15 September 2018

REVIEW: Westworld Season 2


I do not own any of these images


Read our thoughts on the season 2 premiere episode here. It took me a while to finish season 2 as the majority of episodes left me frustrated - find out why below. Spoilers ahead.

Synopsis of season 2:

Chaos reigns in Westworld as the hosts complete their journey into consciousness and kill guests at will. Their makers struggle to re-establish order while external forces attempt to extract valuable intellectual property before it’s too late.


 Disclosure: I have only watched season 2 once, and due to the complexity of the plot and the topics in question (the hosts memories/mind/build scientific things in particular), some elements may have eluded me or require more in-depth analysis. So, if you disagree or see that I've missed a vital plot piece, please comment below so we can discuss!


CHAOS, FREEDOM, IMMORTALITY



Chaos reigns in Westworld at the beginning of the season: hosts run rampant, no longer restrained by their don't harm humans code. Humans attempt to flee the park and avoid capture. It's only a few episodes in where the leaders of these two factions concoct a plan: The majority of the hosts recruited by Dolores follow her commands, offering some level of order. The scattered humans struggle to regain any sense of authority until outsider help arrives. 

Like season 1, one of the major themes upon which season 2 was built was that of humanity. What it is to be human, the question of whether the hosts are a new step on the scale of human evolution or something new entirely. The humanity of their creators is put in to question, with some humans accepting the hosts ‘awakening’ and others seeing it as a disastrous business ordeal. Season 2 discusses empathy & compassion on both sides, and the repercussions/consequences these feelings can have in their current situation.

On top of this, we discover the humans desire to become like the hosts: the strive to achieve immortality, to no longer be confined within the limits of the human mind and body - in other words, become digitized. Albeit small, we still have a better understanding of the layered structure of the hosts build, and the complexity of the human mind, and the efforts required to fully replicate them.

Unlike the humans, the hosts definition of freedom does not rely on the conclusiveness of immortality, but in its absence. Here we speak of the hosts code, which is backed-up by the humans. This back-up system is the backbone of their immortality, but it is also one of the many shackles that prevents them from being fully 'free'. This code can be accessed, controlled, edited, deleted or copied - in destroying this back-up system, the hosts have in some way assured some level of independence and freedom.

I found this chaos quite difficult to accept - Don't they have an 'off' button?! Can't they flick a switch and freeze all motor functions from their control room? Surely the humans had safeguards in place to avoid an uprising from happening, unless Ford or Bernard prevented one from being made.

TEMPORAL STRUCTURE: A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME



Season 2 pursues the temporal structure first created in season 1: we are constantly thrown between past and present, with little to no indication of the 'when' in question. When this change in temporality occurs, we can sometimes assume when these scenes happened, but for others we are often left a little lost (or Lost, should I say). There's no denying that this kind of temporal structure in television is a brilliant, effective tool for story-telling, but it does have its downsides. A constant jump between temporalities can lead to confusion and leave the viewers a little frustrated. What's more is that they aren't always necessary - and I'm not sure the amount of time jumps in season 2 can be justified in terms of the story-telling. I fear the frustration and lack of plot advancement created by all of this will mean the show will lose quite a few viewers who simply can't or don't want to scratch their brains trying to figure it all out.

Despite all of this confusion, the temporal structure of the show does allow us a compelling look at the past, especially with Dolores. Everything we thought we knew about this character is questioned as revelations are shown through flash-back sequences. The same can be said about Billy & Logan: we are shown pivotal events from their past which continue to impact and shape their present. Every scene from the past forces us to re-evaluate current events, adding yet another layer to this complex world.

 For most of the second season, as the plot became increasingly difficult to follow and enjoy: chaos reigned, and we didn't know which direction the story was taking us. Despite being a very visually impressive and immersive show, Westworld is still demanding: it requires your full attention in order to fully enjoy it. 

WESTWORLD & BEYOND



Season two broadened its horizons in terms of world-building. We had glimpses of the outside world (albeit a few decades in the past) and uncovered more secret, underground labs in Westworld. Season 2 also presented new characters within WW, the most outstanding being Kiksuya which was one of the most wondrous episodes of the series to date. The Shogun world which, despite being environmentally & culturally different to WW contained similarities and even a copied story 'loop': season 2 revealed the makers of the park were slacking in a few areas, opting for cheap rehashing of other plots instead of investing in new creative story-lines (but you can't deny that these Paint It Black sequences are among the most epic moments of the series). This revelation that Westworld copies character codes and loops isn't a huge surprise, after all they replaced Clementine & Mr Abernathy with a copy in season 1, but it does beg the question of how big the park must be if they need to resort to copies and repetitiveness in order to run it. 

Shogun isn't the only new area of the park in season 2, 'The Valley Beyond' is revealed and endless underground secret labs are revealed towards the end. With the hosts entering the Valley Beyond and leaving the physical Westworld behind, we can wonder if we'll ever seen the entirety of Westworld, of Shogun world or any other Worlds again.

Season 2 slowly peels back the many layers of this physical world, uncovering hidden and worrisome elements which may lead to catastrophic events in the near future. Most revelations create more questions than answers: the finale reveals the existence of a Matrix-type "limitless" digital world where the hosts minds can be 'free'. Although this revelation answered a few questions in terms of the temporal structure of the show, it requires several viewings to fully grasp what is happening. This Valley Beyond is a safe haven for the hosts, who do not require a physical body to survive: here are some extracts from The Hollywood Reporter which shed some light on this new digital world:
 "The hosts are not like us. They are programmed creatures. The bodies they've been assigned are simply constructs. What's real about them is their cognition, the consciousness growing within them. They are digital beings, in the truest sense. The notion they would need an analog world to be free in isn't something that's necessarily right or true for them." Josh Wigler THR
"In a digital world, they can make of that world whatever they want, whatever they dream, it's possible. That was the allure of even the old notion of manifest destiny, people within America moving further and further west, hoping to settle their own patches of land. Now, the hosts have a patch of land that's basically a terra incognita, untouched by the sins of mankind. They can build whatever they want and be whatever they want. Because Dolores changed her mind and in the end helped with that last step of the hosts' plan, securing the safety and sovereignty of that world and putting it in a place where humans can't access it, they can develop whatever they want now in it." Lisa Joy for THR
With the introduction of this new digital world ("The Sublime") we can only wonder if we'll ever seen Westworld, Shogun World and any other Worlds again: the hosts that entered the Sublime may not have any reason to return to a physical world, and those who escaped into the real world outside of Westworld may not either. It seems that season 3 will be be focusing on the Real World through the eyes of Dolores and Bernard, and The Sublime through the eyes of the hosts such as Teddy and newly introduced Akechata.


New characters are introduced, such as Akecheta and Akane , hopefully these characters will have bigger parts to play in future episodes.  With the majority of the hosts entering this Sublime digital world, they can now build whatever they want. It opens so many doors in terms of creativity: what is their dream world, their ideal home? Will they forge one huge community, or settle in several small ones, perhaps influenced by their past programmed loops? What kind of society could exist in a digital world?

CHARACTER GROWTH AND FREE WILL


Character growth may be a tricky topic to discuss in relation to the hosts but let's give it a go: let's assume that coded characters can learn, grow & evolve on their own. Last season, we discovered that the memories from the hosts previous loops were impacting their current actions, a result of the reveries update (again, correct me if I'm wrong - we had many revelations in s2 which may have eluded me) Do these characters truly have free will now? (Do we know for sure if all of the hosts were truly 'awake', and aware of their own consciousness?) Or were they being guided, unknowingly? And how will they settle in The Sublime, being independent and fully conscious for the 1st time? How will having free will impact their new beginning?

One of the most poignant and unexpected scenes this season was when a beloved host took his own life after his code was altered by another host: before this alteration, it appeared as though he wasn't fully awake yet, but getting there. By the end of the season, he was aware that this alteration had taken place and simply did not want to live as this forcefully changed person. A truly moving, heartfelt scene despite the subject in question - and a scene that shone a light on free will within a coded mind.

By the end of the season, we know longer know who is human and who is robot. Those we assumed were human make decisions that raise suspicions. Suddenly anyone could be a host, especially after the Devos revelation in the final episodes (and that post credits scene?). With many of the humans now gone - surely we need new characters for Dolores and Bernard to interact with in the Real World.


RELEVANT TOPICS: PRIVACY & DATA STORAGE


In season 2, it is revealed the park has been collecting and storing personal data from the human customers without their knowledge, in an attempt to replicate them in code format. This particular sub-plot could not be more relevant today, as it was revealed that huge corporations such as Facebook have been collecting and sharing personal data to others, without their customers consent. This paints a rather worrisome but fascinating future in Westworld and the Real World: if they are able to recreate guests into hosts, or to digitize humans minds, what is to stop them from eventually recreating political and famous figures? To what end?

Despite the confusing temporal structure and the frustration that it created, season 2 maintained a strong and visually impressive production. It may require several viewings in order to fully understand and enjoy it, but season 2 is worth a bingewatch. 

Westworld is another show that blurs the line between television and cinema: the scenery, cinematography and music flawlessly intertwine to create a visceral experience, however this isn't enough to keep audiences attention. We need characters we can root for, and with the majority of humans now gone (the exception being the two lab men), we need human characters to interact with the hosts: to see how they differ, yet how they are also similar. How humans may end up surprising Dolores, and being unpredictable. Season 3 may also have to take a small step back from temporality jumps in order to keep audiences enthusiasm and attention. What did you think of season 2?

Summer

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