Violence is not the mark of an irresponsible or depraved show. Really, as television passed through the prestige era, the rise of censorship-free cable dramas like The Sopranos and Oz showcased television as an apt platform to meditate on violence, and that thoughtfulness added a valuable dimension to those shows. Westworld is one of the most violent shows on television, but its failures as a TV show render that violence meaningless. All season two gave us was a mindless killing spree, and what’s worse, Westworld itself might not know how bad it’s become.
Westworld’s sophomore effort dropped some of the puzzle-box pretenses of the first season but doubled down on the bloodshed. Again, not a bad thing, but as the violence ramped up, the intelligence of the storytelling, mystery writing and plot twists went over a cliff. This used to be a half-smart show with ambitions to be profound. Now it’s a dumb show with ambitions to be, what, Blade Runner with twice the gore and nudity? It’s just rote.
The backdrop of Westworld’s violence is the contrast between the ruthless, unfeeling human characters and the emotive, discerning robot characters. The show wants viewers to filter all the depravity through its cliched “what does it mean to be human?” question. When the human characters kill, we’re supposed to think about how people desensitize themselves to bloodshed, or something. When robots kill, we’re supposed to think about, uh, the implications of an Alexa with sentience and free will, or something.
Those are interesting ideas, but since Westworld doesn’t support those ideas with any sense of logic, coherence or consistency (more on that later), the violence that frames all of that comes off as sick and fetishistic compared to, say, the shootouts of Breaking Bad or even the literal political backstabbing on Game of Thrones.
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Source: Relevant Magazine