REVIEWED: SEASON 3 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: SKY, NOW TV
HBO’s Westworld has become a very different beast to its source material, the schlocky ‘70s movie in which Yul Brynner’s robot cowboy went kill-crazy in a theme park. In fact, it’s also become very different to its own first season, as barely any scenes in this third run even take place in the eponymous wild west-themed attraction.
This may be a good thing; Season 2 struggled to maintain viewership, as its increasingly complex stories, not only set across different ‘worlds’ but across different time periods too, had started to feel not worth the flowcharts you needed to follow them. With that season ending on a big cliffhanger – robotic ‘host’ Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and a group of her comrades escaping from Westworld into the real world – Season 3 was pitched as something of a reboot.
From the first episode, this season’s very different tone is clear. We’re no longer looking at sun-scorched mesas, but at a glossy 2050s Los Angeles. Caleb Nichols (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) is a former soldier now making a living through odd, and often illegal, jobs; one such job brings him to Dolores, who recruits him for her revolution. Across eight episodes, Dolores and Caleb infiltrate the corporate world, while her allies – including Tessa Thompson as a host who’s stolen the identity of Delos executive Charlotte Hale – work on their own plans.
It’s a more straightforward narrative than the previous season, and an exciting one, with a sense of escalation as the revolution grows. There’s plenty of action: urban car chases and shootouts as stylish as Heat and The Dark Knight; a thrilling confrontation between Dolores and Thandie Newton’s Maeve, turned against her old friend; and some good old-fashioned bits in which a giant robot smashes stuff up. On a visual level, it's as good as TV gets – gorgeously futuristic Singaporean locations, incredible cinematography and effects, and Dolores has a fabulous new hairdo.
However, as her plan expands to involve a god-like AI which can predict human action, the show falls back into old mistakes. We’re all for intelligent sci-fi, and there’s a worthwhile point being made about the dangers of big data, but Westworld’s writers have a tendency to mistake complexity for depth. Interesting points get lost among tedious philosophising, and later episodes have so many characters, subplots, and ideas that the whole thing becomes heavy going for all but the most flowchart-loving of followers. At least Aaron Paul seems consistently as confused by everything going on as we were.
On the whole, though, this slick political thriller is a refreshing change of tone and a step up in quality. The finale’s post-credits tease promises an exciting character addition for the confirmed Season 4 – there are some rewards for viewers following closely enough to still be with it!