The first season of Westworld relied on the twofold novelty of its basic premise combined with a bevy of the fan theory-generating prestige of TV mysteries. The second season — debuting on Sunday, April 22 — will certainly keep audiences coming back for both those reasons, but Westworld cares less about its own cleverness now. Just like the robot Hosts gaining agency, the series has lightened up on its meta-commentary about telling pre-packaged stories. This new version of Westworld isn’t as evasive, which makes the actual plots feel less like a series of mysteries and more like a bold sci-fi thriller.
No spoilers ahead for Westworld season 2.
Layering all sorts of narrative devices on top of each other is pretty much the bread and butter of the first season of Westworld. Because all the robot Hosts in “the park,” had built-in narrative loops, programmed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), and others, we were entreated to think about the narratives of the human characters the same way. Just because the Hosts were programmed to behave the same way over and over again, did that make them any less human? After all, at some point, everyone’s narratives felt like they were going around in circles, too. And so, Westworld was really about change and choice. We thought of the Man in Black (Ed Harris) as a cookie-cutter sadist and William (Jimmi Simpson) as an unshakeable good guy. But once they were revealed to the same person at opposite ends of a life, the idea that people can change drastically became the epiphany that drove Westworld.
Change and choice exist for the robot Hosts, too, of course. Philosophically, this has slightly different implications and is either more or less profound than William turning into an asshole over time. Like so many science fiction stories of robots gone amok, the Hosts of Westworld have now revolted. But what they want in this violent rebellion is less than clear. Like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica or Skynet in the Terminator franchise, the Westworld Hosts are fighting back, which means most humans are on the chopping block.
Thankfully, this isn’t the only thing Westworld Season 2 is about. Instead, the idea that the Hosts are fighting back, and in turn, humanity is going to have to deal with it is simply the new status quo. The fact that robot Host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has become her own person isn’t something we’re meant to fixate on; it’s just a given. In this way, the previous season seems like a giant setup, one which allowed this season to exist.
Which brings it all back to thrills, or, perhaps more accurately, horror. This series has never been for the faint of heart, but because the stakes are so hardcore now, and you’re expecting sudden acts of violence from nearly any character at any time, Westworld has succeeded in doing something shockingly novel with the idea of a robot revolt.
It actually feels scary.
Westworld Season 2 debuts on HBO with its first new episode, “Journey into Night,” on Sunday, April 22 at 9 p.m. Eastern.