As we face into the finale of Westworld's first season, it's been an interesting journey to say the least.
The show opened to some fantastic reviews and was heaped with glowing praise from audiences alike. However, as the weeks wore on as Westworld began to weave its story further down the line, there's been a growing sense that the show is already to starting to lose viewers. Evan Rachel Wood spoke out in an interview a few weeks ago and promised viewers that the finale would be mind-blowing. While that might not be all that suspicious - she is, after all, on the show and is obviously obligated to sell the show - it still speaks to the fact that HBO are still actively trying to sell it rather than letting word of mouth do its work.
Take Game Of Thrones' first season, which won audiences over through recommendation and the like. Even though it was set in a foreign land with unknown characters and the like, it had enough of a strong throughline that you could follow the story and it rewarded you for it.
With Westworld, it's decidedly less so.
The big problem most people appear to be having with Westworld is the fact that they're very little in the way of stakes. It's basically just rich people in an amusement park, so who cares if they live or die? Moreover, why should we care about the hosts? They're robots, right? Westworld is, of course, trying to shape our understanding of this point; just because you can't tell the difference doesn't make it any less or more real. Still, the reality is that we - as an audience - can't make the leap because we've been explicitly told that they're robots, they don't have any living tissue or understand emotions beyond what's been given to them and it's all a matter of code and programming.
While some might argue that the storyline with Thandie Newton is adding stakes, the fact is that the show is being so painfully slow with it that it's hard to care any longer. Two entire episodes were spent with Newton's character and none of it made any sense. We were shown her previous iteration and so forth, with the small child and so on, but why isn't any of it resonating? Is it just because she's a host and we can't make that leap? Or is it because the storytelling aspects are so needlessly complicated that it's preventing audiences from reaching a place where they care?
It's probably a bit of both. In the second-to-last episode, a number of theories were confirmed and true identities were revealed also. Most penultimate episodes in HBO lore are always filled with explosions, chaos and the like - and Westworld's penultimate episode did that, albeit on a smaller scale. It also added further fuel to a number of other theories on the show's future and one particular theory that's gathered up the most oxygen - namely that Westworld is set in two distinct timelines and that the Man in Black, played by Ed Harris, is actually Jimmi Simpson. While you could argue that making this distinction - that it's being shown from two different time periods - would be spoon-feeding the audience, the fact is that it doesn't make for a rewarding experience and you get the sense that it's being purposefully obscured so as to lead to a grandiose reveal.
Ultimately, what makes Westworld so frustrating to watch is that it's got some excellent ideas and thought-provoking, layered sci-fi is something that should work in long-form TV series like this. However, it's instead squandering this goodwill with cheap, cack-handed reveals and a lack of cohesive storytelling. The reality is that Westworld is starting to feel a lot like Lost, wherein it's working with some brilliant actors, concepts and ideas, but that the execution is being botched on a weekly basis. It might come right again at some point and there's been some excellent episodes this season, but it's been so wildly varying in quality that you're sitting through a dull episode in the hopes the next one's better. Be honest - is the reason you're still watching Westworld purely just becaus everyone is talking about it and you don't want to be left out? And once this season ends, will you return to it?
Answers on a postcard, folks. Let us know what you think.