain why they all function differently. They could have said “shoot them in the head” like a zombie film, and solved this.

Despite the cast, I don’t care much about the fates of most of the characters, as Handlen notes above. It’s partially because some of them are just unlikable but, at a certain point, it is also because some of them keep almost dying or die only to come back. No stakes so we don’t care.

Then there’s the storytelling: I don’t struggle with films and movies that have multiple stories at different times. But something about the way this show portrays them is confusing. For one thing, Bernard is almost always in the same place in two different times, sometimes with the same people. It’s disorienting and hard to follow. I can’t imagine how hard it is for someone who has trouble with convoluted plots. I suspect a number of fans of the show read recaps immediately after just so they can figure out what the hell is going on. It worked well in the first season, it doesn’t work well in the second at all. It undermines the things that do work.

The problems are just way too many for me to keep caring. And I am not convinced that I will ever be satisfied by this show. I’ve already gotten frustrated more times than I’ve been impressed, so it’s some kind of miracle that I made it this far. I will not watch additional seasons.


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