Westworld series two spoiler-free preview: “season one only scratched the surface”

We learn a whole lot more about what’s really going on in Westworld as the park opens its gates again

Westworld

“Bring yourself back online.”

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Nearly a year and a half after we bid farewell to the mind-bending, plot-twisting world of Westworld, HBO’s cowboy sci-fi drama is back later this month, with the robotic hosts newly awakened and all the lingering mysteries of who and what we’re watching on screen finally solved.

Or so we thought – because after watching the first few episodes of the new season, it quickly becomes clear that we were only scratching the surface in 2016.

In fact, by far the most intriguing thing about the second series is how it builds the world in and around Westworld, finally revealing exactly where the park is, how it works and exactly why it’s so important to its corporate owners in the first place.

So while we’re following the surviving humans and hosts around the park – the former hunted down by the latter following the events of the season one finale, when Anthony Hopkins’ Ford pushed the hosts into autonomy – we’re also learning about the nefarious true goals of Delos, the company that owns the park, while flashbacks (not disguised as they were on series one, but still used to play with structure in an interesting way) fill in the blanks as to how the Man in Black (Jimmi Simpson as a young man, Ed Harris as an older one) got so involved in Westworld in the first place.

It’s fascinating stuff that’s drip fed throughout the series, and along with glee-inducing references and visits to some of the other parks owned by Delos (including the Samurai-themed Shogun world, which has a brilliantly clever action sequence in episode 5) it’s sure to intrigue and delight dedicated fans of the series thus far.

It’s just a shame that some of the more human or host-driven drama can’t excite in quite the same way. After travelling and gradually developing her consciousness in series one, host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has become an avenging angel – but this is mainly demonstrated by her slowly wandering around the wilds of Westworld, killing other hosts and humans and heading towards a slightly vague location of some significance.

Sadly, this ends up making Dolores’s scenes less exciting than the majority of the other characters’, while her blank slate personality in season one makes it difficult to invest in her new role as a cold-blooded killer. It probably also doesn’t help that in the episodes we’ve seen she rarely does anything that interesting, getting to a point when the scenes spent with her are the pace-sapping low point of certain episodes.

Compounding the slight tedium of Dolores’s storyline is the fact that plenty of other hosts have more interesting journeys this time around, with Thandie Newton’s Maeve (by far the best character in the series) gaining some unlikely allies as she travels the park, while Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) struggles to keep hold of his sanity as Delos tries to take back control.

Meanwhile, Ed Harris’s Man in Black is on another quest of his own – but this time, it’s a game entirely devised for him, which will bring him into contact with difficult choices from his own past.

To say much more would delve into spoiler territory – and given that showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy elected to NOT spoil the plot for fans, as they’d previously offered, we’d better not give the story away either – but we can say Westworld season two is still compelling viewing, full of action and philosophical discussion and with higher stakes than we’ve ever seen before.

Whether fans will be able to predict all the twists and turns quite as successfully this time around is less clear – it seems like the writers are relying slightly less on showy plot twists to tell the story – but they’ll certainly be glad to find themselves back in Westworld after a long absence. When it comes to cinematic, challenging and exciting TV not much else comes close.

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Westworld season 2 begins on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on Monday 23rd April