You ask a good question. And yes, you are correct in your assumption. You do not need to create a second layer if your 1st layer of backlinks is created on pages that already have real web traffic. Keep in mind that it is the “page” that needs to be popular, not just the website.
Ideally, you try to get backlinks from pages that are already being promoted by other people. In doing so you multiply your own efforts. However, if you are creating backlinks on pages that no one else is promoting then those backlinks will be relatively ineffective unless you, or someone else, take on the job of promoting traffic to them.
The pyramid structure of your backlinks is the result of your promotional efforts placed on your 1st layer of backlinks resulting in your second layer, and so on. But, you are correct, the 2nd layer is totally unnecessary if your 1st layer is placed on popular pages.