Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Dilemma of Recap Podcasts

To go along with my "Westworld" post, I wanted to put down some thoughts about a dilemma I ran across while watching the season. As I've discussed before, there's not much television that I watch live due to access and time issues. Nearly all the media I consume is through streaming services nowadays, which means that I usually have toi wait several months to watch shows on premium channels, and I'm never up to date with any of the discussions going on about them from week to week. However, I can at least recreate some of the buzz by listening to media podcasts. For instance, I regularly listen to Dave Chen and Joanna Robinson's "Cast of Kings" recap podcast for "Game of Thrones." This year, the pair also decided to do a recap podcast for "Westworld" called "Decoding Westworld," which I listened to as I worked through the first season. However, I chose to stop listening after five episodes.

"Westworld" attracted a huge amount of speculation because it's a mystery show that gives the audience more details about the characters episode by episode. I'm not going to get too deep into spoilers, but as early as the third episode, viewers had guessed correctly about one of the season's major twists. By the fifth episode, the hosts of "Decoding Westworld" had opined that the theories about this twist were looking pretty likely. Other theories were discussed, but with the assumption that the major one was true. After I watched the sixth episode, which was full of new information and signals that other big reveals were coming, I decided to save all the remaining installments of "Decoding Westworld" for after I finished watching the whole season. I had already started to make some connections myself, and decided to preserve the mystery in the rest of the episodes, and enjoy the answers when the show was ready to provide them.

Now, I don't blame Chen and Robinson at all for this. I love their "Cast of Kings" podcast and I was enjoying "Decoding Westworld" for the most part. The trouble is that I'm not really the type of fan that wants to spend discussions predicting and anticipating what's going to happen next, which seems to be a big part of the appeal of "Westworld" to many viewers. Past a certain point, speculation turns into potential spoilers, which I'm wary of. With "Cast of Kings," the hosts were much more sensitive to spoilers because the source material already exists in the form of George R. R. Martin's books. I heard almost nothing on the podcast about some of the biggest fan theories until certain events unfolded onscreen in the latest season of "Game of Thrones." With "Westword" it's very different because the new series diverges so much from Michael Chrichton's original film, and uses a mystery narrative. It invites speculation from the start.

There have been several opinion pieces written about this little conundrum, with many viewers debating over how much they're comfortable knowing in advance before the answers are provided. There have been several other shows which have also had their big mysteries blown open by fans long in advance. Again, I won't say which ones to avoid spoilers. It comes down to personal preference, ultimately, and what kind of a media fan you are. Those who treat a mystery show as a puzzle to be solved benefit from more discussion with more people. Theorizing is a big part of the fun by design, and absolutely shouldn't be discouraged. Those who don't want to know the big secrets, even by accident, should probably stay out of the discussion until they're ready to chance stumbling over the right answer. The only thing that the media owes viewers like me is not blabbing obvious spoilers.

The trouble is that I very much want to discuss and hear other people discuss "Westworld," and I'm not adverse to a little speculation. My preferences for discussions, however, would be less theorizing and more of the things I'm interested in: background information, analysis of themes, and more criticism. However, it can be difficult to really dig into these elements of a show as it's airing week after week. Individual episodes of "Westworld" were fine for what they were, but rarely told full stories, unlike "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad." The way its plotting worked, talking about individual episodes meant focusing on bits of new information and the incremental developments. Character development was almost impossible to talk about when we didn't have the full picture of who most of these characters were or their motivations until the final episodes. Can you really say anything insightful about the series until after you've seen the whole season?

Oh well. I still haven't decided what I'm going to do next season. I'll still listed to "Decoding Westworld," but maybe I should try a couple of the other "Westworld" podcasts too.

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