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Now returning to the World of the West. (Photo by Wellington Rodrigues on Unsplash.)

Westworld’s storytelling challenge

Can the HBO series’ second season live up to the hype?

(Spoilers for Westworld Season One throughout)

Trailer for Westworld Season Two.

Season One was a puzzle box. Season Two might not have the same option.

Part of what made Westworld’s initial run so captivating was its interlocking narrative structure. Plotlines taking place in the past were juxtaposed with narratives taking place in the present, and the unchanging ages of the android characters and their artificial theme-park setting meant that an unsuspecting viewer might not have caught on to such facts as, for instance, that William (Jimmy Simpson) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) were the same person at different time periods, at least until the theory was confirmed in the season finale. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, though, it’s unlikely Nolan and Joy can pull the same trick again.

Trailer for the original 1973 “Westworld” film.

Sophomore struggles and course corrections

A better comparison to Westworld’s narrative ‘predicament’ might be that of Mr. Robot. After a major twist toward the end of the first season, Sam Esmail’s excellent hacking/political thriller series took the narrative equivalent of Vicodin in Season Two, featuring lengthy and unnecessary flashbacks, more than one very-slow-burning narrative tricks, and the removal of one of the best characters from the action for the majority of the season’s runtime.

The near-impossible pivot

One example of an improbably successful pivot is that of HBO’s The Leftovers, which finished off an impressive run of what I will term ‘screenwriting one-upmanship’ in 2017. Damon Lindelof’s first season—about a world where 2% of the global population vanishes into thin air, and the consequences of such an event on a family in a small town—got off to an uneven start.

Essays on film, politics, and storytelling. Learn more at www.harrisonblackman.com/ and https://harrisonblackman.substack.com/.

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