Westworld is back, but the futuristic theme park has been left in the past (for now). Season three of this Western sci-fi drama from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy debuted last night with a soft reset: Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is now stalking billionaires all over the globe, while Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tries to lay low. William, a.k.a. The Man In Black (Ed Harris), has been traded for an algorithm—in Delos board meetings, at least—and a post-credits scene gave us our first look at Warworld and a revived Maeve (Thandie Newton). And we may have our first truly sympathetic human character in Caleb (Aaron Paul), a construction worker in Los Angeles who knows all too well that there are separate rules for the rich and powerful.
In his review of “Parce Domine,” Zack Handlen found the season-three premiere highly entertaining, even if it wasn’t as moving as the pilot episode, “The Original.” But setting Dolores loose upon tech robber barons and other mid-21st-century captains of bio-mechanical industry has given Westworld a necessary jolt, a renewed sense of purpose. Several exciting ideas were introduced last night, so the A.V. Club staff singled out the ones with the most potential.
Note: Plot points of “Parce Domine” are discussed in this post.
“Parce Domine” brims with new ideas—the term “redistributive justice” has lingered with me for obvious reasons, but Westworld’s twist on “organized crime” is overshadowed by the A.I. system Rehoboam. Just as in the Old Testament, the Rehoboam system succeeded a Solomon system, and now “rules” over a single kingdom: the city of Los Angeles, which Rehoboam oversees down to the traffic patterns. It’s a whole new dynamic for Westworld, one in which human beings have yielded control to artificial intelligence. And yet, what I’m most interested to see is a more proactive Bernard. Jeffrey Wright’s soulful performance has rightly garnered a lot of sympathy for Bernard, whose awakening is still relatively fresh. Dolores and Charlotte—or Dolores-Charlotte—pinned the slaughter at the park on him while also maintaining the ruse that he’s flesh and blood. Bernard still struggles with his place outside of Westworld, but instead of freezing, he’s running self-diagnostics to figure out what he’s in control of when it comes to his host body. He acts decisively when confronted, but retains compassion for the meatsacks he flings around in the premiere. For me, Bernard 2.0 (or is it Arnold 3.0?) is the most exciting update this season.
Westworld has always had a lot of parallels to video games, with The Man In Black playing like a real hardcore troll and Grand Theft Auto V’s Steven Ogg even popping up as one of the park’s cowboys, but I don’t know if it’s ever been as direct as the RICO app used by Caleb (Aaron Paul) and others. It’s like being an Uber driver for crimes, but it’s also exactly like the kind of endless side quest list you’d find in something like a GTA. The thing that intrigues me about it, though, are the mechanics. We know there are “numbers” tied to the jobs you do, implying that there are stats you can grind, but what do you get at higher levels? I also love how aggressively edgy it is, presenting the desperate need for cash as some kind of badass rebellion (from the “Make money, motherfuckers!” jingle to the “I like being basic” button if you want to refuse a job), which seems like some real manipulative corporate crap. Forget Incite, who’s making the damn app? (It’s probably Incite.)
It’s rare that I find myself moved by Westworld, which is a show I’ve been drawn to more for its mysteries and visuals than any kind of emotional investment, but the gut punch I felt when Caleb “unsubscribes” from calls with his old friend and war buddy, Francis (Kid Cudi), resonated, mostly for the way Cudi’s voice instantly turned cold when asking Caleb to “confirm.” Not only was it a shocking reveal after we tracked the evolution of their relationship, but it also served to illustrate the depth of Caleb’s loneliness, something that will likely factor into his relationship with Dolores. I’m still unclear on the real purpose of this “service,” but it appears to me to be a “voice of reason” meant to keep Caleb on the straight and narrow, which is a striking idea. Such a service, after all, would align with what I’m guessing this society’s economic and scientific elite are using their technology to do: keep the working class under their thumb.
Is it cheating to say that one of the aspects of Westworld’s third season I am most intrigued by is the addition of Aaron Paul to the cast? Judging from the above responses, I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ll follow the inherently appealing Paul in pretty much any series, like Breaking Bad, The Path, or BoJack Horseman. Now that we’re in the unfamiliar futuristic outside world of Westworld, the season wisely kicks off with Paul’s Caleb as our conduit, the detached vet antihero reduced to TaskRabbit crimes and, as Randall notes, cutting off his real friends. Caleb’s all-too-human vulnerability and sensitivity will make him a perfect partner for the now apparently near-indestructible Delores. Best of all, Paul’s frequently befuddled expression means that there will be someone on screen who appears to be as confused as I am in Westworld’s inherently confusing and constantly shifting landscape. I’m still not really sure what was up with the Forge.
Honestly, the opening minutes of the new season got straight to the heart of what intrigues me most: discovering the extent of Dolores’ powers in the real world. Because while she’s far from omniscient—her frustrated struggle to find out who can access Rehoboam, the uber-powerful A.I. that powers Incite’s work, is testament to her limits—her abilities represent a pretty key component of the story. But so far, it’s unclear: Is her lightning-fast negotiation of an apartment lease thanks to an Alexa-like assistant anyone can access, or is this her own design? Breaking into a fairly imposing technological fortress of a home, as she does in the opening minutes, is presumably a task far outside the abilities of a typical hacker. Can she communicate with a security system directly? Do they all do her bidding? This is the kind of thing my nerdy side lives for, and I’m excited for the show to start pulling back the layers of our most ambitious host.