One of the few things that make Westworld, a western, sci-fi HBO show created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, so remarkable is its examination of free will and humanity. In the inaugural season, the show inscribes philosophical concerns about whether we, as human beings, can decide our own path or not. And it makes the experience of watching the show very intriguing despite its plenty of head-scratching twists and complicated timeline. But sadly, the second season couldn’t sustain the brilliance that season one already established as it was too busy trying making the mystery more intricate, instead of developing the characters, or answering any of the main questions. Still, even when the show grows increasingly confusing, the performances from the ensemble remain engaging.
So, when the third season, which premiered this week, taps into new energy and leaves its confusing puzzles in the past, it feels like the show is finally ready to move forward and rejuvenate its materials.
Will the show finally challenge Dolores’ assumptions?
When we last saw Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), she was on her way to escape the park by inhabiting the body of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) after she killed her and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright). She infiates the mainland where human lives and intends to take over the world. She also brings five brain marbles of other hosts to help make her plan come true. We never learn which hosts she brings, and it seems like the third season will take its time to answer that question as well.
The first episode of season three, Parce Domine, picks up three months after the catastrophic event planned by Dolores that kills several of Delos’ board members. Dolores is now acting two steps ahead. She hunts the guests of the Delos park one by one. But it’s obvious that her goal isn’t about getting revenge for all the violence that she’s gone through while being a host in the park. Instead, it’s about how she wants to change the course of humanity. The problem, however, is that Dolores’ assumptions of humanity are incredibly flawed. She thinks that all humans are bad because of what she witnessed and experienced in the park, while the fact is, those who abused her are only a few percent of the whole humankind.
Dolores doesn’t understand that because all her life, she only sees humans and their actions from those visiting the park, who are mostly one-percenters who assume they can get away with anything. On top of that, the trauma that she has to endure is already affecting her worldview, shallowing it to a point that she can’t trust human kindness again. Westworld never passes judgment on Dolores, and rather shapes her to be a morally grey character. But her transformation from a damsel in distress to this complex character was never done smoothly in the previous seasons. She’s never challenged to reflect on her humanity and flaws. And as a result, even though Evan Rachel Wood’s performance is magnetic, Dolores is reduced to a one-dimensional killing machine without any complexity that makes her interesting.
While we still can’t be so sure if the show will finally challenge Dolores’ assumptions of humanity or not, the first episode of season 3 feels like it’s heading that way. Dolores meets a few people that are different than the one she used to meet in the park. In fact, some of them are just like her, the victims of violence and the modern system that only benefits those already at the top of the totem pole. If the third season finally provokes Dolores and challenges her idea of humanity, it will be a very compelling season.
Who is Caleb?
This brings us to a new character named Caleb (Aaron Paul). The opening shot that introduces him recalls the moment where Dolores is trapped in a loop inside the park. He wakes up in the same fashion as her and the other hosts, though we still do not know if he’s a host or not. What we can predict, however, is that Caleb will be a major character that shakes up Dolores’ notions about humans.
Through Caleb, we learn that the world that Dolores is so eager to take over is not that much different from the one she was in trapped before. Everything is driven by data, computers, and AI. But unlike Dolores and the other hosts, the real world is inhabited by people with free will and real conscience. They’re aware that they are trapped in a loop — a place that doesn’t care about how much hard work they put into everything because everything is already predetermined by a system called Rehoboam. This eventually wrecks Caleb. He’s working hard every day, hoping that he will be rewarded with a much better path. But of course, changing one’s path is not an easy thing to do.
Caleb is trapped and stuck inside the system. Even when he tries to get a new job and change things up, his path will always be the same because that’s what Rehoboam has written for him. There are two hypothetical trajectories that come from this. First, Caleb will break bad out of frustration for the predetermination and eventually help Dolores to end it all. Second, he will still try to change the system, but not by destroying it but rather by radicalizing from the inside. The second hypothesis is a mirror to what Maeve Millay (the always delightful Thandie Newton) and Bernard have been doing in season 2. They realize that the system is rigged, and that humanity is flawed, but still believe that they don’t need to be like Dolores to help to repair it.
With both Maeve and Bernard are on their ways to stop Dolores, Caleb’s role in this season is gonna be even more crucial to the battle of these two sides. And if there’s someone who can bring Caleb’s duality and complexity to life, it is Aaron Paul. And indeed, his performance in the season premiere is very engaging. He can showcase Caleb’s vulnerability while still remaining to be tenacious and charming. Looks like another acting Emmy for both Paul and Westworld is on the way.
Compared to the confusing season 2, the first episode Westworld season 3 is more straightforward. There are no multiple timelines or twists looming at every minute. Everything is much clearer and more exciting in terms of the action and its philosophical examination. Though of course, Westworld will still always be Westworld, we need to be ready if, at any point, Joy and Nolan pull the rug from under us. But for now, let’s just hope that the rest of season 3 can maintain the excitement of the first episode.
What do you think of the season three premiere? Is Caleb gonna side with Dolores? Let us know in the comments!
The first episode of Westworld season three is available to stream at HBO GO and HBO Now.
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