Part of what has made HBO’s Westworld so effective, and so simultaneously infuriating, is that it seems to be packing many hours of premise and plot into a short, cable-length ten-episode season. Its incredibly baroque multiple-timeline structure is made into a puzzle thanks largely to aggressive, careful editing – each of the series’ several time settings are layered on top of one another, cutting back and forth with no identifying markers and often within mere seconds of the alternate timeline.
The tightness is crucial to what makes Westworld’s many surprise twists work. There’s no time to catch your breath or to write in repeating versions of the same discovery, because there are just too many puzzle pieces that need to be set up in order to pull off the final big-picture image. The breathlessness and the larger sense of things you don’t understand are also thanks to the season’s brevity. You come away from each episode with a sense of confusion because there’s just no time for your brain to catch up – Westworld’s two primary modes are theory-of-mind philosophizing and plot plot plot.
At the same time, that ten-episode structure is also responsible for much of what can make Westworld frustrating. The characters feel underdeveloped, like cookie-cutters who act primarily as stand-ins for ideologies. No one seems to have much personality. There are no friendships on Westworld, only lovers and enemies. How can there be? Convincing friendships take time to establish, and that’s something Westworld just does not prioritize.
The show would look very different if the same story were bulked out to a 22-episode, network-style season. Some of that difference would be valuable character building and would give the relationships more time to find nuance. Rather than the Man in Black delivering his entire backstory in a three-minute, “tell, don’t show!” monologue, maybe we’d actually get a chance to find it out through more natural, more persuasive means. But also, some of those two-dozen episodes would be really dumb.
Westworld As a 22-Episode Season: A Modest Proposal
- “Pilot.” Meet Westworld! Some basic introductions to the park, Dolores’s repeating story loops, the Teddy-isn’t-a-human reveal.
- “The Maze.” Dolores’s father has to be taken off-line; the Man in Black ropes Lawrence into the whole Maze thing. (Oooooh the Maze, mystery.) Several scenes developing friendship between Maeve and Clementine.
- “Storyteller.” In a staff meeting, we’re introduced to Felix and Sylvester, who have to sit through “hilarious” sexual-harassment training. Ford introduces the new narrative.
- “Go West, Young Men.” Meet Logan and William! Logan tries to persuade William to let loose a little, and they have a great time together and laugh and drink and actually behave like normal happy people on vacation. William takes a shine to Dolores.
- “An Attractive Accounting.” Clementine and Maeve make a game out of who can sleep with the hottest park guests, keeping a chalkboard tally behind the bar. All the other characters troop around the park looking for stuff.
- “Do Androids Dream of Electric Horses?” Felix asks questions about why the horses in the park aren’t real. One real horse slips into the park’s collection of robot horses, falls in love, and slowly goes mad. Told from perspective of the horse.
- “Bets.” Ford’s new narrative requires board approval; Tessa Thompson shows up and tries to start a Westworld staff poker tournament.
- “Carnivale.” A circus comes to Pariah!
- “The Geometry of Romance.” A love triangle brews between Logan, William, and Dolores, which feels obvious but also helps create actual emotional stakes for literally any one of these three characters.
- “Our Endless Numbered Days.” Maeve starts bugging out and cannot understand why Clementine can’t see how repetitive things are in the park. The growing rift between them is very moving.
- “Elvis Lives.” Ford gives an inscrutable speech about how fun anagrams are as a wordplay and waggles his eyebrows meaningfully at Bernard.
- “A Brain for a Brain.” Clementine gets wiped and Maeve plots murderous revenge for her lost friend that’s anchored in actual grounding of her previous fondness for her.
- “Manifest Destiny.” Midseason finale; all kinds of stuff about the Maze and the Ford/Arnold backstory get shoehorned into an episode with the Logan/Dolores/William love triangle as the frame. Fans create couple mash-up names for each pairing (DoLo; WiDo).
- “Distance.” Elsie navigates an online-only relationship with a beautiful blonde tech from the satellite Westworld marketing department.
- “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” All of the hosts get uploaded with a bug where they only communicate through song.
- “Forget It, Stubbs.” Noir-themed episode told from perspective of Stubbs, who starts to get suspicious and tries to get to the bottom of all the Westworld mysteries.
- “Pygmalion.” Felix and Sylvester manage to reset Maeve to her specifications. Felix misses her and decides to secretly build himself a host girlfriend.
- “XOXO.” It’s Valentine’s Day in the park, and everyone gets into the spirit of things. One host literally rips his heart out and gives it to a flattered female guest.
- “Eye, Robot.” This would be the orgy scene, but it’s network TV. Horrific violence is still allowed, of course, so Maeve goes on a rampage in search of Clementine’s decommissioned body. Very graphic shot of her ripping out someone’s eye. Future Dolores finds the “hatch,” aka a door to the main Westworld offices and demands they let her in to talk to Arnold.
- “How the Westworld Was Won.” Bernard opens the door, and Dolores yells, “Oh thank god, Arnold! I need your help so badly!” Gathered witnesses are stunned. Maeve gathers herself a robot army and makes them all whisper “Clementine!” as a secret robot army code.
- “Violent Delights…” Two-part finale. Flashback shows us Dolores killing Arnold! William and Logan timeline shows us Dolores running away from Logan and William as they fight each other for her love. Man in Black finds a plaque in the middle of the desert reading “Center of the Maze.”
- “…Have Violent Ends.” All the plots head toward cliff-hangers; Ford reveals that his new narrative will be zombie-themed.