When HBO’s fire-breathing juggernaut Game of Thrones came to an end, the cable giant went looking for a big-budget fantasy to lure in new audiences. Thanks to creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the malicious machines of Michael Crichton’s novel Westworld found a new lease on life as a series hoping to fill the void. For two years the mini-series provided a theme park of violent delights and mysteries to solve, even as the story evolved past the pages of Crichton’s source material. The saga of robotic playthings used for man’s darkest desires and their android uprising offered a new take on traditional ideas of good versus evil, and these themes have remained in its third season. But fans have been mixed as it’s been unfolding the past few months and moved away from its original setting.
The latest chapter began with one-time rancher’s daughter-turned-militant robot’s rights advocate Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) escaping the park with a handful of pearls — a collection of robotic souls that contains the personality and heart of mechanical beings. From those pearls, she set off to build an army that would wage war to remove the true plague: mankind. Aiming to stop her is Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), a mechanical copy of her former creator Arnold who fights for the side of man, and Maeve (Thandi Newton), a Wild West madam searching for her daughter. And while Bernard and Maeve stand as her foils, Dolores finds allies in the forms of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), the executive director of the board of Delos Destinations, and former soldier Caleb (Aaron Paul), along with a few other handcrafted comrades.
For the first two seasons and a handful of episodes in the third season, the end of humanity had never been so fun. Right out of the gate, Westworld was a compelling show filled with misdirections and mind fucks galore. Time jumps, unreliable narrators, and hidden Easter eggs were all part of the game it played on the viewer. It remained a wild ride throughout the second season as the androids began their systematic slaughter of mankind.
But as season three took the West out of Westworld and shifted away from the Wild West into the real world — or a version of the world that the show wants us to believe is real — it lost its wonder. The spurs and horses of the first two seasons have been traded in for righteousness and Big Brother allegories, and it’s just not as good.
The season three finale airs tonight — a few episodes shorter than prior seasons — yet it had already overstayed its welcome. The series is still stunning and the performances are still first rate, but the storyline has been a mess. By eliminating a majority of the robots and moving the story outside of the park, the show has ignored previous dynamics that enriched the whole premise.
Instead of saloons, gun fights and unconventional storylines, season three focuses on the mythos and technology aspects and they are missed. This turn might be unwelcome at any time for a show like this, but they are especially so given the new normal. During pandemic, the last thing audiences need is be reminded how everyone and everything in this world sucks. What we need is hope and a little fun. What Westworld gave us was an ill-timed morality lesson.