There aren’t many shows more complicated than Westworld. That means with the AI theme park-driven show’s return to HBO this month for a second season, reviews and recaps will be many fans’ gateways into understanding the maze of plotlines and twists cooked up by Jonathan Nolan and team.
But, you may be wondering, is this show even worth the trouble? Well, even if the show doesn’t premiere for another week and change, the critical embargo has lifted and the floodgates of reviews are open.
Let’s see what the critics are saying:
Entertainment Weekly’s Kristen Baldwin was in awe over the new season, even for non-converts to the labyrinthine storytelling. The show becomes “enthralling even for those who prefer a passive viewing experience. The sweeping shots of big-sky grandeur! The endlessly creative violence! (Three words: Human railroad crossties.) And the performances,” writes Baldwin, are just icing on the deliciously twisted dessert. She explains that the cast of characters is split up this season on different storylines and timelines, but it all works out and comes together in the end, maintaining the show’s extensive pleasures.
In explaining the growth the show has seen between seasons, Collider’s Allison Keene writes that Season 2 “builds off of” the mysterious first season’s “imparted knowledge to create something very different. We know the players, we know the game, but everything has been turned upside down. It’s a new world that in many ways feels like a new show.” This new show isn’t one focused entirely on weaving complex puzzles, but building complex characters. Comparing it to HBO’s Game of Thrones, Keene says the “series is at its best when episodes focus on just one or two narratives for its vastly spread-out cast, and even better when it investigates different character pairings.”
Also excited that the show has reduced its reliance on its secrets, Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall says that it’s a “much more enjoyable one to watch this time around.” A “tremendous cast” that once felt wasted and pushed to the sidelines is now at the forefront and given room to work, which allows the show to grow and enjoy the work its complex first season put in. Sepinwall was perhaps the most frustrated of early critics, saying that the show “still has a tendency to get too cute in its shuffling between timelines,” which is a tiring overreliance on gimmicks for a world that is clearly rich with character and story. And yet, the long but briskly moving episodes have certainly gotten better — even if they haven’t reached their full potential.
USA Today’s Kelly Lawler notes the show’s improvement from its debut, explaining that Season 2 “feels less like a freewheeling experiment and more like a TV show that knows what it's doing and where it's going.” After writing about the success the show’s writers have found by lessening the importance of the mysteries and twists, Lawler focuses on the best parts. Specifically, the cast. Maeve is the best character this go-around, with actress Thandie Newton continuing “to turn in career-best work as the park's most conscious host, turning her emotions on a dime and making her sometimes-less-than-ethical character sympathetic and appealing.”
Slashfilm’s Chris Evangelista teases additional parks apart from Westworld and Shogun World while complimenting the series’ ability to pile on the mysteries plentiful enough to keep even the most obsessed Reddit user busy. He praises Ed Harris as The Man in Black evolves “from the show’s scary heavy to more of a rounded — but still terribly flawed — individual,” while highlighting newcomer Peter Mullan “who brings just the right amount of gruff menace his character needs” and the work of composer Ramin Djawadi (who also does Game of Thrones). This soundtrack has the “type of slow-bowed strings that make one think of long, quiet, rainy nights, or graveside funeral gatherings set against icy morning winds.” “You can get lost in music like this,” Evangelista says, “Just as much as you can get lost in the world the show is creating.”
Westworld returns to HBO on April 22.