The second season of the HBO series WESTWORLD starts off promising but gets tangled in contrived subplots, resulting in a hot mess. I liked it, but it lost the gravitas of the first season.
In the first season, we engage with numerous characters who either visit, control, or are enslaved to a giant LARP-oriented Wild West theme park populated by cybernetic humans. The androids live out their day in endless programmed loops or “stories,” offering park patrons the chance to go on quests and live out their adventure-, violence-, and sex-related fantasies. Ford (the great Anthony Hopkins), the park’s creator, plays God in this place, fighting with the owner while possibly working toward an extraordinary next step for humanity–self awareness and liberation for the androids, followed by an uprising with bloody results.
In season 2, we see the aftermath, where guests are ruthlessly hunted, only some of the androids are aware while the rest continue to go through their loops, and the main characters all work together or at odds to escape. This season is as philosophical as the first, but with different themes involving freedom, what means are necessary to achieve freedom, and immortality.
As with season 1, the story plays out along different timelines, a device initiated by Bernard (the very likeable Jeffrey Wright), whose memories return to him in fragments. We get to visit two other theme parks, one built around colonial India, and the other medieval Japan. There are a couple of set pieces that are amazing, such as a battle set to the powerful second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony.
Unfortunately, the crisp beginning devolves into heavily contrived subplots, some of them going nowhere. Characters go off on side quests that drag down the story, William’s (the fantastic Ed Harris) quest fizzles out, Delores makes endless speeches along the lines of “the tables are now turned,” the park security forces are just cannon fodder, a character has something like a superpower but rarely uses it, and you have scenes like one where a character takes five minutes to say goodbye and then sacrifices herself instead of everybody just leaving and surviving.
So overall, WESTWORLD’s season 2 was an enjoyable watch, but it was uneven, and too often felt like regular “TV by numbers” than what I expect from HBO.