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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Westworld offers a shallow hope for the future

Illustration for article titled Westworld offers a shallow hope for the future
Photo: HBO
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Every season of Westworld, the show gets worse, and every season, I fall for the nonsense in the first half like it won’t happen again. In my defense, there have only been three seasons so far; but it’s not much of a defense, really. I fell for the same line I fell for last year, the same line I’ll probably fall for again if I’m still reviewing this show when the next season comes out. This time will be different, I’ll say. This time, they really have got it all figured out.


Of course they won’t have, though. As strong as the first few episodes of season three were, the last few have pretty much undone the goodwill I had left. “Crisis Theory” finds Dolores enacting the final, risky stage of her plan to save humanity from itself. She wins, but sacrifices herself in doing it; Caleb turns off the great and powerful Rehoboam; Maeve suddenly realizes that she’s actually a good guy, and switches sides; Serac loses; and William finally, finally dies. Only we can’t bear to let go of Ed Harris just yet, so we have a spare on hand, for, uh, reasons. (I guess the writers had to figure out a way to justify the post-credits tease at the end of last season somehow.) Something something something Bernard. And so on.

I’ve said this before, but one of the things that so frustrates me about all of this is how the pieces are there for a good story. Hell, that final confrontation with Serac is clever, if you overlook the hellishly convoluted steps and back steps required to get there. Sure, Caleb’s “choice” is just “do the thing the nice robot lady you didn’t rape told you to do,” and sure, Serac intentionally uploading Dolores’ mind into his machine feels like a plot point stolen from an original Star Trek episode—you know, back when they didn’t really know how computers worked, and everything could be defeated by some kind of paradox. But the basic thrust of it all, the way it seems hopeless until it is, is how a show is supposed to work. But it just doesn’t.

Ye gods, why is a TV series about killer robots and the potential extinction of the human race so boring. The first few episodes weren’t. But by the time Dolores and Maeve got ready to square off for yet another fight, I was checking my watch. I did not need to see Evan Rachel Wood fight through another group of face-covered stuntmen (who were probably the same face-covered stuntmen she fought the last time this came up). I didn’t need to hear Dolores and Maeve have the same vague argument about sides. It’s nearly impossible to be invested in what happens when the characters are this thin, no matter how good the actors are.

Take Caleb. What we know about Caleb is, he’s a soldier who was marked by Rehoboam as an “outlier,” brainwashed into hunting down others like him, and then let loose to a dead-end job where he would presumably kill himself. Tonight, we learn that apparently he and Dolores met before, briefly, back in Delos; Caleb was training with other soldiers in the park, the dudes wanted to force themselves on the robot ladies, and Caleb said “nah, c’mon, let’s be cool about this.” So I guess he and Dolores didn’t just randomly meet after all, despite it looking very much like that was exactly what they did.

This is a bad reveal. Worse, it’s structured so that for the bulk of the episode, we think that Caleb took part in the rape. We only find out near the very end, in what’s supposed to be a big reveal that he’s actually a good guy after all, that he stopped it from happening. Caleb’s character was never in doubt—the season would’ve been more interesting if it had been. If the point was just “Dolores picked him because he was a good guy this one time,” why did we spend so long being mysterious about it? Why is it supposed to be a surprise? The show took eight episodes to arrive at the most obvious possible conclusion, a conclusion it already spent season one and season two arriving at, a conclusion that’s been a staple of science fiction for a century or more: people (and robots) should be able to choose their fates, even if that means risking everything.


In theory, I guess we were supposed to believe that Dolores really was going to kill off humanity; that’s the only way her speech to Maeve at the end about choosing to see the beauty has any real dramatic impact. I guess finding out that the strategy Caleb failed to upload into the system was going to lead to humanity’s extinction is supposed to be a feint in that direction, but Dolores was never convincingly evil or scary enough for this to land, no matter how many times Bernard said they had to stop her. All of the plot lines on this show are so damn muddy and inelegant; it’s possible to view them at a distance and see their design, but the closer you get, the more it’s just a mess of stalling and padding and action scenes until the Big Reveal that closes out the season.

Oh, and speaking of Bernard: the only time the show had any real emotional impact on me was when he wound up at the home of Arnold’s wife, an elderly woman (still played by Gina Torres, in fairly convincing age makeup) with memory trouble. It’s about as manipulative a scene as you can imagine—all that was missing was the ghost of “their” dead son—but it at least had a connection to recognizable emotion and a meaningful character relationship. I don’t think the scene was entirely necessary; the point seems to be Lauren telling Bernard that the reason she got through losing her son was never letting go of his memory, and it’s not like Bernard has spent the whole season trying to forget things. But then, nearly everything with Bernard this season was unnecessary. Every scene with him and Stubbs was just a way to keep him around until the Big Reveal that he had the key to the Sublime all along.


Charlotte Dolores shows up for a bit in hologram form to fuck up regular Dolores’ day. Or else to just help achieve what Dolores really wanted all along; it seems like in order for Dolores’ big play to work, she had to sacrifice herself, but who knows. And as mentioned, William is finally dead; he decides to save the world from the hosts, travels to Delos International in a post-credits scene, and gets murdered by a robot copy of himself while Charlotte watches on. That, and Bernard’s dust-covered return to reality, along with Caleb and Maeve having a team-up, is supposed to set up the next season, I guess: Charlotte being all of Dolores’ human-murdering impulses working with Robo-William against the surviving good guys.

Does any of this work? I mean, it does technically deliver on what the start of the season promised, so points for that. It was cool seeing Dolores in her original robot body, and the effects work was impressive. The scene where Maeve guns down a bunch of guards in the dark looked cool. And having a traditional Westworld cover of a song transition into the actual song itself (“Dark Side Of The Moon”) was a neat thematic touch. But really, there’s not a lot going on here, certainly not enough to justify the show’s elevated presentation. It’s not revolutionary science fiction. It’s not especially thoughtful or unique. It’s just shiny and slow and kind of dumb, and it’s always going to end up less than the sum of its parts.


Stray observations

  • God, William getting that shotgun was just so, so silly. Glad we spent so much time with him this season only to see him get his throat cut.
  • The reveal that Serac is just parroting out the words Rehoboam gives him to say is neat, but like all the reveals on this show, nothing particularly interesting is done with it.
  • Bernard “senses” Dolores is gone. That is some lazy-ass writing right there.
  • “Would you have cared if I didn’t have this face? Or this skin?” Again, it could’ve been fascinating to poke into Caleb’s motivations, to question why he decided to act the hero, to make us doubt his honesty before realizing he was a good guy after all. I really don’t understand why the show is this bad at doing any of this.
  • “I choose to see the beauty.” R.I.P. Dolores.