Westworld may be confusing – but stick with it for season 3

This article contains spoilers for Westworld series 1 and 2

Westworld debuted in 2016 with the promise that it was the show HBO was banking on to replicate the success of Game Of Thrones. 

For viewers at home, that was shorthand for a TV show with the ambition (and budget) of a blockbuster film series, A-List actors and a rich story adapted from a beloved source material (in this case, the original film written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton). 

But ever since its first episode, Westworld has fought against this preconceived notion of itself as just a sister-show to Thrones. In fact it has frequently, I would argue, out-matched GOT in terms of its ambition and intelligence. 

Set in an amusement park populated by androids and catering to every whim of the super-rich, Westworld follows Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) a ‘host’ who finds herself on the journey to liberate her kind of their shackles and escape both the park and their human masters. 

But while it seemed, for a while, that Westworld was the natural successor to Thrones, it never quite managed to get there. It had a wildly successful debut run that saw an average of 12million viewers tune in, meaning that it had the best debut season of any show (even Thrones) for HBO.

But the show faltered, at least with its general viewing audience, during its second season. It was often plagued by accusations that its narrative was too confusing and befuddling to the average viewer, with storylines that hinged less on real-world stakes and more on abstract theories and analogies. Spoiler: the real robots were us all along. 

The accusations that Westworld is overly complex and difficult to follow has stuck to the show like tar, making it seem impenetrable to some.  

Yes, Westworld is confusing, but only on the level that you actually have to pay attention to what’s going on and give the show your full focus instead of scrolling through social media while an episode is playing. 

The intricacies and subtleties of the show’s writing more often than not deal with issues surrounding consciousness, control and free-will as much as they do with a bunch of killer robots set loose in a theme park.

Which is why the criticism surrounding the show can be so confounding some times – there is so much good stuff going on for you to unpack if you were paying attention, not in the least its three lead actresses, Wood, Thandie Newton and Marvel star Tessa Thompson, operating at the very height of their powers. 

Game of Thrones was characterised by a penchant for violence, characters that toed the line between heroism and villainy and intense battle scenes. Swap out great big CGI dragons for malfunctioning robots, and you can say the same thing about Westworld. 

The first season ends, and the second season begins, with the hosts of the park finally revolting against their human oppressors, led by a now-fanatic Dolores, in a plot point that was tantalisingly teased throughout the ten episodes before crescendoing in a mass-murder. 

Its deft character work and pay-off makes Daenerys Targaryen’s heel-turn into genocide seem even more rushed and ill-thought-out than it already was. 

And, yes, for some the second series of the show is a tough watch, given the fact that it oscillates between a number of different time frames without making this clear until the very end of the season. I totally understand the criticism levied its way – but for me, as both a fan and a critic, the second series was a rapturous watch. 

There’s something to be said for a show that sticks to its vision even when that vision is uncompromising and not readily acceptable. Westworld could have dropped all its pretence and allegory and instead become more standard sci-fi-action fare, but it was never that type of show. 

The second season was rapturous because it enabled the show to expand its borders. It took us into other areas of the park such as Shogun World – where the best single episode Akane no Mai is set – and deepened the mythology of the show, revealing more about the sinister Delos Corporation and giving us an anti-heroine for the ages in the form of Dolores and her villainous alter-ego Wyatt. 

But never let it be said that creators Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christian) and Lisa Joy don’t listen to viewers. As uncompromising as the second season was, the finale worked as something of a soft reboot for the show going into its third run. 

Essentially, we are now out of Westworld and into the real world. In the teasers leading up to the new season’s premiere next week, it does seem that a lot of the artifice has been stripped back; the show looks sleeker than ever in its new urban jungle home.

And yes, it is now very confusing as to who is exactly who. Charlotte Hale (Thompson) was killed, but Dolores created a host version of her so she could easily escape the park. But with Dolores re-appearing in the finale’s closing moments back in her own body, it’s unclear for now as to which host is actually taking the form of Hale, or what Dolores actually intends to do in the human world (apart from burning it down). 

Ultimately, TV has to be enjoyable, no-one is denying that. But in age where shows are dumbing themselves down and stripping all of their intelligence away to appeal to as many as possible, Westworld is braver than the rest in the sense that it refuses to talk down to you or spoon-feed you information.

You have to watch. You have to pay attention. You have to decode it for yourself. 

So as we look forward to season three of Westworld, I beg you to reconsider if you think the show is too complicated to dive into. It’s not. It might demand a lot from you, but it will pay you back threefold what you put in. 

As Shakespeare said (and the show often quotes), these violent delights have violent ends… and please make sure you watch until the end. It will be worth it.

Westworld season 3 debuts 15 March at 9pm on Sky Atlantic. 

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