Regardless of its actual merits, there’s always been a bit of a Joe Biden quality to Westworld. But heading into its Season 2 debut tonight the HBO drama is increasingly displaying it’s ready for the top job.
Obviously birthed as an eventual successor to Game of Thrones by the premium cabler when the drama series created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (based on Michael Crichton’s novel and 1973 movie) premiered in October 2016, the now buoyant and streamlined Westworld 2.0 finds itself off the training wheels and standing as the first defining drama of the #MeToo and #TimesUp era. No spoilers, but by the time “Men have lost their hands for touching a Geisha without permission” is uttered several episodes into Season 2, the unrelenting ethos of sexual violence that stained Season 1 and many a big-budget series has found a whole new form.
As the finale of the Emmy-nominated Season 1 revealed, the female-led robot hosts of the near-future theme park have killed their creator Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and are implacably rising up against their oppressors. Put more curtly, having achieved consciousness and seemingly freedom from their programmed narratives to entertain sadistic visitors, Evan Rachel Wood’s farm girl Delores and Thandie Newton’s brothel madam Maeve are taking no prisoners and shedding few electronic tears. On the trail of her digital daughter, steely Maeve sums up a lot of the season when she proclaims, “I’ve found a new voice, now I use it.”
On the other side of the corporate veil, Tessa Thompson’s power-hungry Charlotte Hale of Westworld parent company Delos has ruthlessly leaped into the real and digital void created by the apparent death of Ford at the end of last season.
After a rocky start with tonight’s “Journey Into Night” episode and with much explicitly left unspoken, Westworld Season 2 thankfully cuts loose most of the labyrinthine and ultimately uneventful plots of the first season to gallop towards a “reckoning” of reminiscence and revenge. With new blood-soaked physical and existential worlds to be explored and newcomers like Kingdom’s Jonathan Tucker on board, Wood, Newton, and Thompson are exemplary in 2.0 and worth the price of admission on their own.
In such a landscape, the spectacular work of production designer and The Knick alum Howard Cummings and cinematographer Darren Tiernan of American Gods esteem have to be given a shout-out. They and the below-the-line team have helped craft what is by far one of the best-looking and most textured series to grace the small screen in this or any other era.
Back as both ends of the well-heeled and broken park Man In Black patron, Ed Harris and Unsolved’s Jimmi Simpson provide a new sense of foundation to the tale, which I liked in Season 1. On the storytelling side, Jeffrey Wright as brooding Westworld programming division chief and android Bernard Lowe and Simon Quarterman’s narrative director Lee Sizemore are the captains of consequences when the machine turns on its makers, so to speak – and that is a much more interesting ghost to be pursuing.
With the robot revolution, big business intrigue, understated lines about guns and knife fights, and likely the most predominant Japanese presence on American television in neighboring Shogun World, Westworld 2.0 clearly aims to show Disney’s Epcot Center along with everyone else in Prestige TV-land how it’s done. For the most part, it succeeds beyond its wildest electric dreams and proves that a more fully realized lurch for the throne is no game.