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Westworld – Trace Decay Review

"The show is officially just playing with us now"

There are a number of things I love about being a TV critic. Watching a new show that enraptures me and getting a chance to write about it and introduce it to other people is chief among them. Oh how I wish Westworld was turning into that kind of show.

Westworld has intrigued and frustrated me in pretty much equal measure throughout its first season (and, as HBO announced the show has been renewed for a second season, I suspect it will continue to do so in 2018 when it returns). For every layered and complex performance (Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood continue to amaze, and my hope is that the show gets each a major starring role in a film in the future), there remain a number of hanging plot threads and mysteries that the series seems to find more important to keep hidden- even if it hurts the show more than it helps. And, with only two episodes left in this first season, it certainly appears that Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and the rest of the writing staff only want to drag the remaining mysteries out until the end, despite the fact the audience is already onto nearly all of them.

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I’ve written throughout this season that trading in mystery on a television show is a dangerous and complicated road to take. If the audience figures things out too soon (a la the sixth season of Dexter), the “big reveal” becomes a joke. If the reveal doesn’t track with the story, or the reveal is something portions of the audience doesn’t like (as in the much debated “Sideways Universe” in Lost), the mystery can fail. With Westworld, the remaining mysteries (the dual timelines, the identity of the Man in Black, the identity of Arnold) all appear to be on track with audience theories (or, at least, audience theories seem to be swirling in the right direction). Most people correctly predicted the hidden identity of Bernard, and that didn’t make the reveal feel silly (although, much of that is down to Jeffrey Wright’s great work and not to the substandard writing). And, perhaps most importantly, the various mysteries seem to track with the clues that have been dropped.

But I can’t help but feel like that series is intentionally trying to muddy the waters and not reveal the last few mysteries until the last possible moment, which is a mistake. Until we fully understand the motivation of characters like Ford or the Man in Black (who did give us a bit more about his life and backstory this week, although it wasn’t all that particularly illuminating or interesting), we can’t empathize with them and care about them. And that’s the major roadblock in the show. The hosts (particularly Maeve and Dolores) remain the only complex and interesting characters on the show.

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Westworld has one of the most talented casts on television. So far the show has completed wasted Sidse Babett Knudsen on a one-dimensional character whose major purpose within the show was to die so that Bernard could have a moment of character development (that was erased moments later) and Shannon Woodward, who was also offed (and is presumably not going to be back) to help build Bernard’s character. Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris have been given some lovely speeches, but haven’t been given much to work with in terms of character. As great as it is to see Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood giving the performance of their careers (rising above the poor writing to emote like crazy), at this point in the series we should care about more than just three or four characters. And that can be traced back to the show’s refusal to reveal enough about the human characters to give us a reason to care about them- and that includes William.

I suspect these final two episodes will dump all the answers we are looking for onto us in quick secession, which isn’t ideal. I also suspect the “war” between the humans and the hosts will begin in earnest, at least in the present timeline, with Maeve as the general leading the host charge- which, to be fair, is something that does interest me, as it means more solid work for Newton. But for the host-human war to matter, we have to care about the humans at risk. And at this point, that’s certainly not the case.

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Final Thoughts:

— Charlotte Hale is an interesting wrench in the works at Westworld, but I wish she had shown up several episodes earlier. I understand the series wanted to build the world before highlighting the major Delos conflict on the human side, but it still feels like she arrived out of the blue and her arc feels shoehorned in.

— So, Bernard gained sentience and then lost it. Which means he needs to start having flashbacks soon, right? Because otherwise, what’s the purpose of revealing that element of the character?

— I really hope we get to see Elsie again- in the form of a host. Because with Stubbs aware she’s on leave, she either needs to show up again or quit with no way to contact her, which will only cause Stubbs to get more suspicious. It would be way more fun to have a human turned host character than just have her vanish from the scene completely.

— Right now, the maze arc is so incredibly boring. I don’t understand why we should care what’s at the center of the maze.

— For those keeping score, the host who tricks the Man in Black and Teddy is the same host who outfitted William before he entered the park.

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • Good performances from Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood
Cons
  • Still no movement with the mysteries
  • Pacing of the show is too slow
  • Don't care about the human characters

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Meet the Author

About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeaniusIsMe on Twitter.

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