Image Credit to The Atlantic
What kept me from embracing Westworld season one was the sense that the show could not allow for a personal relationship to develop between itself and any one viewer. The work’s need to focus on and clearly explain countless plot twists, character motivations, world rules, themes, and backstory left no room for someone to discover anything on his own. The joy behind cherishing a delight privately, individually seemed anathema to Westworld. Instead, the program created the feeling that as you were responding to a revelation, visual flourish, or idea, everyone else was reacting to the same one thing in the same exact way.
The much anticipated second season premiere shattered that impression. Instead of holding viewers’ hands and making all narrative, thematic, and emotional connections for them, episode writers Lisa Joy and Robert Patino along with director Richard J. Lewis showed restraint. Their visual composition, editing, and sound design allowed viewers to grasp and process information, ideas, and feelings for themselves. A good example is how one of the show’s core themes-that violent delights beget violent ends-manifested itself in last night’s premiere.
Rather than have characters repeat the idea or pontificate on it too much, Westworld chose to evoke it. Upsetting wide shots littered with bloody, dirty, mutilated bodies were edited together with close-ups of flesh being penetrated, cut into, or burned. The show’s score music and sound design avoided letting such images turn into disgusting, exploitive gore by providing them with a haunting quality. Ramin Djwadi’s music had a dark, pulsating vibe to it, heightening the disturbing nature of these compositions while also increasing tension by making the viewer wonder which character would face his or her mortality next. Meanwhile, the episode’s sound design cannot be praised enough. Not since watching Michael Mann’s Heat have I heard gunshots as disquieting and scary. Each fired bullet, whether aimed at a robot or human, felt like a gut punch, reminding me that no matter which side wins this conflict, the loss of life will be staggering and alarming.
By deciding not to walk viewers through what it was trying to convey, Westworld finally got rid of the feeling that it was too worried, too timid to ever leave anyone behind. The show’s newfound freedom meant it could offer viewers the ability to experience its mysteries, rhythms, and sensations for themselves through sonic and visual means. The result was something richer, deeper, and more powerful than anything the show has achieved before. Westworld has never felt as brutal, uncomfortable, and painful as it did last night. This viewer is along for the ride.