John P. Johnson/HBO
June 03, 2018 at 09:59 PM EDT

Westworld

type
TV Show
genre
Sci-fi
run date
09/25/16
performer
Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins
Producer
Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, J.J. Abrams
broadcaster
HBO
seasons
2
Current Status
In Season

How did you feel watching tonight’s Westworld? Did it seem more exciting than other episodes this season? More energetic? More suspenseful somehow?

This was an action-packed hour so you’d expect that. But there was another reason that “Les Écorchés” felt like a level up: Unlike every previous episode in season 2, nearly every scene this hour had an essential and basic element of drama that’s been too infrequent on the show: The show’s compelling major characters were going head to head against the show’s other compelling major characters. We had Charlotte vs. Bernard, then Dolores vs. Charlotte, the Man in Black vs. Maeve and also Bernard debating a virtual Dr. Ford. No sequences handed over to paper tiger bots — no Major Craddocks, or stoic shoguns, or El Lazo guest stars. Every time Westworld rolled out a non-woke host to make windy speeches and threaten our heroes, the show’s suspense deflated because we knew those minor walk-ons were never going to win.

Westworld has such a terrific and large cast and it feels like it’s finally starting to come together. Granted, tonight’s hour had one minor foe that got some screen time, that Scottish QA leader — Sheamus McMustache or whatever his name is — but at least he was fun (Sheamus to Teddy: “Happy trails, motherf—er!” Bwahahahaha! … oh, then Teddy killed him, of course).

You could compare Westworld‘s sprawl to Game of Thrones, which had several great seasons of its core cast on distant adventures facing off against minor characters. But frankly, Westworld doesn’t pull this off as well. GoT established that minor characters we barely knew could permanently devastate our heroes (The Red Wedding, Jaime’s hand, etc). And since Delos bots can be revived, the dramatic stakes feel nonexistent during most host vs. host conflict (Dolores blowing up the host backups in this hour is a major step toward correcting that). Sometimes this season of Westworld has felt like somebody made Star Wars but kept Luke, Han, and Leia all on separate planets fighting stormtroopers the whole time.

Put another way: Westworld would be well served by ditching most of its flashbacks and narrative head games to focus on its main characters, in conflict with each other, as they strive for survival and freedom like it did in this episode. (Like: How many times does Maeve need to flash back to her past life with her daughter? We all know Maeve’s motivation is to find her. She can’t stop telling everybody! We don’t also need flashbacks to it in every other scene she’s in.)

But we also have some recap business, right? Let’s break down the three major threads this week. Next: How many secret doors does this place have, exactly? 

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