Westworld closes out its third season far from the confines of the park and facing a deeply uncertain future. While the show is confirmed for a fourth season, the surviving characters must grapple with the consequences of all their hard-won choices. And viewers must decide if this season was a new jumping-on point, or if it’s time to take themselves offline.
Spoilers ahead for the third season finale.
Season three was a big departure from the simpler times of sentient AI versus the worst nature of humanity, white hats and black hats.
FutureWorld injected the show with new life and vibrant color. I just wish we could’ve spent more time building out the human world Dolores was so eager to destroy, instead of having so much of Dolores herself. The naive rancher’s daughter was the heart of the plot, but has never really been the heart of the show. While Evan Rachel Wood has done a fantastic job, Dolores continues to mostly speak in exposition. Her singular focus on destruction made me miss her growing self-awareness from season one. And the horses. I miss the horses and saloons.
Aaron Paul was a new addition to the cast, and a welcome one. Caleb was the heart of this season and his struggle against an algorithm that decided his life and death showed that humans can be chained to evil corporate interests just as much as any host. Incite’s data project was a compelling idea, especially once we got a peek at the man behind the supercomputer, Engerraund Serac. This is what I really wanted to see more of, but that’s Black Mirror and not Westworld…
We got an answer of sorts to why this one puny human was so important to the fate of the world, but, like many things this season, it was rather muddled. A show about free will took an exorbitant amount of time to say literally the same thing it’s been saying for the past two years: Free will is always better than the alternative, even if the alternative is another supercomputer that’s trying to keep an unpredictable global population from destroying itself.
In Dolores’ final moments, she was swayed to spare total human destruction by basically keeping her fingers crossed and trusting that humans will invariably do the right thing because she “chooses to see the beauty in this world.” That’s… not quite the takeaway I’d expect someone who spent 35 years getting tortured and murdered by horny millionaires on vacation to have, and it deflated a lot of the season’s momentum. It’s nice to hope, but nothing humans have done thus far suggests that our better angels will win in the end.
While Maeve has always been the emotional core of Westworld, she ended up being far less important to the story this time around. She was only working as a hired swordswoman for Serac and even flat-out said her daughter—who has always her main motivating factor—could wait to be seen because she, too, wanted to help usher in a new age for humans and hosts. As much as I love seeing Thandie Newton in cool costumes and kicking ass with a samurai sword, her screen time accomplished very little.
The true MVP of Westworld‘s third season is neither Maeve nor Caleb—it’s Tessa Thompson’s performance. When Charlotte Hale died during the park massacre last season, we might not have expected to see her again, but as it’s Westworld, anyone can (and often does) return as a host. Only this new Charlotte was not the boss bitch herself, but another copy of Dolores using Charlotte’s identity to bring down Delos from within. But when Charlotte’s memories combined with a less hardened version of Dolores and created a compelling, poignant feedback loop of uncertainty, complicated by Charlotte’s very human family, the resulting moral dilemma felt believable and fresh.
So what comes after the end of the world?
More Charlotte and less inscrutable philosophizing about choice, I hope.
- Bernard should merit a mention but the show literally left him offline until he was covered in dust, just to wake him up again to deliver a cliffhanger line about the real Armageddon coming. How long was he out?
- William, aka The Man in Black, is by far my least favorite part of the show. He’s always been a character that works best with some mystery, in very small doses. For the last two seasons, I kinda just check out whenever he speaks because I know it’s gonna be some forced broody monologue about how bad he had it and it’s boring as hell to watch him moan about how no one loves him and life is darkness. Here’s to hoping his more murderous counterpart gets to actually see some gunslinging action next season.
- Marshawn Lynch and Lena Waithe were great guest stars. If you didn’t know Lynch played football (hey, I didn’t!) you probably realized it last night watching him catch that canister of tear gas during the riots.
- The highlight of the season was Caleb’s cinematic drug trip in (and on) “Genre.” After getting dosed with a drug called Genre, Caleb feels as if he’s living in a montage of different movies, complete with bombastic score, black and white visuals, and slo-mo. We got nods to Platoon, Universal horror, and Trainspotting as Dolores fought to unleash Hell against Incite. What does it say about the show this season when the most memorable part was the hour that reminded people of far more memorable movies?
- The cinematography and costumes of the near-future have been gorgeous. Even when this show bores me to tears, it’s beautiful.
- Next season: Is Stubbs just a steel skeleton in a bathtub now?
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 E/PT on HBO.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons. Reach her via pony express or on Twitter.