HBO must be pretty happy with the audience response to Westworld. The show is only halfway through its first season, and it’s already dominating the pop culture discussion on Sunday nights with fan theories, speculation, and deep dive articles flying left and right after every episode. But I don’t know about you, but at the halfway mark of season one, the see-saw has tipped for me from the show being “mostly intriguing” to “mostly frustrating.”
There’s no arguing that the show is gorgeous to look at and exceptional at being mysterious. It’s set up a ton of mysteries in only five episodes and it’s delved into some interesting thematic territory while doing so, exploring questions about what makes us human, how much of an effect our environment has on what kind of person we are, and much more. It tries very hard to be deep and meaningful, and I’d say it occasionally succeeds in that regard.
But where it’s failed for me, at least so far, has been in presenting compelling characters. Westworld has drawn inevitable comparisons to Lost for the way it sets up mysteries. Many fans are hoping that Westworld answers its questions more satisfyingly than Lost did; say what you will about Lost, though — that was a show that truly cared about crafting its characters. It took the time to make us care about the castaways right from the very beginning and continued building and deepening them from there. Westworld has chosen to tell its story in a similarly oblique way, but telling it largely through the hosts’ perspective, while a theoretically interesting decision, hasn’t resulted in the kind of characters that an audience can latch on to in the same way.
Yes, I’m interested in Dolores’ journey of self-discovery, and secondarily, I’m interested in Maeve’s similar trajectory toward finding out the truth about the park. But that’s about it for me so far. The storylines of the park operators don’t interest me because they haven’t even established the rules of how the park really works yet, and I think the show is at its worst in both acting (sorry, third Hemsworth brother, but your line readings are terrible) and dialogue (see: the scene from this week’s episode in which one lab guy yells at the other one how he’ll always be a butcher and nothing more…gimme a break). I could endure some of the “off” episodes of Lost because even if the interesting mythology stuff I cared about wasn’t addressed in a satisfactory way that particular week, I still had these characters to fall back on. So far in Westworld, I think showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have spent too much time introducing mysteries and not enough making us care about the people trying to solve them.
What do you think?