It is both extremely exciting and utterly depressing to know Westworld’s second season is coming to an end.
The brilliant tale of a futuristic theme park and its emerging artificially intelligent life forms is providing us with film-level quality in every aspect of the production, but the maddeningly confusing and intricate plot threads have us craving a resolution – we just want to know what the hell is going on.
Having attended a recent premiere screening of the season two finale (and without posting a single spoiler), we can confirm that (nearly) all of your questions will indeed be answered. And that the organisers – Sky Atlantic – really skimped on the free ‘gunsmoke’ flavoured crisps.
Not only were we lucky enough to see the show on a cinema screen (after all, it is a natural fit for a series built around a genre designed for cinematic spectacle), we also got to listen to a Q&A with the show’s producers, Lisa Joy and husband Jonathan Nolan (who presumably got more than seven crisps per bag).
The enthusiastic response from the underfed crowd countered the writing pair’s overpowering jet lag, and over the course of a 30-minute chat with Lauren Laverne (host of Sky Atlantic’s fan show, Westword), they discussed at length the detail and work that goes into producing one of the most thoughtful – and thought provoking – shows of our time.
“We started with the end, and worked our way toward that,” explained Nolan of the second season’s structure.
“It’s a film noir structure of starting at the end of the story and pick up at the beginning. You have your classic noir protagonist in Bernard who has forgotten something important and doesn’t quite remember. Turns out he’s forgotten Anthony Hopkins.”
“There was a lot of pre-plotting,” continued Joy. “We were excited to get into this season. For me, there’s a lot of complexity and there’s this puzzle-like structure. Although strangely this season we play a lot of the timeline stuff cards-up so the audience was with us and with Bernard as he tried to figure out what happened, but we understood his displacement in time.”
One of the most interesting reveals from Nolan was his fascination with free will (or our lack of), a point he explained in detail.
“The more we read about [a lack of our own free will], which felt like a science fiction conceit, the more we read about the more experimental evidence there is that that is actually the case, and in the science community there’s a bit of a paradox about what to do about this.
“There’s a fantastic article in The Atlantic that informed a part of the last episode that as far as we can tell, free will is an illusion. If you image someone’s mind and put them in an experimental testing chamber, and get them to do something simple like to push button on the left or a button on the right when queued by an image, what they found is that about a millisecond before you make the conscious choice between whether to press the button on the right or the left, something else in your mind makes that decision for you.
“And you can see it, there’s some other part… the name of the final episode is The Passenger in part, because there’s this other thing really at the wheel.
When the audience had the opportunity to quiz the pair, questions inevitably revolved around the show’s future. When asked if there was a plan to answer all the questions (unlike another piece of small screen mystery theatre, LOST), Joy was happy to highlight the differences between the two JJ Abrams pieces.
“JJ and Damon really believed in the mystery box and not looking too much inside the box,” she explained. “It was kind of an idea generator that you didn’t need to dissect and open up. And that’s a fascinating and engaging way to tell a story. But for us, we are interested in dismantling the mystery box opening it up, looking at what it is, putting it together like its some kind of Lego. Seeing how it works, questioning and exposing that.
“The questions that we tee up, we do try to address and we have an answer for all of them. We do intend to answer the questions that we set up.”
Nolan added, “Frankly we approached the logic of making the show a little bit more like a film franchise, where each season settles its debts for the most part with the audience, and sets up some interesting questions for the next season. We don’t want to do this forever.”
Right now, we really wish they would…
Westworld is currently available on Sky TV and the finale premieres on Monday 25 June at 2am.