Why Westworld Season 3 Worked … Kinda
Was season 3 as good as the first season? Well, the answer to that question has to be a resounding, NO! Season 1 had so many twists and turns that it was easy to get lost from one episode to the next. While some die-hard fans were able to piece together some of the shocks – Bernard is a host & perhaps the even more impressive true reveal of who the Man in Black is, I’m happy to say that I was lost in the mystery and tried to stay away from online spoilers during the course of the season. When Dolores takes on the mantle of Wyatt and leads the charge for host freedom, I could only cheer her on.
Season 2 was I guess more about the true emancipation of the hosts as being free in Westworld did not really get them anywhere when you consider that humans could if necessary just nuke them back to the stone age. While the concept and idea made sense to me, the execution was a bit messy and it didn’t really gel, like the first season in my opinion. It was, of course, nice to see some of the other “worlds” with their own inhabitants but that was more Maeve’s story than Dolores and while she is in an interesting character, in my opinion, she’s almost like the Mule from Asimov’s Foundation series. She’s a mutation and outside of the true narrative.
For me, the story is all about Dolores and her fight for freedom so with season 3 being a continuation of that fight in the “real world” I was hooked. Now it was not by any means perfect or even anywhere close to season 1 as I think I’ve already mentioned. Seasons 1 and 2 were about a Wild West theme park where robot Hosts served as props for deep-pocketed human Guests. Season 2 was mostly about the park (and its neighboring parks with their own historical themes) falling apart as the Hosts took over. There’s an EMP in the third season that knocks both Dolores and Maeve—the two most powerful Hosts—out in an instant, and I’m not sure why one of these wasn’t deployed in Season 2 to stop them, but oh well.
On first look, Westworld’s new season looks like a reboot of kinds taking the hosts out of the park and plunging them deep into the real world in 2058. The futuristic setting certainly helps give Westworld a new look. The real world is a breath of fresh air. A variety of settings are on display and believable futuristic technology features.
Ed Harris continues to impress in Season 3, but now it’s more a reflection of his acting skill instead of his on-screen menace. As the Man in Black, he had a certain gravitas that is now woefully lacking … in Season 3 you almost feel sorry for him instead of afraid of him. Sadly when discussing acting talent you cannot help but pine for Anthony Hopkins also as the sonorous Dr. Ford. He’s one of my favorite actors whether that is as Odin or here in a suit and tie!
Season 3 is all about Aaron Paul though and sadly he just doesn’t have the same on-screen presence. Fortunately, he is joined by others on the journey and doesn’t have to carry the show on his own back. Tessa Thompson as Charlotte Hale has a much bigger part to play in Season 3 and while I didn’t really like her character in Season 2, she definitely grew on me as this season progressed.
Human’s are People Too
Season 3’s focus on freedom is just Season 2’s idea presented in a different way as Dolores sought to escape from the park in the earlier season while Maeve sought to live in a safe simulation. However, Season 3’s main triumph lies in the subtle difference. While Season 2 solely focused on the hosts getting their freedom, Season 3 instead turns its focus to the humans.
The story in Season 3 is a bit of a mess though it must be said. In a nutshell, humans are being controlled and can only achieve certain goals in life. This control is through a massive AI called Rehoboam. Rehoboam is owned and controlled by Serac – our villain of the season who is a French multi-trillionaire. It seems that Delos provided Serac with data in the early years of the park and now he wants it all. In fact, he is the person we saw Hale communicating with throughout Season 2.
Dolores works throughout the course of the season to gain access to this AI, we assume to reprogram it to harm humanity, but as we learn in the final episode her true purpose is to free humanity from its yoke. Do you see what I mean? It’s a bit overly complicated. Add to this is the fact that Hale was a mole planted in Delos by Serac and you can see how it gets even more confusing. One of the jokes surrounding Season 3 even before it came out was that we’d discover that it, too, was just a simulation. The “real world” would be just another park. That didn’t come to pass, but Rehoboam’s control over humanity essentially means the same thing. How perfectly predictable and boring.
Social constructs undeniably determine how we lead our lives from birth to death. There is a clear hierarchy and the system is stacked against some people, yet the world just goes on. People’s lives are determined from birth based on their class, yet nobody does anything about it. The poorest are not free and nobody is in this world. Westworld by dreaming up the extreme manages to perfectly capture this.
The Leader for a New Generation
As the season progresses we learn that
Jesse Pinkman … I mean Cal was selected specifically by Dolores. It seems that she saw him at an army training exercise in one of the camps and he stopped other soldiers from raping the Hosts, to help foment her revolution. She chooses him because he has the capacity to choose, or something. And she arranges everything perfectly, taking down the super-powerful Serac and his AI Rehoboam largely through plotting and planning that we never actually see onscreen.
Caleb is so fascinating because he is essentially a nobody – a human and one of the “outliers”. Caleb feels so out of place in Westworld, and that is why his presence in this season is a stroke of genius. The character is a human seemingly destined to lead a miserable life and commit suicide in the end. The system, Rehoboam, has determined that his life is meaningless and that he has no bigger part to play. His actions may be questionable, to say the least, yet Caleb is the first heroic human presented on the show. Caleb’s reconditioning illustrates the worst that humans can do but he serves an example of the best that they can be.
Gunning for the Win
So why does it all still work for me? I guess primarily because I’m a techie and I like the science elements throughout the show.
The quirks of Season 1’s technology made it even more fascinating. Something was going wrong with the Hosts. It was Ford’s new program designed to make them a little more lifelike than before. But it wasn’t working properly and strange things were happening with some of the Hosts. The park itself was a magical and mysterious place, at once a rugged wilderness and entirely man-made. It’s all outlandish and over-the-top when you think about it too much, but it’s at least believable.
Season 2 continued that same theme, just with different parks so nothing really new in terms of tech and technology. Season 3 however included self-driving cars, true robot construction workers, magic guns, drones, VR, and more. While some elements could be considered nothing short of magical, others were simply a further refinement and enhancement on what we’re already familiar with. Technology by itself does not make for a good story or action and there are some episodes that definitely miss the mark. The fight scenes between Dolores and Maeve were surprisingly ineffective in my opinion.
Mostly, this season is about five people: Dolores, Hale, Cal, Maeve, and Serac. Dolores and Maeve are weirdly at odds and Cal and Serac are brand new characters who bring very little to the table (though I like Vincent Cassel and think he did a great job in the role). Hale is perhaps the most interesting of all of these since she’s actually Dolores but slowly splits off and follows her own path and mission, leading into Season 4. The writers have treated Dolores properly by having her go out on a triumphant albeit tragic note as her memories are finally wiped. Dolores chose to see the beauty in the world and freed humans from their loops. Mirroring the hosts’ journey in Season 1, Dolores needed to plunge the world into chaos for people to be truly free.