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‘Westworld’ Season 2 Returns with More Violent Delights

HBO’s Westworld premieres its second season tonight. As the show takes us farther and farther into its maze-like narrative, will the Television Academy continue to shower it with Emmy nominations?

I’ll be the first to admit that, while I was confident the Television Academy would respond to HBO’s Westworld crafts, I wasn’t completely convinced it would double-down on the entire series. Westworld, on the surface, is a show that’s very easy to admire. Its gorgeous traditionally gorgeous Western vistas. Its clinically sterile futuristic interiors. The costumes. The makeup. All of it top-notch. Literally the best money can buy.

But the narrative deliberately coiled around itself, splitting itself into two or three eras by the end of Season 1. It required significant amounts of concentration to follow. Not that that’s a bad thing at all, but it isn’t an easy show to LOVE. Clearly, enough members of the Television Academy liked it enough to shower it with 22 Emmy nominations including four acting nominations for Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright.

(Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)

The LOVE comes into play in winning actual awards, and Emmy bestowed only five trophies out of those 22 nominations.

So, Westworld Season 2 arrives tonight with a season premiere that matches the tone and complexity of the first season. It’s still a gorgeous series filled with awe-inspiring cinematography. It’s still extremely violent. And it still boasts an incredibly complex narrative that feels near-impenetrable.

Over the course of the premiere, there are likely two (maybe three) timelines at play. There’s a timeless scene that kicks off the episode between Evan Rachel Wood (in full demure Delores persona) and Jeffrey Wright (in befuddled Bernard mode). Then, there are a few sequences immediately following the massacre that ended Season 1. Finally, there appears to be a separate timeline several weeks (months?) following the massacre. I do find it compelling that the series appears to structure itself in a manner that echoes the overwritten and rebooted minds of the robotic hosts. It just doesn’t make for “easy” (re: passive) television viewing. Which, again, I don’t mind at all.

It just makes the task of predicting awards responses to such challenging material extra difficult.

For multiple reasons, the second season Emmy haul for Westworld will not match the heights of Season 1. The primary reason for that is the eligibility of its HBO cousin Game of Thrones. Thrones is, if anything, a show to which you respond passionately, and the Television Academy will continue to shower it with nominations this year. Aside from that even, Westworld loses (spoiler alert?) one acting nomination given Anthony Hopkins’ death at the end of Season 1. It’s very possible that Jeffrey Wright’s fantastic performance is elevated to Best Actor status with Hopkins’s absence, and that could leave room for another supporting male to take his place – most likely Ed Harris’s Man In Black. But for that to happen, the writers are going to have to develop a more compelling narrative for the talented Mr. Harris.

The ladies will definitely return as the writers have doubled down on expanding their robotic personas and, ironically, have fleshed out the characters with fully human emotions. Evan Rachel Wood is even better in Season 2 than she was in Season 1. She has control of her mind now that she’s able to remember her previous incarnations, and she struggles to marry the multiple narratives and create one of her own. The possibilities for her are endlessly fascinating.

(Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)

The great Thandie Newton, who should have won the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Emmy last year, actually manages to do more by focusing her narrative on a singular goal. If Westworld has emotion, then it’s channeled through her character’s arc to find her daughter from a previous life. I love this character and everything they do with her. Particularly in the first episode of Season 2 where she amusingly addresses her character’s penchant for full-frontal nudity in Season 1 by forcing a male co-star to engage in the same.

If it seems I’m down on the overall series, though, I’m really not. My one nagging concern really lies with the labyrinthine narrative the writers have created to carry it forward. It’s clearly a puzzle that we’re supposed to solve piece by piece. I’m just not sure I’m into the show enough to care about finding all the pieces. It’s a very, very strong show. I just don’t know that it resonates with me enough to put forward the effort.

Guaranteed Nominations

Drama Series
Evan Rachel Wood
Thandie Newton
Jeffrey Wright
Art Direction
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing
Visual Effects

Possible Nominations

Ed Harris
Jimmi Simpson
Music Composition
Stunt Coordination

HBO’s Westworld premieres tonight on HBO starting at 9pm ET.