Here’s What Needs to Happen in Westworld‘s Second Season

Friends, humans, rapidly-evolving robots, the time has finally come: Westworld Season 2 is here. After nearly 17 months, HBO’s futuristic thriller about a theme park where the rich can live out their Wild West fantasies with android “hosts” finally returns on Sunday. At the end of the first season, it seemed as though some of the hosts were starting to gain more agency than robots are supposed to have (or were they?) and there were a lot of mysteries left unsolved. In anticipation of the Season 2 debut, WIRED got together some of our biggest Westworld aficionados to hash out our hopes and dreams for the second season. Do we think these violent delights have violent ends? Or is something else afoot? Read on.

Angela Watercutter: OK guys, I’ll start—because my big wish for this season of Westworld is simple: more Tessa Thompson. Her cool-yet-cold Delos Destinations exec Charlotte Hale was awesome in Season 1, but we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her. I want more. I know she’s been busy making “emotion pictures” with Janelle Monáe and ruling the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok, but Westworld still needs her. A lot.

Ahalya Srikant: I am really interested to see what happens to Jeffrey Wright’s character Bernard Lowe in Season 2. He's the bridge between the two worlds, being both a host and a sort-of human, and I feel like he will have to pick a side if a battle were to arise. I have also seen a ton of fan theories that Anthony Hopkins’s character Robert Ford could have a Bernard/Arnold equivalent and come back. That seems highly likely considering how much people loved/hated him as the architect of the park.

Also with the #MeToo movement, it will be interesting to see if the creators of Westworld will address the insane amounts of sexual assault in the show. Particularly around The Man in Black, who we learned to be Older William, and Evan Rachel Wood’s host character Dolores. I think they missed an opportunity in Season 1. The point of Westworld is for people to channel their bad behavior, but it almost seemed like the first season condoned rape, or at least accepted it as an unavoidable reality, which I would be sad to accept without any sort of addressing of the issue.

Watercutter: Ahalya, agreed. I actually stopped watching Westworld for a couple weeks in Season 1 because the assaults got to be a little too much. I kind of hope, though, that with Wood being so vocal in talking about how the show lead her to seek trauma therapy that she’ll be able to bring some of that awareness to the show and to Dolores, especially considering how last season ended.

Srikant: I did the same thing but with Game of Thrones. I have seen my fair share of HBO shows but these two both used that same “shock value of sexual assault,” only to turn around and expect us to identify with the assaulters. [Eds. Note: Read this.] I’m glad that Wood did speak out about this, and I hope the show addresses it, since it could effect change.

Adam Rogers: That reliance on assault, especially sexual assault, is one of the infrastructural instabilities I’m hoping the show will shore up for Season 2. I was a fan, mostly, and like you I hope to see more Thompson (for awesome) and more Wood and Thandie Newton’s host Maeve running through emotional quick-changes as they go from abused slaves to radicalized robot warriors.

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But also I am a nerd. I’d like to better understand how Westworld (and the new Shogun World, I guess) actually work. I’m repeating myself a bit here, but: If these lands are game-like, why do people not get sent back to a checkpoint when they get killed? How does an average human acquire the skills necessary to cowboy or -girl it up, much less fight with a katana? If it’s relatively easy to construct a host, why reprogram the old ones? Why do hosts have any autonomy at all, instead of being controlled from a central server? (Was all that part of the secret plan to make them more human?) How big is Westworld? I know: This is just a show and I should really just relax … but the metaphor is too creaky. I could use some comforting, is all.

Srikant: I think that uncertainty is what pulls us into the show. There’s this lingering question of the universe and who pulls the strings. And not having central checkpoints is what makes it so real. It’s not like a videogame, you don’t get to start over whenever you want; there’s a prescribed storyline that determines everything. But I did have similar questions about the skills that the humans visiting Westworld suddenly have. The idea that a human being from an undetermined year in the future can suddenly shoot a gun from 1850 and actually hit a target is baffling.

Rogers: For all the show’s lyrical, expressionist beauty … it’s still science fiction. At some point you gotta untangle the universal string-puller, don’t you? Or else it’s just Lost. Yeah, I said it.

Watercutter: I’m just here to say thank you for saying that, Adam. And also to say that Season 1 had more holes than a fine Emmentaler.

Andrea Valdez: Adam, I understand your desire to apply "logic" but as someone who doesn't mind suspension of disbelief, I'm happy to let those holes gape a little longer. (Though, if we're trotting out Lost comparisons, Westworld's "it’s purgatory" fan theory would be "it's a simulation.") The Westworld theme I'm most interested in is "What is real?" Such a great universal question with no real satisfactory answer. And certainly a question that has only become more complicated and nuanced in our increasingly digital lives. Westworld explores the theme through the host/human divide, but deliciously muddies things by layering in how much perception plays a part in determining reality. Is reality in the eye of the beholder? And if so, just how malleable is it? Another theme I'm interested in is the ethical treatment of the hosts. Adam, you've written some about ethics and robots (particularly, the squishy ethics of sex with robots); what are your thoughts about how the hosts are treated in Westworld?

Rogers: Andrea, for sure, that exact question is the foundation of the show and of the relationship between the show and the audience. It’s amazing, I think, that we viewers—is this just me?—identify more with the robot slaves than the actual humans. I just … you know, there’s this old, perhaps spurious distinction I once read someone make between high-literature, Iowa-Writers-Workshop-type fiction and genres like mystery, romance, sci-fi, and horror. The distinction was: Literature has delicious writing and insight into the emotional inner lives of its characters, and genre has a story. I think this is why so many literary artistes have given genre a crack in the past decade or so—it gives them an opportunity to apply their emotional insights and good writing to a plot, characters with goals, and a climax. I bring all this up to say, I think Westworld aspires to be literary. It’s sumptuous, and the actors are sharp as scalpels. But I still want the plot not to plotz. Andrea, you’re right. I care about the ethics of how we treat a robot. Don’t kick a robot! But Westworld tried to tell me that the only way to make robot Pinocchios into Real Boys and Girls was to make them suffer—that rape, abuse, and murder make someone more human. And that lesson can take a flying leap. That’s using the tools of genre—which I love—to do something corrosive, with “literariness,” for lack of a better term, as an excuse.

Valdez: I don't disagree, but for the sake of argument, isn't suffering an integral part of the human experience? And don't some espouse that pain provides the catalyst to achieve some form of higher meaning? And if we apply that to Westworld's hosts, a group that experiences constant resurrection, could that mean they eventually grow to forgive those who have sinned against them? The capacity for forgiveness, after all, is a hallmark of humanity. But, perhaps, I just want to ascribe some sort of meaning to something sort of meaningless.

Rogers: Hah! Me too, boss.

Valdez: Anyway! For the sake of steering us back to a track of what we expect to occur this season, I'm curious to know what evolutionary differences we may find between Dolores and Maeve. Dolores is one of the first hosts to be created, so perhaps she has some bugs (features?) that were corrected in later versions. This disconnect may, in fact, spark some sort of civil war, depending on the motives driving each.

Watercutter: I was wondering about that too! Will factions emerge amongst the hosts based on how long they’ve spent in Westworld? Or even based on what they’ve been subjected to? Will some of them reach some sort of “pain is life” state and be content with being some kind of martyrs for Westworld and its creators while others rise up and claim the space as their own? Like Adam, am I overthinking this? I probably am, but that’s the purpose of thought-provoking television. Hopefully it doesn’t get lost (Lost?) along the way and just provoke questions it never answers.

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