Season Two Of Westworld Journeys Beyond Its Borders

Westworld season 2 poster

The second season of the HBO sci-fi series, Westworld, will conclude this coming Sunday and what a ride it has been. Based on the old Michael Crichton film that starred Yul Brynner, Westworld was a thought-provoking surprise for viewers when it premiered in 2016. Fans had to wait over a year for its second season and frankly it was worth the wait.

Maeve and company

Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme resort where visitors can act out their violent and sexual fantasies within recreated historical places. Most of the series takes place in a land that is a perfect recreation of the Old West but other locales have been introduced this season, notably one based on feudal Japan complete with shogun warriors and ninjas. Guests interact with lifelike automatons called hosts that were once androids but are now printed biologically by the resort’s engineers and programmed to cater to the guests’ desires. What happened over the course of the story is that the hosts have gained sentience and no longer want to play along.

Dolores Abernathy

Season one of Westworld ended with a literal bloody bang as the hosts rose up in unison and started their violent revolution. Season two starts with the rebellion underway as the resort’s security tries to take back the property and there are many intertwining subplots featuring returning and new characters. These storylines jump back and forth in time and you have to pay attention to what is going on but you’ll be rewarded with captivating stories and character development. Many of them are well fleshed out and nuanced. We see the growth and descent of many like the host Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), who was once a sympathetic farm girl that is now the bloodthirsty head of the uprising. Her goal is to wipe out humanity for the continued pain humans have inflicted on her. It has gotten to the point that she is on the border of becoming the show’s villain thanks to her merciless demeanor. Meanwhile, Westworld’s main human villain, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), is seen in a not quite sympathetic light but his behavior is more understandable. We see that his obsession with Westworld and desire to revel in his violent fantasy has completely warped him and is shattering his grip on reality.

Two hosts who have risen above their programming and are the show’s hearts and souls are Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve (Thandie Newton). The reveal that he was a host in the previous season was quite a shock and this season just went full out to explore the impact of that revelation as he struggles with his identity. He was always someone we could relate to and a very decent person. In this season we continue to root for him as he grapples with his memories and his choices. Meanwhile, Maeve has a compelling arc where she evolves to control other hosts mentally as she searches the vast landscape for her daughter. Along the way she inspires other hosts and humans with her humanity and intellect.

Thankfully this season took time to explore many concepts and dramas about the hosts and their inner struggle. Questions and explorations about the nature of reality, reincarnation and free choice are there for us to consider in between violent clashes between hosts and humans and even among hosts themselves. A couple of episodes were genuinely heart touching such as episode eight “Kiksuya” which is about a Ghost Nation warrior (Zahn MacClarnon) who becomes self aware and strives to spread the word about the truth of the hosts’ existence. Another one was “Akane no Mai” and “Phase Space”, which feature some terrific performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Hiroyuki Sanada as a geisha and ronin who love each other.

The second season of Westworld succeeds because of the other above reasons and the way it keeps you guessing. Plus, it lets you see both sides of the conflict and divides your loyalties. As we rejoice in all the bloody confrontations we can’t help wondering if we are cheering for the right side. Or if we should be pleading for both species to find a way to co-exist, if it is even possible. As the season concludes with “The Passenger” we’ll find out how these stories conclude and set up the third season.

Advertisements

The Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV

In the previous post, a review of Altered Carbon, it was stated that we are living through the Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV. That may be a bit of hyperbole to some, but with all the quality science fiction TV shows out now or coming soon, it cannot be denied.

Not too long ago, sci-fi TV shows were the laughing stock of television land. Of course, there were the few classic nuggets like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, which showed the potential of high-quality science fiction tales in the TV medium. However, most sci-fi TV shows were at best pedestrian or at worst embarrassing. Galactica 1980, anyone? Most of these shows had zero budgets, which made them look cheap and amateurish. Having a high budget is critical for many sci-fi programs, but not vital. What crippled many of these shows were the lack of faith from networks and the showrunners themselves who treated their shows like children’s fare and did not take them seriously.

Whenever a science fiction TV show that showed promise debuted, TV networks living by the ratings dogma were too quick to cancel them. The television graveyard of stillborn TV shows is littered with diamonds-in-the-rough like the original Battlestar Galactica, Alien Nation, and Space: Above and Beyond. It was an anomaly to see a genuinely good sci-fi TV show thrive in the competitive television landscape.

alien nationEven with the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as Syfy), high-quality science fiction TV shows could barely be found. Think about that, a cable network supposedly dedicated to this genre had a spotty record for airing good, original sci-fi television. Yes, the channel did air re-runs of past classics, but when it came to original programming, Syfy usually failed. In short, the genre was not respected by studios and the general public.

Thankfully, all that has changed. It didn’t happen overnight and it was a series of baby steps, but now science fiction is a viable and respected genre in television. This turnaround came with the success of the Star Trek spinoffs. Then in the 1990s, The X-Files, the paranormal thriller about aliens and other ghoulies became a bonafide hit and a cultural phenomenon. Other shows in the 1990s and the 2000s made their impact like Babylon 5, Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, Farscape, Doctor Who (which came back after being cancelled in the 1980s), Fringe and Lost (which won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series).Battlestar-Galactica-2003-Cast-PictureToday, there are more and more science fiction TV shows competing for our attention and ratings. There are still the goofy TV shows and guilty pleasures but it has gotten to the point that we can pick and choose what to watch as the threshold for quality has increased tenfold. Just look at what is coming out next month: The Expanse (in its third season), the critically acclaimed Westworld, a new version of Lost in Space that looks stunning, and The Handmaid’s Tale. The latter show also won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and as much as we complain about science fiction films not ever winning an Oscar for Best Picture (though The Shape of Water can be arguably science fiction), it is refreshing to see the genre recognized for excellence. What has brought about this reverence has been the stellar quality of the scripts, production design, directing, FX and acting.Handmaid's TaleThe success and acclaim for Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale, among others, shows how respected science fiction has become on TV. These TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale are resonating with viewers who can relate to the themes and characters that shine through the fantastical trappings. This is why we fans are living through a Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV , let’s hope it lasts for a long time.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Disney To Do A Proto-Westworld With Its Star Wars Hotel

star wars lobby

The big news to come out of the D23 Expo was the announcement from The Walt Disney Company of its plans to build a Star Wars-themed hotel in Walt Disney World. This hotel or resort is not going to consist of just slapping on Star Wars wallpaper and bedsheets into hotel rooms, but an immersive experience for guests. From the moment guests checks in they will be transported to the Star Wars universe while the resort doubles as a massive starship. This will allow guests to have interactive, role-playing experiences as they become part of a Star Wars story.

Imagine going to this Star Wars hotel to cosplay as a Jedi Knight or a Sith Lord and living out your space fantasy. Bob Chapek, the chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, promised that the experience for guests will be “100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day.” Adding to the immersive experience will be new tech that gives the illusion of being onboard a starship which will feature wandering droids and all the Star Wars creatures and aliens that will excite any fan.

Sound familiar? Just swap out the droids and space pirates for gunslingers and cowboys and you’ve got Westworld. For anyone who hasn’t seen the old movie or the acclaimed TV show on HBO, Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme park where guests are fully immersed in elaborate recreations of the Wild West as they have shoot outs with android cowboys and interact with other Western archetypes that are also androids. The only difference between the two parks is that Disney will be using actors and not androids (that is if you discount the assorted non-humanoid droids who won’t have the level of intelligence as those seen on Westworld). Given time, Disney will be able to replace human actors with androids. After all, they are pushing the envelope with their famous animatronics. Already we are seeing experimental mobile animatronics that can interact with guests at the parks.

This concept is not exactly new. Dude ranches exist, as well as zombie cruises. Universal Studios Orlando has Diagon Alley, which is a richly detailed recreation of Harry Potter’s hidden wizarding alley in London. What also sells the illusion of being in Harry Potter’s world is the Hogwarts Express train ride that transports you from London to the famous wizard academy. Expect that similar technology will be used to showcase epic space scenes outside the hotel’s windows. Not that long ago, there was the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas where guests were literally transported into a replica of the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine and interacted with famous Star Trek aliens. The actors playing the various Ferengi, Vulcans, and Borg always stayed in character while they served cuisine and drinks inspired by the franchise. Disney will probably look to the Star Trek Experience for ideas and inspiration and learn about potential problems.

One thing to consider is that not everyone who visits the Star Wars hotel may not want to be fully immersed in the experience. They can just be companions of more devoted guests who will wholeheartedly plunge into the experience. So how will they be catered? Will the actors simply ignore them if they see the guests are unwilling to play along? That has happened in the Star Trek Experience, which was fine since it wasn’t a completely immersive experience, but won’t this shatter any illusions in the resort?

Also, trying to keep up the illusion will strain logistics, which will translate into increased costs. So, we all know what that means. Yes, be prepared to shell out a substantial amount of money, probably several months’ worth of rent money, to pay for a short stay. But, maybe Disney will feel benevolent and provide coupons and discounts to us poor peons as the slimy lawyer suggested in Jurassic Park. In the end, most of us will not be able to afford to spend time at the hotel, and do not be surprised if visitors are not even allowed into the lobby for fear of disrupting the illusion. After all, how can a serious cosplayer all decked out as an X-Wing fighter pilot enjoy his or her stay in the Star Wars hotel if they encounter not Jawas, but tourists in tacky t-shirts? But, it was expensive to stay at Westworld so a high cost in this coming hotel should not be unexpected.

star wars hotel story

If this takes off, no, when it takes off, expect other immersive resort stays and not just Disney. Already there are rumors that Disney’s main theme park rival, Universal Studios Resort, is looking into creating a fully immersive Harry Potter experience, which might include a Hogwarts hotel. Some may complain about this but this competition will induce creativity and maybe make these experiences affordable. In any event, this is exciting development for Star Wars fans as they ponder this resort experience and have something else to anticipate from Disney.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto