Read our review of Westworld Season 3, and find out why it doesn’t have the magic the show once did!
Well, that was disappointing. I should probably state from the outset that perhaps I came into this season with too-high hopes. Season 1 of Westworld is to me one of the finest ever produced, and while I had my issues with Season 2, I definitely respected the boldness of destroying the whole premise of the show in the name of progressing and evolving the story. Now they’ve moved off the island into the real world, and I’m starting to think it was a bad idea to leave. I’m going to look at the series as a whole in a macro sense, rather than episode-by-episode, and try and identify why I found it so underwhelming. Spoilers ahead.
Like the last season, this one veered wildly between some very high highs (mostly in the first half) and some extremely low lows (second half). Let’s look at the highs first: the episode where Maeve navigates War World before realising it’s a simulation had just the kind of twisty fun and creativity that I look for in Westworld (even if it did just copy that Rick & Morty episode). A scene in which all the different iterations of William have a simulated therapy session to discuss whether he ever had free will is simply delightful. That last scene where Dolores and Maeve speak for the last time is genuinely touching, and an excellent wrap-up to the former’s journey. I wonder if it says something that all of these moments occur in simulations.
Alongside these moments are a dozen or more twists and turns that should have been mind-blowing but ended up falling flat. Everyone in the world’s profile being released, devastating lives en masse, is glazed over to focus on an extended drug trip. Dolores revealing that Caleb was being steered towards suicide by the system, sabotaging his relationships and denying him high-paying jobs, is massively undercut by Caleb’s complete lack of any emotional response to the realisation.
In fact, most of the feeling of the show seems to have been leached away, and I think a lot of this is down to there being a lot less characters in this one, with most of the screen time devoted to the returning mains – Dolores, Maeve, William, and Bernard. Those guys are all still great, but let’s look at all of the characters who’ve left, and see how diminished our mains seem – no Teddy or Arnold for Dolores; no Lawrence or Logan for William; no Hector or Clementine for Maeve; no Theresa or Elsie for Bernard, and most importantly, no Ford for everyone.
Now, I completely recognise that those characters dying or not re-appearing in the show makes perfect sense, and to have them come back would almost certainly be contrived and schlocky. The problem as I see it is that no one came in to replace those foils to the characters, and those left don’t spend much of the show directly interacting with each other.
Of the new characters introduced, we get Serac, Caleb, and Liam. And that’s pretty much it. Serac can’t quite fill Ford’s shoes as the puppetmaster, and Caleb and Liam really only serve Dolores’ story. It was good to see Stubbs come back to tag along with Bernard, providing some of the few bits of straight-talking levity, and Hector and Sizemore’s brief roles definitely brought some life to their episode. The overall feeling however is that the show feels strangely empty, and lord do I miss Anthony Hopkins.
Speaking specifically about Caleb, Dolores, and Hale-Dolores, the dialogue was absolutely infuriating this time around. The three of them all speak to each other in the same dull, low whisper throughout the whole season like the repetitive hum of a computer on standby, regardless of the context or the environment they’re in. The energy levels across the board remain a consistent low, and the plot progresses in a determined trudge. It’s actually a little exhausting getting through the whole thing, and I’ve got to praise Ed Harris as William for being one of the few to display more than one emotion, even if he had absolutely nothing to do this season.
Previously, the show has always played fast and loose with time. Season 1 cleverly hid there were actually three timelines playing out over 30 years apart. Season 2 was framed through Bernard’s corrupted memory, jumping all over the place in time – the best episodes of the season, ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ (the Delos episode), and ‘Kiksuya’ (the Akecheta episode) paused the main plot to tell stories that stretched over the entire chronology of the show. This time around, it’s a plain and simple start-to-finish story with a few flashbacks here and there. I don’t necessarily think it was the wrong move to make it a chronological story, it’s just another thing among many that reduce a unique show to a pedestrian one.
I was initially really impressed with the production value visible throughout. They leaned hard into the polished gleam of a tech-forward postmodern Los Angeles, rather than the murky smog of Blade Runner’s LA for instance. But that wore off too once it turned out that space and the people that inhabited it weren’t going to be explored beyond the surface level. There’s clearly a lot of time and money that went into the costumes and set design, which are all top-notch; it’s unfortunately the people around them that let it down.
Personally, I think the biggest missed opportunity of the show was to ignore the everyday people of the world. Caleb’s journey in the beginning of the show is brilliant – just to pick one example out, the phone call he receives to tell him he didn’t get a job is gold. The awkward way he tries to phrase his words to sound more professional; the frustration he clearly feels at not understanding why he isn’t good enough; the realisation that he’s been talking to a robot the whole time. It tells you who Caleb is, sets him up as a relatable character, and describes the way the world is perfectly. As soon as Caleb started being lifted higher and higher on a pedestal, eventually being given the keys to the fate of the entire world, the less interesting he became.
Everyone is given their Rehoboam profile halfway through the show, and I was half-hoping for an anthology-style episode afterwards telling the lives of some ordinary people dealing with this kind of societal collapse. The possibilities are endless, but none are explored. Instead, the world erupting into chaos becomes an afterthought – it has little relevance to the main characters, and all you’ll see is someone graffitiing or throwing a molotov cocktail in the background every so often.
Westworld has always kept one eye on its weighty philosophical themes, and much of the dialogue has been lengthy debates about the nature of consciousness and free will. What kept it from being an undergrad philosophy essay, besides the conceptual creativity and production value, is some grounded, empathetic motivations for its characters to care so much about these concepts – their cornerstone, to use the show’s language. Maeve wants to protect her daughter. Dolores wants to be free to choose her own life. Ford wants to honour Arnold’s dying wishes. Both Williams want to experience something real.
This time around, Dolores and Serac declare their grand ambitions to anyone who will listen, but their personal drives are secondary. The others are all pawns of one or the other in their elaborate chess game, with little to no agency or motivation. Debates about free will are fine and all, but if you want it to stay interesting for 8 hours, you need something concrete to attach to. When the season closes out on Caleb and Maeve watching the new world unfurl to a backdrop of explosions a la Fight Club, the nagging thought in the back of my head was “why should I still care?”
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