As stunning as Westworld season 1 was, season 2 was a disappointment. The production values were great but the story missed the mark somehow. What went wrong?
There were too many new characters who were ‘red shirts’ (cannon fodder), or there to duct tape the plot together. Then there were those favourite characters who’d become annoying (dithering to facilitate other things in the plot) or turned ‘evil’ (for the same reason). It felt as if the violent action had taken precedence over character development.
Westworld had borrowed from the ‘Lost’ playbook of hooking the audience by posing unanswered questions and instead of answering them, posing yet further questions. This kind of manoeuvre can break the unwritten contact between writer and audience — if the story makes promises it has to deliver on them.
It’s something of a cliché, but a rock band’s second album is always considered something of a creative conundrum (balancing newfound success and hype with a discipline and focus on the artistic basics). The long arc TV series often has similar issues. How to develop the creativity of an already successful ‘product’ while retaining the audiences’ interest (who most likely want more of the same) and dealing with the newfound over-confidence resulting from success? It’s also a technical challenge of realigning a ‘pilot season’ into a longer arc. The answer to this realignment is a question of identity — what’s the story really about.
Stranger Things also had a lacklustre season 2, but it got back on track by returning to the formula that made season 1 so successful. Westworld seems to be following a similar pattern. The opening episode of season 3 picks up on the goodness of season 1. It feels like something is happening again. We have a new human protagonist to vouch for (although he could be killed off at any moment).
Violent action is all very well, but at some point it become pointless if you don’t care about the characters.