Westworld: Season 3

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I did the same thing I did for the second season of this sci-fi show for the third. I recorded it all and then left it gathering dust on my Sky box until such time as I felt ready to watch it in one compressed amount of time. I binged watched it over the course of two days earlier this week. There’s little else to do outside of work at the moment, although I did find time to draw the image for this post on Procreate – no tracing at all on this one. I used some pencils (including Derwent and the Procreate pencil), one painting brush (can’t recall which one), a lot of eraser and one of the soft air-brushes, plus some Gaussian blur.

Anyway, back to the telly show. For the uninitiated, the show is very loosely based on Michael Crichton’s book which was then the basis for a classic sci-fi film and whose concept of a technology based fun park going awry was used again to great effect by the same author for Jurassic Park. If you haven’t seen season one and season two then please don’t just jump into this season – it might be a fun watch but a lot of what they’re talking about will make very little sense. In this season we see a great deal less of the artificial world since the robots have got loose and entered the real physical world of a alternate future Earth the lives of whose citizens are governed, whether they know it or not, by a big ol’ AI.

The concept of a super-brain controlling markets, corporate and government policy and employment decisions, based on elaborate forecasting is the stuff of classic sci-fi and even a David Bowie song (“Saviour Machine”). And with the rise of personal data collection by the likes of Google, Facebook etc. it’s not a giant leap for the viewer (who has already accepted that human psyches can be copied into golf-ball size ‘pearls’ to bring life into robots indistinguishable from humans) to accept in principle this extrapolation upon our current existence. There will be some unavoidable spoilers below.

The super-brain is run by super-rich super-French scientist Engerraund Serrac (played by Vincent Cassel) who is after the encryption key to unlock the data that was ported out of Westworld by Hale (Tessa Thompson) in the previous season and indeed wants to take over Delos, the company responsible for the parks – of which incidentally there are quite a few beyond Westworld. We’ve seen glimpses of them in the previous season and in fact the feudal Japanese one featured nicely in some episodes last time. This time it’s the turn of a WW2 based world where Maeve (Thandie Newton) wakes in a German occupied Italian town. At one point we see that there’s a contemporary world used for military anti-terrorist training and HBO couldn’t resist putting a dragon into one of the lab enclosures in one scene – alluding to an unseen Game of Thrones style world somewhere.

Serrac is after the data. Always with the data that guy. Cassel is one of the actors I thought might not have the chops for the show but he fits in well among the other well-established cast members. So to does the other notable new guy Aaron Paul who plays down on his luck ex-soldier Caleb Nichols doing odd jobs for a dodgy online payment service akin to Deliveroo for drug dealers. But it’s Aaron Paul so we know he has a good heart and when Caleb’s path crosses with that of an injured Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) now in full Terminator sexy-killer-robot mode he comes to her rescue. Little does he know what he’s getting sucked into.

There are only eight episodes for this season and I think it’s just right. It’s pretty much all killer and no filler. There’s very little padding – or though some might argue that Ed Harris’s character has past its best before end date. The Man in Black features very little in fact and his bits of story just seem like tying up loose ends from the previous season. The other thing about season three is that creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have been good on their word to make the storytelling a lot less complex than last time.

At times season two was almost incomprehensible in the way it mixed up various characters timelines. In this third season the storytelling is linear and mostly shared between the journey of Delores – by far the most complex character in the show, Maeve – with a simpler focus (her daughter) but no less interesting, Hale – who for a large portion of the story is under Delores ‘control’ (she actually is Delores up to a point, kinda…) and of course, but perhaps to a lesser extent, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) everyone’s favourite confused guy. Bernard is cast as the scape-goat for the Westworld massacre and to begin with hiding away at a meat factory. It’s good to see three women leading a show and I’ll not dig to deeply into HBO’s motivations for this (since the female characters are all sexualised to varying degrees – empowerment or objectification?… anyway moving on, I’m not her to start picking away at the corners…)

Delores is definitely the main focus for the show and gets most screen time, dishing out old school bad-assery along with her plucky new side kick Caleb. Caleb is like Baby Mando to Delores’ Yoda, although it’s still Maeve who seems to possess more magical qualities. Aside from the powers of the robots in the real world which at times you have to take with a pinch of salt, the future-looking technology that the show includes is really great to look at. While it takes sonic and visual cues from the likes of Bladerunner 2049, future America is a lot cleaner looking and less crowded. Robots are used for construction and security, and most vehicles – motorbikes, cars and impossible aircraft – are automated. Apart from Caleb commandeering a police vehicle rather easily, the technology is all very well thought out and a real treat for a sci-fi fan’s eye and imagination.

The story is by and large a good continuation of the Westworld story and centres very much on the usual sci-fi tropes of what it means to be human, free will and the rights of AI. And there’s a side helping of warning about control of personal data and the evils of social manipulation by big data corporations. I won’t go into the details as I want to avoid spoilers. It does get a bit silly toward the end and Delores does seem to start with one ambition which then pivots to serve the story more than her drives, but then the writing is some of the best of any sci-fi show currently on TV so its easy to forgive the writers.

There’s also the usual bunch of inconsistencies, but again I was too busy clapping my hands in glee at the big robot, the self-driving bike and Delores pulling her skin on like gloves to take much notice. There’s also the usual dollop of reinterpretations of classic tunes in the soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I was going to post a clip of ‘Space Oddity’ here, but the scene has a huge spoiler in it, so I won’t. Just watch the show and if you can get through season two without your head exploding then you’re in for a smoother ride with season three.

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