Editor’s Note: This article was first published way back at the end of 2016 — a world away from the current one, if you ask me. Anyways, with the second season of Westworld finally premiering tonight, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my thoughts on the first season of the HBO show. Spoiler: I loved it, and I’m hopefully I can say the same about the second season. We shall see tonight!
When Westworld first premiered about two months ago, I was quickly quite enamored with it. What a saw in Westworld was grand, ambitious science fiction storytelling, and I do believe that (for the most part) the show fulfilled my lofty expectations for it. Sure it wasn’t without its weak spots, but overall I really did find this to be a fantastic season of television, and I am beyond excited to see what comes next.
But before I jump into that particular vat of theories and speculation, I thought it would be appropriate to take a deep dive into the rest of the season, revisiting what I believed to be the show’s strongest moments so far. Keep in mind that, as you would expect from something with this title, there will be FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON OF WESTWORLD BELOW.
5. The Man in Black Laments
There’s few things in the world I love more than a well delivered, brilliantly executed little monologue. Westworld, being really quite dialogue heavy at its core (arguably to its detriment at times) was no slouch when it came to the monologue department, giving its esteemed actors plenty of space to really belt out the pained soliloquies regarding all the various torments of their lives.
But as great as Anthony Hopkins was at theatrically breaking down his character motivation, or as absolutely badass Thandie Newton’s every line of dialogue proved to be, I would argue that it was Ed Harris who really stole the show in the monologue department this season. His “Man in Black” character was shrouded in mystery throughout most of the season, so it made sense the character would instantly attract our attention the moment he chose to speak up. But the speech The Man in Black (nee William) made to Teddy and Angela at the end of “Trace Decay” was a real double whammy — it was both a strong moment for Harris to earn his possible Emmy nomination, and a chance to fill in his character in a very interesting way.
Brilliantly connecting the story of his return to Westworld with the murder of Maeve’s daughter, the real joy of this scene was the sense of discovery and tension that comes with a character literally (and finally) telling you things that actually happened, in a timeline that’s easy to understand. Yeah sure that might seem like a no-brainer for most pop culture, but for question-heavy shows like Westworld, there’s always such a grand level of suspense at play when characters start talking unobtrusively about their lives. Every word matters, every sentence a possible key to a huge and stunning reveal. And though the show would end up holding its biggest Man in Black trump card close to its chest until the very last episode, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and beauty of Ed Harris’ terrific, character defining speech. Westworld had a bonkers cast of talented people, and in scenes like this, it proved to be an absolute joy just to watch them perform.
4. Paint it Black
The moment in which you realize that you’re falling in love with a show is a pretty wonderful thing . And for me that moment came early with Westworld — halfway through the first episode, in fact.
A brilliantly conceived, wonderfully executed set-piece is something I appreciate a great deal, and Westworld really didn’t wait all that long to deliver a great one. Fueled brilliantly by a piano cover of “Paint it Black,” Hector Escaton’s violent siege of the Sweetwater Saloon was not just a fun action sequence, but also a wholly unique look into how fucked up the world of Westworld really is, as host after host is horrifically gunned down all in the name of…a hardware recall. It didn’t take very long for my sympathies to land with the robots, and scenes like this present a pretty strong reason why.
Plus, Escaton’s big speech getting cut off by a trigger happy guest is still one of the funniest moments in the show so far. Sizemore’s frustration with the system quickly became an excellent vessel for humor, huh?
3. It Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me
The fan theories were already running wild going into the show’s seventh episode, “Trompe L’oeil.” Hell, the theories were running wild since episode two, if I’m being entirely honest. Still though, it speaks to the show’s quality that they were able to reveal one of the series’ most talked about theories, and still make the moment land with the appropriate amount of oomph.
I am of course talking about the big reveal at the end of “Trompe L’oeil,” in which Bernard learns of his true identity: a host crafted by and under the complete control of Ford. It was a show changing revelation but, like most of the twists on Westworld, not a completely surprising one. Still though, it’s a strong sign the show is of high quality when, even if I know pretty much where the series is going, it doesn’t keep from the reveal itself being a wonderful, exciting moment of television.
Because what really makes this “twist” work is not what it is, but HOW it goes about revealing it. And I think the internet has very much proven that this twist will stand the test of time: I mean, “It doesn’t look like anything to me” is already an iconic line, and an instant meme. And that’s because it was a terrific line in an absolutely terrific scene. This is the moment that the truth started to really spin itself out for the show and, as a genesis for the reveals to come, you can’t get much better.
2. Maeve Makes Her Escape
In the midst of alternate timeframes and earth-shattering reveals, it sure was nice to have Maeve’s storyline around to serve as a solid anchor for the rest of the series. Compared to pretty much every other plot point, Maeve’s was by far the simplest: she gained her sentience and, with it, began plotting to escape. Sure, things got a bit more complicated towards the end (the show is still Westworld, after all), but compared to all the other confusion going on, Maeve’s story arc was pretty clear cut.
I would personally chalk that up as a positive, however, as Maeve’s experience with sentience really did ground the series for me. Even at its most trippy and confusing, the show had this fantastic story at its core, moored by a terrific character played by an ever more stunning actor (it will be a crime if Thandie Newton doesn’t land any Emmy nod for this, right?) And unlike pretty much every other character on the show (with the big exception of perhaps Ford), Maeve is the only character to actually get what she wants by the season’s end. And by god did she do it in the best way possible.
Seeing Maeve and her ragtag “army” of Escaton, Armistice, and Felix fight their way out of the main compound was spellbinding television, directed brilliantly by showrunner Jonathan Nolan. Well technically not a single moment, I’m going to lump Maeve’s escape altogether simply because it’s impossible to choice what was the best part: from the first scene of Escaton and Armistice brutally slaying two techies (the first robot-on-human casualties of an ultimately bloody night) to the Cabin in the Woods-esque entrance into the Samurai Room, Maeve’s journey to escape the compound was just what the season was asking for, and the kind of propulsive storytelling that many other TV series would be lucky to have.
Also, that outfit. You lookin’ quit arch indeed, Maeve. Just never stop being you.
1. It All Comes Together
But there can only be one, and in the case of Westworld, the best moment of the season was easily the closing ten minutes of “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Bernard’s desperate attempt to learn his heritage and understand his creation is exciting in and of itself, but what truly makes this sequence shine is the build-up to the reveal, one that pretty much everyone knows is coming, but is beyond excited to see nonetheless.
Which, yes, is indeed a lot like the previous moment of Bernard learning of his identity, which also placed on this list just a few segments back. That’s even more of an accomplishment, if you ask me: the fact that Westworld can basically play the same exact trick TWICE and do it wonderfully both times is a testament to how strong the storytelling of the series really is.
Of course to say the reveal of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the exact same as the one in “Trompe L’oeil” is a bit simplistic. The reveal at the end of “Clavier” is a whole lot more of a development, and manages to wrap in Delores’ storyline into the proceedings too. Really, the final moment of “Clavier” is the thing that brought the whole season together, explaining seemingly everything (including the multiple timeframe scenario) into one jaw-dropping package. In this, it was probably smart to drop the “Bernard is a host” reveal before the “Bernard is a clone of Arnold” reveal, as it allowed both bits of information a lot of room to breath. A lesser show would have just had both twists piled up on each other, and would have been a whole lot messier because of it. By separating the two show-changing revelations, the gravity of each is truly felt.
But so why then did the twist of “The Well Tempered Clavier” work better than the one in “Trompe L’oeil?” Well, for one reason primarily, and her name is Michelle MacLaren. She’s one of the all time best TV directors, and the skill that she brought to tackling this oh-so-important episode really pushed it to season-high quality. No disrespect to Frederick E.O. Toye (who is an excellent TV director in his own right), but MacLaren just brings so much style and confidence to everything she touches, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to handle the balancing act of “The Well Tempered Clavier’s” final moments. When her name flashed up in the opening credits for the episode, I knew that I would be in for something special, and hoped that Episode 9 of Westworld would be as well-executed and exciting as the many great Episode 9’s of Game of Thrones before it.
And, thankfully, it was. This episode, and in particular its final moments, truly left me breathless. Television at its finest, and proof that Westworld is indeed one of the best TV shows of 2016.
Which, yes, I wholeheartedly believe is the case. Lord knows Westworld Season 1 wasn’t perfect, and there was certainly little things here and there that I had some problems with. But at the end of the day, I think the mantra of one of the show’s best characters sums up my thoughts quite nicely: while some people might chose to see the logical issues or storytelling quibbles of the series, I choose to see the beauty. And if this list shows anything, there was a hell of a lot of it to enjoy this season.