Were you not a fan of Westworld Season 2? That might not be Westworld‘s fault. Instead, perhaps you aren’t a dedicated enough superfan. That was the idea posited by HBO programming president Casey Bloys, when asked about backlash to the second season.
Speaking at the TCA press tour Bloys said, “Most of the reviews felt that the story had been clarified. It’s not for casual viewers; it requires your attention. [Co-creators] Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] like to challenge their viewers and many feel rewarded by that. It’s a unique show and that’s what we’re looking for.”
There’s an issue with that line of thought. Simply writing off those who didn’t enjoy the season as not paying close enough attention is a silly route to take. HBO is, after all, the same network that airs Game of Thrones–a show fans obsess over. Dedication and the ability to pay attention to something shouldn’t enter the equation. A quick Google search will show you that those tuning in were paying attention. That wasn’t the problem. Instead, the problem was Season 2 didn’t live up to the hype Season 1 built in the minds of those viewers.
Season 1 masterfully built to a point where all of the little plot threads laid out were tied together, opening the door to an even bigger world in the second season. When that season arrived, with a wildly uneven premiere episode, it was clear that something wasn’t the same. Likewise, as Season 2 continued, most of the new characters introduced either died quickly or didn’t resonate like those from Season 1. Meanwhile, the show took its alternating timelines trick to wacky new heights in a dizzying attempt to stump audiences who figured out the Season 1 twist early on.
That’s not to say Westworld Season 2 doesn’t have its fans, something Bloys was quick to point out. “The people who love it really love it, even the people who dislike it feel the need to discuss it and talk about it, and let you know they dislike it, and debate,” he explained. “And for a show to arouse that kind of feeling, that’s what we want.”
The problem is the discussion among those who didn’t enjoy it probably isn’t what HBO wants. To borrow a phrase from wrestling, this season slowly trended toward “X-Pac heat.” In late 1990’s wrestling, there were bad guys you loved to hate and there was X-Pac, who fans simply hated. They just wanted him to go away. Is that really the kind of reaction Westworld wants?
No show is going to win over everyone. In fact, Westworld Season 2 did have its highlights. “Kiksuya,” the eighth episode of the season, is one of the very best hours of the series.
However, the fact that the conversation surrounding Westworld changed so drastically between Season 1 and 2 says something about how the story is being told. It doesn’t mean viewers aren’t paying enough attention or are too casual in their fandom of the show. Many of those complaining are the same people who adored the first season and fervently championed it.
So instead of simply dismissing them, perhaps HBO should ask itself why the reaction to the show changed so drastically for that group of fans. That doesn’t mean Westworld should or will change course. However, perhaps taking the time to figure out why Season 2 didn’t land for some fans, the way Nolan and Joy intended it to, will teach HBO something about the audience that’s tuning in. Because they’re not casual, and they simply want to love the show, just like they did in the first season.
Or do nothing and when those same viewers don’t enjoy the third season, you can continue to simply excuse them as not being big enough fans.