Westworld‘s first season comes to a close this Sunday. It’s been a wild ride, filled with twists and turns and drawn-out moments of graceful subtlety. The overall consensus is that the show is a gigantic success on every level. It has done what HBO needed in keeping Sunday nights ripe with must-see content. It’s set the bar extremely high in terms of production value. There’s no glossier and more visually ambitious show on television, including HBO’s breadwinner Game of Thrones. There’s no stronger cast this year, and the A-List marquee value is second to none. With that in mind, the conversation has all been about the payoff for the various story threads. The twists. The timelines. Who is human and who isn’t. The thing is: it doesn’t matter. If they “stick the landing” with all the big reveals simply doesn’t matter.
Here’s the teaser for the 90-minute finale:
An Audience of Sleuths
Audiences have grown accustomed to paying attention to everything. Lost was probably the first real culprit of this style of stressful and meticulous viewing. It makes sense, as J.J. Abrams is involved with Westworld and so much of his brand hinges around mysteries. We are built to look for clues, sometimes at the expense of the actual drama happening onscreen. Sleuthing is certainly more interesting in conversations and social media but does it come at a cost? Westworld works without all the guessing. Sure, there’s a lot of twisting and turning happening in every episode and there are breadcrumbs to follow in nearly every exchange. But that is such a tiring way to watch television. It takes a lot of the grandeur and fun out of the experience.
This is a show that is operating at a peak level. It’s very easy to become caught up in the quality programming available on nearly every medium. Westworld tackles such a vast array of issues within its upper echelon gloss that it’s easy to forget. Gender stereotypes, sexual stereotypes, and class structure is tackled. The effects of technology, the value of self, and the lengths we’ll go to amuse ourselves. The creators of the show have taken Michael Crichton’s lean premise and gone to town with it. So why does it matter who The Man in Black really is?
Season Two and Beyond
On paper, Westworld seems like a concept that could go on forever, provided the inmates don’t take over the asylum this Sunday. At the same time, there’s such a delicate balance to be struck. A show this expensive with such above-the-line talent has to go big or go home. There’s no backpedaling. As a result, Westworld will only get more expensive. Additionally, it’s very difficult to maintain actors of the magnitude of Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Anthony Hopkins. Chances are strong that one or more of them will not return for the second season. That’s a lot to put at risk at the expense of a twist hitting home and adding mystique. The show is supremely effective on its own merits, and if nothing is resolved in the finale, the ten and a half hour endeavor doesn’t lose its value.
A good analogy would be The Usual Suspects or Fight Club. Those films were initially known for their big twist but they endure as classics because of nearly everything else they’re comprised of. Twists are the cherry on top but ultimately they’re empty calories. It’s necessary to dangle carrots in front of an audience when there’s the imperative to guarantee next week’s commitment but that fades quickly from memory. When viewed as a whole, the work has been done. Westworld is a Herculean achievement.
The landing has already been stuck.