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Westworld may have finally solved its dinosaur problem

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Why can’t you ride a T. rex at Westworld?

Westworld season 2 official pic Image: HBO

Westworld is back for its second season. Its murdered robots have become murder-robots, and the show’s never-ending timeline trickery and narrative puzzle boxes are still escalating. And while the second season’s second episode “Reunion” may have finally started answering some of the bigger questions surrounding the park, it also may have finally fixed one of the show’s more irksome aspects (for me, anyway): the dinosaur problem.

Spoilers for Westworld season 2, episode 2 below

As we’ve previously noted, Westworld is almost impossibly boring as a theme park. The park’s parent company, Delos Inc, has been shown to have the almost godlike ability to create perfect, biologically accurate replicas of almost every living thing, from fully intelligent human beings to the smallest bird. So it’s assumed that Delos could make dinosaurs if it wanted to. But somehow, the best idea Delos’ management could come up with was re-creating the Wild West? The oncoming war between humans and robots and all the corporate conspiracies that led there aside, Westworld is nothing more than an expensive, elaborate dude ranch larp, which is something that already exists without robots.

That’s obviously a bit reductive. Previous episodes showing the “normal” operations of the park suggested that patrons are meant to explore and enjoy the immersive narratives in the most realistic interactive story ever. And with the growth in popularity for immersive entertainment in our own world, it’s easy to see why just dropping into a different era might be worth the price of admission to the idle rich. (That’s to say nothing of the darker side of Westworld, which presumes people just really want to kill and / or have sex with the robots without consequences or social rules. And that is a decidedly nihilistic view of people.)

Why not just make a dinosaur?
Image: HBO

But if the elites of this world are so jaded and thrill-hungry, wouldn’t it be more interesting to live out fantasies through storylines with dinosaurs? Or aliens? Or Harry Potter? Spending $40,000 a day to pretend to be a mundane cowboy when cowboys already exist is a weird niche for a theme park. So I ask again: where are all the dinosaurs?

As “Reunion” finally confirmed, it seems that there aren’t any dinosaurs at Westworld because building a successful theme park or a series of entertaining narratives isn’t the point. As James Delos (Peter Mullan) points out in a flashback to the younger William / Man in Black (Jimmi Simpson), the park is deeply in the red, with two, maybe three years left before it goes bankrupt. But William convinces Delos that he should invest heavily in the park solely because of what people do there when they think no one’s watching. Westworld hasn’t yet spelled out what Delos is doing with the things he learns from the park about people’s private behavior and secret motivations. But it’s clear from the season premiere that the company is still secretly recording park visitors’ activities and even DNA for some nefarious (and presumably profitable) purpose.

(A side note: past-William claims that the past-park is blowing half its marketing budget on figuring out what people want. That means Westworld’s marketing department must be even worse at their jobs then the “Make Sure the Robots Don’t Murder All The Guests” department. The company is on life support, and they haven’t even tried making dinosaurs yet? But I digress.)

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

At any rate, if the hidden goal is to catch guests doing the sorts of unseemly things that Westworld allows or if the goal is to see how people behave without the usual constraints and judgments of society, then it’s understandable that the park focuses on attractions centered on realistic people and realistic behavior. The “Live without limits” promise of sex, murder, and sex-murder that the show constantly reminds us of are apparently meant as a temptation.

So why offer that temptation? There are still plenty of options, ranging from standard, run-of-the-mill blackmail to more ridiculous science fiction plots, like Delos Inc learning people’s personalities and biometrics, then secretly replacing them with easily controlled hosts. Later in “Reunion,” James Delos hints that the goal might be for some sort of Altered Carbon-esque immortality project. None of these things could be easily accomplished by watching how people behave in a completely unlikely fantasy scenario, like riding dinosaurs or fighting wizards with magic.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

It’s also possible that Westworld is simply the dullest of the Delos parks. Perhaps the other five we’ve been teased with are incredible experiences. If Maeve had opened the right door in the season 1 finale, she could have found herself face-to-face with a stegosaurus instead of a samurai, and then this season could have ended with some sort of, uh, Jurassic World tease. After all, Westworld must have done something under the new Delos ownership after William’s visit and subsequent investment to bail out the park. And, as a quick glance at Hollywood box office results will tell you, people love dinosaurs. (There’s also the added bonus that joyriding robot dinosaurs probably doesn’t traumatize them into developing sentience and rising up against their human masters, the way Westworld’s endless cycles of violence and assault did.)

Of course, there’s a simpler reason that Westworld doesn’t have dinosaurs: author Michael Crichton wrote a separate murderous science fiction theme park filled with dinosaurs in his Jurassic Park series, and Universal probably has lawyers who’d like to keep his two similar ideas separated. I’m still holding out hope that Dolores might run into a dinosaur one day. After all, if the genre’s other famous theme-park-gone-wrong has taught us anything, it’s that life finds a way.