Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Vincent Cassel, and Aaron Paul
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, Matt Pitts, Denise Thé, and Jordan Goldberg
Directed by: Jonathan Nolan, Richard J. Lewis, Amanda Marsalis, and Paul Cameron
Developed for Television by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Based on the Film Westworld Written by Michael Crichton
Episodes 1-4 Provided for Review
“If this doesn’t work, we’ll do it the old-fashioned way.”
“What’s the old-fashioned way?”
“I kill everyone.”
Westworld brings us into the world beyond in a rousing, twisty Season 3. Moving beyond the parks of Delos, showrunners Lisa Joy (who bears a writing/co-writing credit on every episode provided) and Jonathan Nolan take us into the “real” world, positioning Delores and her smuggled out allies as a cell of hidden host insurgence. The themes of identity and control are still very much alive and well, even as Delores starts to move against humanity.
This is all given personification in new characters like Aaron Paul’s Caleb and near-omnipotent AI Rehoboam, controlled by the cooing and coolly intimidating Vincent Cassel, one of this season’s many gains in terms of surprise character actors. As you’ve surely already seen, Caleb is the main focus of the season opener. He is a man unmoored to his “proper place” in society, yearning to break from his own lower-class loop in a sun-baked and strictly separated by social class Neo Los Angeles. Rehoboam and the humans who serve as its custodian seem to have a hand on the wheel of the world. They’re supported by the mass amounts of ill-gotten host collected data that we’re made privy to in the last season.
Supported by Joy and Nolan’s engaging spikes of futurism, bone-dry wit, and near-constant twists, Westworld S3 seems to be a real return to form for the prestige series. While the scope of this season is somewhat diminished as the expansive locations of the first seasons are replaced largely by cityscapes, these first four episodes present an engaging new “flavor” of the show. Gone is the ponderous, slightly heady tone of the last series. In its place comes a burly, grimly funny, constantly driving new act for Delores, Bernard, and everyone else drawn into her war for a new, better world. We heard a lot about the “Valley Beyond” last season, and now Westworld S3 looks to finally be showing us.
Right from the jump, Westworld S3 proves it isn’t playing around. Though the first episode is mainly focused on Paul’s Caleb, a character and actor who fits into the tapestry of this show with a teary intensity, Joy and Nolan (the latter also directing the opening installment) provide check-ins on all our host leads. Delores, uncaged from the park and played now completely to the hilt by Evan Rachel Wood, is running elaborate, precise cons to drive further into the human world. Every scene involving her cutting deeper and deeper into the human’s automated world is a blast, and they are played with droll humor by the script, direction, and Wood herself.
But on the other side of the conflict, Bernard (played with a fun self-suspicion by Jeffery Wright), and Maeve, still just as steely and badass as ever, are questioning their own realities. Bernard wonders why Delores brought him back at all, and Meave seems caught in a brand new “game,” one that is resistant to her powers. These plots don’t pick up fully until later episodes, but it is nice to see Wright with more to do in this series as well as a meaty position for Thandie Newton, one of the true breakouts of this series.
But the real get is Aaron Paul, whose character links up with Delores by making a strong choice early in the series, proving to the embittered host that not all of humanity is without merit. Paul’s whole energy is perfect for the show, finally providing it a strongly empathetic human character with genuinely affecting motivations. Haunted by his loss and struggling to break free of the world’s strict class structure, Caleb is precisely the kind of disenfranchised Delores once was and yearns for something “real” as well. Their dynamic is one of the new season’s great joys, and I am very anxious to see where it leads, especially as the pair stage more sorties aimed at bringing the human world down around their ears.
And fans worried about the lack of concrete information or more shell-gaming obfuscation need not worry! Westworld S3 seems completely uninteresting in hiding now. Though still just as twisty and mind-blowing (Episode 4 in particular…really goes great guns in terms of reveals), Joy, Nolan, and the rest of the writing staff seem to be playing a much more obvious game this time around, introducing threads and then quickly paying them off, giving this season a new vitality (and clarity) storywise.
I will say, however, the action of this series is slightly truncated and hemmed in by interiors. I think it may have something to do with the scope of the series zooming in a bit, trading the vistas and openness of the parks for cramped city streets and futuristic 1-percenter playgrounds. But the suddenness of the violence and how drolly it’s filmed still gives the show quite a punch. The opening episode’s gunfight set to Pulp’s “Common People” is a great example of the tone and construction of this season’s set pieces.
So, an all-around pretty good start for Westworld S3. It might lose a bit in the transition from the parks to the outside world, but the character work, mind-bending twists, and violent delights we have come to know and love from the show are still very much there. Just on a much, much larger game board, with implications for the whole of humanity. We will have to see if they stick the landing, but for now, Westworld S3 is a winner.
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