Westworld takes its first steps into season 3 on HBO by moving forward. The show’s first season was a masterpiece of television, one of the most densely plotted and thought-provoking science fiction entries in the history of the medium. Topping that may be impossible, but to have any shot at equalling you need to take the audience somewhere else. And so, after a wasted season two in between, they finally have.
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is right where we left her at the end of season 2, hard at work on plotting to wipe out the human world. Westworld season 3 episode 1 makes her our focus, in service of bringing her together with someone new.
Benard’s (Jeffrey Wright) current intentions are less clear, but he’s still in the real world too. Blamed and hunted for the theme park slaughter at Westworld, he’s hiding out and on the run. His brain is still kind of a mess and so he has a button which when pressed turns him into, well you’ll have to watch the episode to find out.
Westworld season 3’s first episode follows three different threads. Dolores is one. Bernard is another. The third involves a newcomer named Caleb. He’s a former soldier with PTSD and a lot of regrets played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.
Paul plays Caleb perfectly and outside of Dolores he gets the most screen time in the show’s debut. So far, that’s not really a good thing, since his storyline is the least interesting thing Westworld has happening. We wasted time learning about him so we’ll care more about him later, when things really get interesting. Unfortunately to get to those interesting things, you’ll have to sit through long conversations with his former army buddy who might not actually be his army buddy.
The real star of Westworld’s season 3’s first episode is the world of the future, created in lavish detail with an eye towards imaginative technical innovation. While we spent the previous two seasons scrabbling around in the wild west dust, the world outside Westworld’s theme park was actually (at least in the cities) basically Blade Runner. And I couldn’t be happier to be in it.
That new setting gives the show a new edge with totally new kinds of characters to explore. So far that’s meant spending more time than we might like watching corporate board members jockey for position, but it’s not long before the bullets start flying and characters end up partying naked.
At some point in Westworld season 3 we’ll get more familiar faces and that’s fine. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Thandie Newton as Meave. Throwing Ed Harris’s Man In Black into battle in the modern world should be a blast. As long as they don’t drift back to the dusty sands of Westworld itself too fast, we could be in for something special.
Westworld season 3’s first episode isn’t perfect, but it’s off to a better start than season 2 and it sets up a host of new opportunities to lift the show back into the stratosphere. The trap to avoid is one of simply posing questions to keep the audience interested, rather than questions with deep philosophical undercurrents that resonate beyond the boundaries of simple plot. Maybe that’s too lofty a goal, even for a show about what it means to be alive, but Westworld has done it before. For the first time since the final episode of Westworld season 1, there’s hope that HBO might be able to do it again.