Westworld season three came to an end with “Crisis Theory,” an episode that sought to tie together the many threads that had unspooled over the previous seven episodes—What’s Caleb’s real backstory? How many Doloreses are there? Where’s the key to the Valley Beyond a.k.a. the Sublime?—but just ended up ensnarled in its inelegant storytelling. Zack Handlen has already outlined how the finale introduces the end of the world, though not the end of Westworld, which has already been renewed for a fourth season. In our latest Roundtable discussion, a few A.V. Club staffers share their biggest disappointments, remaining questions, and whether they’ll be back to watch the impending apocalypse on Westworld.
Note: Plot points of “Crisis Theory” are discussed in this post.
Most of us feel taken for a(nother) ride by Westworld this season, but I could not have guessed that banking on Bernard having any agency would turn out to be the biggest sucker bet. Jeffrey Wright was never less than great in his performance, but Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan continue to believe that indecision is the hallmark of decency, which is presumably why Bernard turns out to be little more than a handsome jump drive this season. That reveal, that Bernard has held the key to the Sublime all this time, was first hinted at in “Genre,” when one of the Dolores clones (I can’t recall which one) says Bernard is the only one who “can’t be replaced.” It was a perfectly fine bit of foreshadowing, but after everything Bernard went through this season—including sharing a cry with his inspiration’s ex-wife, played by Gina Torres—he is then shut down once more after he finds the Sublime. Cue my bitter laugh.
The ongoing sidelining of Bernard speaks to the show’s shortcomings this season. Early on, season three played with heist and action-thriller elements, finding real promise in life outside the park. Just when it seemed like the world of Westworld was expanding beyond robot murders and Dolores’ martyr complex, the writers clung so tightly to the idea of Dolores as a driving force for the story that they added cloning (the equipment for which seems to be readily available all over the world) into an already convoluted story. Maeve (and Thandie Newton) also got the narrative short shrift this season, which has become par for the course for Westworld. The show is stuck in a loop, one that I’m not sure an impending apocalypse will be able to break. But maybe with Dolores set up to be the one playing catch-up next year (c’mon, you know she’s going to be back), Westworld will finally commit to other character arcs.
Like Zack, I have also been invigorated by the first few episodes of every Westworld season, only to leave them bored and underwhelmed. It’s a matter of expectation: Westworld is gussied up with so many prestige trappings—the refined score, the stunning set design, the general portentousness—that it’s easy to imagine the show’s redundant musings on free will contain deeper truths when, as season three’s climax reveals, they really don’t. Rehoboam was an interesting concept, but Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy seemed to envision it primarily in theoretical and metaphorical terms rather than practical ones; throughout the season I found myself hungry for more tangible examples of how it directly shaped the lives of the populace. One of my favorite scenes involved Aaron Paul’s Caleb getting a job rejection from a chipper phone recording, a moment that spoke to predetermination while also touching on the class themes innately intertwined with population control. But, despite there being a citywide riot culminating in a Fight Club-aping demonstration of corporate demolition, the class elements somehow still felt eclipsed by the vague notion of “outliers,” a neat idea that’s never explored in tangible, relatable terms.
Caleb was really the season’s best hope in terms of infusing some real vitality into the show, but the season spent so much time obfuscating his identity, past, and relationship with Dolores that he’s now as unknowable as Bernard and Maeve, who, across three seasons, have yet to resonate beyond the vague notions they represent. Why, exactly, is Maeve all-powerful? What did Bernard even do this season? Is Dolores gone for good? I hope so, honestly. She’s kind of a drag. I’ll still watch, of course. I’m too deep now. And, for all the above criticism, I’m still intrigued by both Charlotte’s mission and the idea of a Dolores clone growing independent of its original form, as well as for how a robot version of The Man In Black will be used to spur on the host revolution, which really needs to just get started already.
I have a feeling I liked that finale more than most people, at least in the sense that it entertained me in the moment, but I know I’ll find more and more things I dislike as I unpack it. So let’s do that. For starters, Dolores’ revolution kind of falls apart if she’s using the RICO app to pay people to be her henchmen, which is exactly what Rehoboam was doing, even if her real ultimate goal was guiding Caleb to the exact moment where he gets to decide humanity’s fate… which I also don’t really buy, seeing as how Dolores was so confident in herself and her mission that she was willing to let multiple versions of herself die rather than involve anyone else. On that note, I hope she’s not dead and there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t have a backup of herself somewhere, plus it would be a disappointing waste of the heroic turn she made this season—which I really liked—if her end was just getting bamboozled by an unexplained robot ghost. Speaking of, I hated everything with the Charlotte Dolores in this finale and I’m not especially excited about her going into next season with a plan to simply do what everyone assumed Dolores would do this season. They’re basically re-asserting all of the things they previously subverted, right down to the Man In Black being an evil robot like in the movie, and it all feels like the least surprising path they could’ve taken (which this series has rarely been guilty of before). That being said, it’s still a cool show and I’ll definitely watch next season—even if it’s only to see if Dolores Prime comes back to start cracking evil robot skulls with her Terminator skeleton and disgusting skin gloves.
I too have a love-hate relationship with Westworld, where I start each season with goodwill that is usually completely eroded by the end of the season. Season three was no different, sadly. I loved the early episodes; the future setting was just stunning. As predicted, Aaron Paul’s Caleb quickly became my favorite character, primarily because he was usually as befuddled as I was (especially when he was on drugs). The episode where everyone finds out about their books was super-interesting, and I am always down for a Maeve vs. Dolores action sequence, though toward the end I honestly could no longer figure out what they’re fighting about. That Rehoboam was intended to save humanity from its worst instincts, which had the populace on a collision course toward its mass destruction? As Dolores states at one point, “Free will does exist. It’s just fucking hard.” So, removing Rehoboam gives humans their free will back, but now they have to fight their own battle to save humanity—am I getting this right? Lots of endgame platitudes about “choices” did not help the situation, nor did the William-Bernard-Stubbs road trip that distracted from the main plot. But I appreciate Dolores’ effort to save humans from being controlled like she once was—if I’m reading this all correctly, which is a big if. Honestly, the episode probably would have worked well as a series finale; the closing scene with Maeve and Caleb watching all the explosions, brought the end of Fight Club to mind for me as well. Because even with nu-Charlotte and all her machines in the end-credits, now that the humans are freed from Serac’s system, what will season four’s battle be? I suspect that the robots are really going to try to wipe out the humans this time, but, y’know, fool me once, Westworld… yeah, I’m probably out.
Like Sam, I didn’t hate the finale, though that may be damning it with faint praise. It was the definition of a shrug, an hour that more or less went through the motions of things that had been set up for so long, and dragged out so interminably this season (and at only eight episodes, no less), that by the time they paid off, there wasn’t much left to inspire enthusiasm. I was excited after the premiere to learn about the extent of Dolores’ powers, but despite the cool reveal that Dolores had sent multiple versions of herself out into the world in a variety of guises, she mostly remained an enigma, someone who tells people how important they are, and then dies—but only so everyone can learn that what seemed like a defeat was really her plan all along, ooooh. All the Dolores Ex Machina really started to pile up, in pretty silly ways, and while it’s always fun watching Evan Rachel Wood kick ass, literally repeating the exact same conflict and discussion she had with Maeve last week was the apex of unnecessary time-killing. Also, after trying to make her “death” via EMP seem meaningful, they just rebooted her again here—so I’m extremely skeptical that we’ve seen the last of Dolores Prime, and not only because HBO probably wants the show to keep its star around. (Flash-forward to the end of season four’s premiere, when some unseen hand ominously turns Rehoboam back on, and it starts rebuilding Dolores’ mind, or some such nonsense.) I’ll probably stick around to see what happens next season—this show has a really good cast—but it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm, not after this year. Enough shows about predictive computers, Jonathan Nolan!