Do We Watch Westworld With the Intention of Being Confused?

After taking a year and a half off, Westworld returned to our screens on Sunday and picked up right where it left off… in confusing the shit out of me. I don’t say this in a negative way, maybe frustrating, but mostly not negative. There’s just something about Westworld that leaves me with that furrowed brow feeling but inside my head where I can’t unfurrow it. Either that or it results in nose bleeds. Which had me wondering, why do I do this to myself? Why do I watch a show that is purposely designed to make my brain hurt? It doesn’t sound like a rewarding viewing experience.

Let’s not get it twisted though, Westworld has always been designed to be a confusing show or a layered show that is so deeply layered that it gets dizzying and confusing. That first season was the perfect amount of confusion because it allowed for theories. As much as the show wrinkled our brains at least we could form coherent thoughts and share them with others who were watching. Who do you think the Man in Black is? What does the Maze mean? Are we working with separate timelines here?! What’s the true deal with Dolores? These were all normal and rational trains of thought regarding the first season. This was the type of confusing television I relished in. We’re talking LOST levels of theorizing and discussions. I was all in and was having frequent Westworld conversations… and it was a blast. There are few things better in life than discussing a show you’re deeply passionate about… tacos is one of those things.

And the way that first season ended with Maeve staying in the park, Dolores pulling the trigger, the hosts becoming self-aware, everything seemed to be coming up gravy for Westworld. There’s nothing worse than spending an entire season trying to figure out what the hell is going on, only for the show to fall apart when it matters most. Now, some of you would argue that this happened to LOST and to you I say shut up you didn’t watch the show correctly. Westworld ended its first season primed for a second season that would be crazy town banana pants. I was here for it. I was psyched. And then I started watching.

Here’s the problem with the second season of Westworld… I’m still not entirely sure what the hell happened. I like to believe I’m a moderately intelligent human being especially when it comes to dissecting stories. That’s like my dream job. If someone would come to me off the street and say “Kevin, we’d like to offer you this hefty contract for a job where you’ll be digging through the layers of deep narratives“, I would immediately ask where do I sign or who do I have to kill for this. Shows like Legion and Fargo have been great brain fuel because their depth is real and brain achingly brilliant once you put all the pieces of the puzzle together. With the second season of Westworld, there was no real, “Oh shit! That’s what’s happening” moment. It seems like the story had gotten away from them which is something that often happens after a stellar/celebrated first season. It’s like the Sophmore album jinx. Sometimes all you got is one hit record. Ain’t that right, Bush?

The fan questions kind of shifted during the second season and instead of asking questions about the characters and the story, we were asking questions like “Does anyone understand what’s happening here? Seriously, does anyone? Anyone at all? That’s not to say that the second season was a complete pile of brain mush because it did have its moments. Moments that made you realize why you were sticking around in the first place. “Kiksuya” was one of the best single episodes of television I watched that entire year. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking and just masterfully crafted from all aspects. Ramin Djawadi’s score remained undefeated as his versions of Kanye’s “Runaway” and Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” are staples on my Apple Music. And Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jeffrey Wright were all brilliant. Despite having zero clarity on the story I was able to appreciate their acting and their dedication to the narrative which in turn has allowed me to continue to trust the show. If the cast is this committed to bringing such high-level performances then we have to be heading somewhere, right? If these guys still believe then we should too.

It was with that thought in mind that I tuned into the season three premiere on Sunday feeling kind of optimistic that my brain could withstand what was ahead. From the looks of things, it appeared that Westworld was about to have a facelift. We were officially out of the parks and into the world leading to a certain battle between the hosts and humanity or more directly, Maeve vs Dolores. Real Matrix-like stuff which makes sense considering that at this stage in the game Maeve has turned into this universe’s version of Neo and Dolores has become very Agent Smith with her whole “humanity must die” schtick. Plus as an added bonus, season three picked up Aaron Paul in a major role and I would blindly follow Aaron Paul to any television show. Minus the cult one, he did because I didn’t have Hulu, but outside of that, I’m blindly following Aaron Paul anywhere.

All this leads us to the most important question, was the season three premiere confusing? Yes. Was it the type of confusing where my body shuts down and my eyes look like they might be permanently crossed? Noooooo, but it was still confusing. The problem with this new direction is that Westworld is trying to morph into a completely different show while also not ignoring what came before it. These two conflicting thought streams lead to tons of questions centered mostly on “when did that happen” or “wait, do we know who Tessa Thompson actually is” or “is that Marshawn Lynch?!. Taking a year and a half off with a show as intricate as Westworld is a deterrent. There’s a lot of information for fans to retain and despite our current social environments, I’m willing to bet people didn’t rewatch season two in the hopes that the season three recap would break it down. Fun fact though, there was no recap. We jumped right into this baby and hit the floor running. Which I both appreciated as someone who thinks it’s best to move on from season two, and hated as someone who needed to be told what happened in season two.

And while the premiere was confusing, I’m perversely looking forward to the next episode. The change of scene certainly has helped and I’m a sucker for any narrative that is building to an all-out war between two central characters. Do I understand what Dolores’s plan is other than her revenge tour? Nope, but that doesn’t bother me. I want to see how her plan unfolds and how Aaron Paul plays a part in that. A host recruiting human soldiers interests me because they see humans as expendable. I like the switch in perspective there. It makes me wonder what’s going to happen when Maeve gets out of World War II land and also why is she there? Was she placed there by Dolores to keep her off the board? Was she put there by a higher power? Does she remember that’s she’s Neo? These are the questions I prefer asking. They alleviate the pressure in my skull after an episode.

It’s too early to tell if Westworld has returned to form. This first episode was… good. Not great. Not breathtaking. But I found that I was happy to be back in this universe despite not really knowing what the hell was going on. I was confused but I expected that. Even if the show is sort of reinventing itself, I walked away with only a minor nose bleed and the knowledge that I’ll need more tissues for the next episode. Will the show be able to maintain these levels of confusion? Unsure, hopefully, they’re able to bounce back after a flat second season otherwise why would I tune in just to make my brain hurt? There has to be payoff and I want to believe that Westworld can deliver. We’ve seen them do it before. But if nothing else, at least we get a season worth of Aaron Paul. That might be enough to stop the brain bleeds.

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