Five years or so ago, I was excited by the fact that HBO had purchased to rights to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and that Jonathan Nolan was attached to develop the project. In my excitement, I re-read the original trilogy, plus the two sequels Asimov wrote in the 1980s. Asimov also wrote two “prequels,” focusing on Hari Seldon, and I read those as well. After Asimov’s death, a trio of new Foundation novels were written by Greg Bear, David Brin, and Gregory Benford in the ’90s. I’ve purchased these, but have read only the first so far.
It probably goes without saying now that the Foundation project never materialized on HBO. Instead, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy created the series Westworld based on the 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton. Since both involve humanoid robots (Asimov’s sequels and prequels more than the original trilogy), I wondered if the rights to Foundation were purchased just to keep someone else from making a robot series to compete with their reboot of Westworld.
The last I heard, Apple TV was making a 10-episode Foundation series that has currently been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll see what happens. Not even Hari Seldon can predict the future of this project.
But, we have Westworld. I remember watching the original movie on television. While I thought it had some cool things in it, I was never a big fan. In those days, I didn’t care much for westerns, except for The Wild Wild West and, occasionally, Bonanza. To me, the movie Westworld was more a western than my idea of science fiction. Of course, my conception of science fiction was being shaped largely by Star Trek, so the idea of androids wasn’t a new one to me. I was intrigued by the idea of the theme park, however.
It was in this spirit of lowered expectations that I began watching this series. One of the executive producers was J.J. Abrams, and his track record with Alias, Lost and Fringe (for starters) was good with me. Abrams has this thing for “mystery boxes” (look up his TED Talk on the subject sometime: it’s enlightening). It turns out that I do as well. I like the tease; the mystery. To a degree, I like not knowing something. Like Abrams, I believe that often the mystery is more important than the knowledge. To a point. Lost continued to throw questions at me from the beginning, with the monster that shakes the trees and the polar bear appearing on a tropical island, on through time-traveling islands and walking personifications of Good and Evil, alternate universes and a multidenominational church where people gather in the Afterlife. The answers to some of the puzzles presented by the show often weren’t as satisfying as the search for answers itself. I felt the same way about The X-Files. The more answers I was given, the less happy I was with the show.
With shorter seasons—only eight episodes in Season 3, versus ten each in Seasons 1 and 2—the endless tease of the mystery boxes doesn’t have as much time to grow tedious the way it can in seasons of twenty episodes or more. I still like not knowing everything that is going on, confident that I will get answers as the story goes forward, or the answers weren’t necessary to begin with.
As I’ve written before, I thought that Season 2 pretty much brought the story being told in this series to a close. And, it did. There’s really no point, other than nostalgia, for calling this series Westworld anymore. Season 3 kept several of the characters we knew from the series and put them in an entirely new show.
A new show that I instantly thought was interesting, I should add, but a new show, nonetheless. With plenty of mystery boxes.
Our setting changes from a fake American West to a futuristic seeming-utopia. Also, briefly, a Nazi-ravaged Italy, but that’s all a virtual simulation experienced by Maeve (Thandie Newton). Dolores (Rachel Evan Wood) meets up with the human Caleb (Aaron Paul), seemingly by accident, although there are not accidents in careful plotting. Humans are being controlled by a massive super computer known as Rehoboam much in the same way the hosts in Westworld were controlled by their loops. To that end, Serac (Vincent Cassel), who seems to be in control of Rehoboam, is set up to be the Big Bad of the season. Maeve ends up pitted against Dolores as well. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) seems to be back, but she’s a Dolores clone. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) comes back and partners with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), but they seem to have little to do in the plot until William, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), returns.
I don’t want to ruin the entire plot of the season for those of you who haven’t watched it yet. If you were able to handle the first two seasons, this one won’t be such a shock to your system. As always, things are seldom as clear-cut as they seem to be, and the story questions—the mystery boxes—abound.
During the finale, the story seems to be over once again. As with Season 2, I suspected that there was no where else to go with the series. Then, we get a couple of post-credit scenes that suggests that Season 4 may offer the viewer an all-out war between humans and hosts, something we didn’t really get in this season. Plus, I caution you to remember that none of the “deaths” we’ve seen in the series so far have seemed permanent.
During a virtual psychiatric session, we also get to see the younger version of the Man in Black again (Jimmi Simpson), which served no other real purpose that I could see. However, I enjoyed it, so maybe that was the purpose after all. To that same end, and ultimate lack of payoff, we get guest spots by Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), and Sato/Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). While it was entertaining to see characters from the park again, they were ultimately little more than set dressing.
It was also nice to see familiar actors in new roles as well, such as Tommy Flanagan as Martin Connells, another Dolores clone, and Enrico Colantoni as Whitman. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, who brought Game of Thrones to life on HBO, also made guest-starring appearances as Dan and Dave, two Delos technicians. Kid Cudi himself plays Francis, Caleb’s dead squadmate. So, this was all fun.
Okay, it’s final verdict time.
I loved the new milieu presented in this season. It was a believable, high-tech future that would have been equally at home in episodes of Black Mirror. I even liked finding out that the data mined from human guests by the hosts of the theme park was being used by a massive supercomputer controlling the narratives of humans. This was neat parallel plot construction.
This was the most linear plot of any Westworld season so far. As such, it seemed somehow more shallow. The themes that resonated in the first two seasons—largely occupied with Dolores’s concerns that she was not human—are no longer our concern, as viewers. Dolores knows what she is. What we don’t know is what Dolores plans for the humans.
I know we’re getting a Season 4 here, and I know I’ll be watching it. However, this was my least-favorite season so far. By losing the theme park setting, we seem to have lost something else as well. Something not as easy to define.
Firewater’s The-Right-Information-at-the-Right-Time-Is-Deadlier-than-any-Weapon Report Card: B+
This is not the same show. It’s evolved. I liked it, and will be looking forward to another season.