“Welcome to the end of the game.”
Westworld is back! And it’s bringing with it a slightly reduced run of episodes, but a more streamlined story. There are still mysteries – this is Westworld after all – but not as many. And the show no longer seems preoccupied with drawing these out across episodes. So it’s a little simpler, and that works for and against this third season. Along for the ride are a few new characters and plenty of familiar faces. This series has split opinion in the fanbase, more so than even the divisive second season. But despite a change of location and some swanky cyberpunk visuals, this is the same show we fell in love with way back in 2016.
Out of the park now, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is on a mission to tear down society. And it’s difficult not to agree with her that mankind needs a fresh start on their own terms. See, outside of the fixed stories of the parks, the real world isn’t much better. An omnipresent AI controls everything – even crime is regulated on a nifty Uber-style app. People’s lives are laid out for them from birth. Their choices are calculated, and their options change accordingly. Take newcomer Caleb (Aaron Paul). A veteran suffering with some serious mental trauma, the mighty system has decided he’s not fit for much other than petty crime and menial construction jobs. Any attempt to break from this loop is shut down by the fully automated world he exists in. He – and the rest of humanity – are as trapped in their own personal stories as the hosts created by Delos.
The person behind this AI, and the main adversary, is Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel) who seems to be similar to Anthony Hopkin’s Ford from previous seasons. Except Serac is more interested in reprogramming human beings, making Ford look small fry in comparison. His part in the plot is refreshingly simple after two seasons of mysteries, Mainly, he needs Delores and what’s in her noggin. For this, he recruits Maeve (Thandie Newton) to hunt her down, persuading her by telling her that Dolores has the key to seeing her daughter again (who was sent to The Sublime/Valley Beyond at the end of last season). People have been negative about Maeve’s single-minded plot, but it makes sense. She’s still stuck in her loop; saving her daughter. Maeve is the opposite to Dolores. She might think she’s free, but she’s still running through the same motions that she’s spent the previous decades acting out.
As Jonathan Nolan mines the story possibilities of an all-seeing AI that he didn’t get chance to do in Person of Interest, it isn’t the only plot running through this series. Like the previous two seasons, the best scenes go to Ed Harris – even if doesn’t get quite as much to do in this series as previously. Mirroring Caleb’s struggles, William is having some serious problems since leaving the park. One of the best scenes of the whole season sees William face his demons in therapy; five versions of himself arguing about whether he’s always been a bad man. Have those violent tendencies always been there? And he used the park to control them? Or was he always the utter bastard that we see now? It gives Ed Harris some really great material to scowl his way through. It’s excellent. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the very best moments of William’s story takes place after the credits in the finale – don’t miss it, because it changes everything.
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is around too, looking sad and confused, struggling with leaving it all behind. It’s not initially clear what his role is going to be in this season. But towards the finale, (SLIGHT SPOILERS) he visits Arnold’s wife and discusses the death of the son that’s been haunting him. It’s a really great scene, and brings Bernarnold full circle. But this shows one of the series’ greatest flaws. There’s a hell of a lot happening, and it expects you to remember a lot from the previous seasons (though this one is a little more forgiving in that respect). I mean, does anyone really remember the whole Bernard/Arnold plotline? Does anyone except me remember that Gina Torres played his wife in like two scenes in season one? I think this is probably the biggest cause of the drop in viewers. The show is leaving two years between seasons, and it’s a lot to ask for audiences to remember these tiny details across that time. It becomes like homework, and not everyone is as obsessively addicted to their favourite TV shows as I am. In this era of over-saturated television, we can’t be expected to go back and watch the previous seasons either. I mean, I doubt Jonathan Nolan is reading this. But it’s something to bare in mind.
One thing this show isn’t short of is impressive science fiction ideas. The future it presents (and the excellent soundtrack) takes a lot of cues from Blade Runner. But there are loads of original concepts. The crime aspect that I’ve mentioned, the way it is regulated through an app, is very Black Mirror. Another cool moment is the drug “Genre” that Caleb experiences in the episode of the same name. This futuristic drug causes the user to experience the world in different genres; black and white noir, cheesy romance, bombastic war. It’s really cool! Sure, does it do much to advance the plot? Probably not, but Westworld has always leaned hard into the spectacle. It also looks expensive. HBO obviously have plenty of Game of Thrones money left over and it looks like they’s given it also to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy to flesh out a cinematic future world. The design, music, and world building is all top tier.
I can see why this season had detractors. The show won over millions with it’s Wild West trappings, and now it’s completely stripped that away. But it’s still a superbly crafted show with the same questions at its core. And of the thinking that the parks were played out – what story was left to tell? Instead we have this brave new world. It doesn’t work all of the time, but you have to love the sheer cyberpunk madness at it’s core. And the episodes do go to some really crazy places. Dolores dispatches a group of thugs to Pulp’s ‘Common People’, Ed Harris argues with six versions of himself, Maeve escapes World War 2 era France, there’s a sword fight with a Yakuza organ dealer, Paris is nuked in a flashback, society more or less collapses in episode five. It’s a show that’s no afraid to do some really out there stuff.
As the finale ends and Pink Floyd’s ‘Brain Damage’ plays over a real apocalyptic sight, it’s all come together in a really satisfying way. And I’m not left with loads of questions. Instead I’m actually really hyped for the next season. The after credits scene only increases that anticipation. Please ignore the section of the fanbase claiming the show has lost its way. It’s different, but that’s good. It’s still Westworld. Possibly the most ridiculous show on TV.