Monday, June 25, 2018

Westworld Season 2 Thoughts

Another season of Westworld is in the books. And since I need to at least semi-regularly offer pop culture commentary as dessert for the political vegetables that are this blog's standard-fare, I figured I'd share my thoughts.

*Mild Westworld spoilers follow*

* Last season, my line on Westworld was that it was a very good show that was held back because it clearly thinks it's a great show. If anything, this season I revise that estimate downwards. To borrow from another reviewer, Westworld is a show that just adamantly refuses to step back and get out of the way of its own story. The interweaving timelines and flashbacks and fragmented memories and self-absorbed mystique is pretentious at the best of times and more often than that actively aggravating. You have a good story -- have the self-confidence to just tell the damn thing!

* Having just praised the story, I'm going to register another complaint here: The show's view of human (and, for that matter, robot) nature is so relentlessly negative that I have trouble relating to it. It also feels a little bit dated. Five or so years ago we were still obsessed with the "anti-hero", but since then there's been a flurry of shows -- mostly comedies, admittedly -- that are considerably more positive about the human condition (Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Good Place). So when Westworld's message is basically "everyone is awful, and if you try to be even slightly less awful you'll be exploited and then brutally murdered", it doesn't feel bold, it just gets tiresome (RIP Elsie).

* Speaking of, I felt like at the end they finally leaned into Doloros being an actual monster -- which was pretty evident pretty early on in my view -- but it sure took awhile. Her story is that of anti-colonial rebel who becomes every bit the murderous bloodletter and tyrant that she initially was reacting against. A decent arc actually, so long as the show recognized it was telling it, but it ended up lacking distinction because everybody on the show is the worst.

* All of this is why Maeve's plotline was the best of the season. For one, it was definitely the most linearly told -- see, you don't need ninety cross-cutting flashbacks to make for an interesting story. But Maeve's plot is one of the only ones that deals with the theme of strength and power in an interesting way. Maeve makes herself strong -- the show never valorizes weakness in any character -- but she's one of the few strong characters who uses her strength for a purpose beyond simply trying to redirect the orgy of violence elsewhere.

* Oh, the orgy of violence. "The violent delights," indeed. I'm not a huge fan of graphic violence, but I can handle it if it seems thematically necessary (I'm okay with Game of Thrones, for example). On Westworld, this season -- it felt gratuitous. Maybe just me.

* Actually, the real theme of Season 2 is that giving someone a gun and dressing them up in a fancy costume does not make them into a tough guy. I'm talking, of course, of Delos "security", who are almost comically useless with those machine guns. Question: if Delos security got into a battle with the stormtroopers from Star Wars, would anyone die?

* Teddy going to robot heaven and Doloros not being there is the most Teddy ending imaginable. Nothing truly good ever happens to Teddy.

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