Westworld season 2 is a good example of why it’s sometimes best to ignore your fans
Well. I just finished the (super long!) finale to Westworld’s second season.
I’m sad to say this wasn’t must-see-TV for me this year. These episodes racked up to tackle “later”, me in no particular hurry to keep up. Frankly, I’ve had more to say about Rupaul’s Drag Race this year than Westworld.
Credit where credit is due, they really picked up at episode eight and maintained that momentum until the end. The finale itself was so fucking bizarre and abstract, I’m honestly blown away that they even attempted something so heavy sci-fi on a mainstream show. This was the first time all year that I was invested enough to actually get online to see what other people were saying.
But what the hell went wrong with the first seven episodes?
Frankly, the Nolans took Reddit figuring out their season one twist way too personally. The goal this season seemed to be as Reddit-proof as possible, chopping up their narrative and throwing scenes at the wall to see where they stick. They wanted the code to be unbreakable, to the point of risking (and achieving) incoherency.
I mean, they went so far as to directly troll the subreddit by Rick Rolling them with a video promising to spoil the whole season to save them all the trouble of trying to figure it out.
And, like, I respect their ambition to create the unforeseeable plot twist. But this comes with a problem: the moment your audience realizes they’re never going to break your code, they stop bothering to try. They stop talking about it. They’re not as enthused to tune in next week, to see if their theories were correct.
It’s a really delicate line to balance. Lost, despite its faults, kept me feverishly guessing until the end. Every episode sent me running to my blog to talk about it, and writhing in misery the following week until I got the next episode. The Leftovers fucking perfected this, leaving fans with something to talk about even after the show was over. Game of Thrones threw all their cares to the wind and have spent their last two seasons running through every fan theory and confirming them one by one. You know what? Everyone is still dying for the next season.
Look, if someone is picking apart your show enough to connect all the dots you’ve laid out, you should be honored. Not just that they cared enough to bother, but as validation that you did it right.
Every mystery should be solvable by the astute before you make your reveal, because half the fun in enjoying a mystery is trying to figure it out for yourself. (I should mention that I’m usually one of these people, and I was still blindsided by season one’s twist SHRUG EMOJI). Solving the mystery for one person is every bit as exciting as it is for the next person that was blown away because they didn’t see it coming. On one hand, you have someone generating word of mouth by regularly discussing your show. On the other, you’ve created rewatchability for the person that didn’t see it coming and wants to go back to spot all the foreshadowing they missed.
Will most of us go back and rewatch season 2? Some might. I won’t. It was too exhausting, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.
Their misstep shows, not only in the startling dip in ratings this year, but the fact that the marketing team is maybe lowkey tipping the subreddit off on hidden things they missed. This wasn’t a problem with the story they were trying to tell, it was a problem with the coherency in the way they told it.
We live in an interesting time. The internet allows us to throw our feedback in the creator’s face, and they often have no choice but to see what we thought. Was this season a response to them reading some dude that complained the first season’s mysteries were too easy to figure out? It’s important to remember some of the earliest storytelling advice I ever heard: sometimes it’s just as important to ignore feedback as it is to consider it. Tell the story you want to tell, the way only you can tell it. Never, ever bend to the whims of the fandom.
Maybe this is the way they always wanted to tell it. If so, I’ll sit down. But, judging from how different the first season was, I doubt it.
I’ll be here for season three, but I hope they relax a bit with causing confusion for the sake of a few people on Reddit.