[note: the following post contains spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of Westworld, and discusses some plot points of season 3]
With the third season, Westworld takes the position of HBO’s flagship show, after the less-than-graceful finale of Game of Thrones. The show has been living in the shadow of its medieval cousin long enough and now it gets its place in the spotlight. But can it live up to the expectations of the fans?
The world became a puppet and the invisible strings are controlled by a company called Incite. They are in possession of Rehoboam, the most advanced piece of technology ever. It has all the data for every living person and constantly calculates the optimal path for society. Which two people should get married and who should have children, but also who should be deprived of these possibilities, because they’re not a benefit. Every single character, whether host or guest, has a connection to the Rehoboam. It is the centrepiece of Westworld.
A lot of characters return, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) being the front-and-center. Other familiar faces include the likes of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and William (Ed Harris), although both of them get sidelined for most of the season. However, when they get their moment, they absolutely steal the show, especially the emotionally scarred William portrayed to perfection by Harris. Surprisingly, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), who up until now was more of a side character, gets a lot of attention in season 3, crafting a third main storyline between Dolores’ and Maeve’s.
Season 3 introduces two new major characters, each on a different side. Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), a war vet working in construction, accidentally stumbles upon Dolores and subsequently she convinces him to join her side in the fight against the system. On the opposite end of this ring stands the enigmatic Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), a mysterious, yet extremely powerful individual with the all-knowing Rehoboam on his side. Essentially, Serac is the system. The musician Kid Cudi is also in the show as Francis, a friend of Caleb’s from their times at war, but Cudi’s role in the series is minimal.
Given that Dolores (+ Caleb), Hale and Maeve get the most screen time, their storylines are also the most developed ones and the most intriguing to watch. Westworld has a large range of characters and tries to go the way of not picking favourites, in the vein of Game of Thrones, but by the time the finale rolls around its more than evident that Dolores is the favourite, as she is given the most to work with and, looking back, has the best storyline.
While Bernard basically carried the previous season, here’s he’s given little more than a fetch quest while chilling in the background. It’s disappointing really, but not as much as the severely weakened William’s storyline. Since the first episode William (or Man in Black, if you will), has been one of the few people with actual agency. Now, that is taken away while Ed Harris makes the most out of his minimal storyline, although it provides a lot of introspective moment for the character and one amazing, standout sequence (confronting his past – you’ll know what I mean).
The story of Westworld mirrors itself in the most unnerving ways, something which we started to see in the final episodes of season 2. As the creators stated multiple times, this season is an inverted season 1 and it’s evident. The show takes a few plot points as well as a lot of visual cues from its beginning, but that doesn’t mean it got repetitive or predictable. Quite the opposite, it’s fresh and engaging partly due to the new world. The design of the future is sleek, minimal, putting function above form, and yet absolutely beautiful. Special shoutout goes to the wardrobe department, who designed some truly terrific garments for this season. Ramin Djawadi also deserves recognition for the music he has provided. The mix of classical strings with modern house music makes for an absorbing score of the future.
Westworld doubles down on the action, switching revolvers and horses for automatic rifles and drones. There’s also a lot of hand-to-hand combat, all of which is handled really well. Although there were some impressive shootouts before, the scale in season 3 is way bigger and, for a tv budget, stunning. The obvious highlight being the much-advertised car chase in “Genre”, the fifth episode.
The writers took in the criticism of the 2nd season, which prioritised heavy philosophical monologues over the actual story, which led to it feeling needlessly long by the end (however upon re-watch its hard not to admire the balls it took to make such a season and pull it off so well). Not only is season 3 two episodes shorter, but the show finally found a perfect balance between its plot and its themes. Overall it’s a lot more toned down and “minimalistic” in the way Westworld presents its story and lets it unfold, which is a change for the better. Providing answers to the story questions but leaving the ‘real’ question (i.e. what’s the difference between a host and a guest? and does it matter?) mostly up to interpretation by the audience is a nice feeling, especially in the mainstream media where a lot of stories tediously explain every single thing.
Story-heavy season 1 introduced a fascinating concept, season 2 spun it in way too many philosophical metaphors and now, Westworld brought forward its most refined season yet, taking only the best of the past 20 episodes. It is undeniable that for three seasons, this has been one of the best shows on tv. Westworld proves that modern mainstream sci-fi can be both largely accessible and intricately thought-provoking at the same time.