Season 3 of Westworld is now complete. With it came record-low ratings for its premiere that seemed to drop steadily as the season continued. To an outsider, the lack of real buzz around the season indicated the slow death of a once television phenomenon. But here’s the thing: Westworld has never been better.
The third season of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s complex brainchild soared to new heights this Spring. Among several things, a more streamlined narrative made for one of the best seasons of modern prestige television. Telling the story of android Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) recruiting downtrodden veteran Caleb Nichols to save humankind from the nefarious A.I. Rehoboam and its creator Serac (Vincent Cassel) took the series to new heights. A select group of friends and I would look at Sundays with bated breath, waiting for the next chapter of our beloved techno saga. So why wasn’t anyone else? That’s a question we have to venture deep into our own personal “maze” to solve.
As stated before, the third season streamlined things quite a bit. Gone were the multiple timelines. Gone were extraneous characters. It’s all about Dolores, Maeve (Thandie Newton), Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), and a bit of William (Ed Harris) here and there. However, it may have been too little too late. Season 2 doubled down on the narrative twists to the point where I had to frequent the show’s subreddit to understand what was going on. Sure, I enjoyed the experience. But the show operated like some kind of esoteric game of four-dimensional chess, which left audiences several moves behind.
Understandably, many dropped off the show for the investment it required of viewers simply to figure out the basics of the storyline. Others who were invested were likely to lose interest because there was a two-year gap between seasons 2 and 3. There was a similar gap between seasons 1 and 2, yet that almost served the opposite effect. Season 1 was a sensation for HBO, but no one could quite agree on Season 2. Instead of getting demoralized, Nolan and Joy listened to criticism by correcting nearly all of Season 2’s issues and took the bold step to leave the park for a more cyberpunk driven narrative.
This only served to further push away a portion of the audience. While some, myself included, enthusiastically saw this as a fresh start for the series, others bemoaned the loss of the titular Westworld. “What was this show even about any more?” some asked. Compounded with the Season 2 disappointment, the gap, and change of locale was the fact that there’s simply too much TV to be watched for a dark show about brooding robots, especially during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the ratings drop for Season 3 makes all the sense in the world. But it deserves way better.
Why did we love Westworld Season 1? For all its mind-screwery, it all came together in the end. We were in the hands of creators who we learned to trust. Yet when Season 2 arrived, we forgot that trust. Westworld never forgot. From the very first second of Season 3, Westworld capitalized all that we’ve grown to love about the series from day one.
The action was on the level of a blockbuster. The themes of what makes us human and how we submit to control in an increasingly confusing world were more prevalent than ever. Beloved characters were seen through the eyes of new characters who we would’ve never expected to resonate as much as they did. In its finishing moments, Westworld Season 3 honored every minute we’d spent watching the show, making everything relevant to what could’ve been a perfect ending. A somber, beautiful funeral for those who held out for their beloved show.
Except it’s not the end. Westworld has been renewed for Season 4. It was an announcement I wasn’t expecting; one that thrilled me in ways I didn’t expect because a truth dawned on me. The truth is that Westworld still has the chance to get the flowers it deserves.
Fellow critic and head of marketing Ileana Melendez putting in on her list of best shows to binge inspired a hope in me. A hope that this show will achieve the recognition its accomplishments truly warrant. Westworld may be stuck in its own loop, in its own niche corner of television, but I can only hold out that it will break that loop and overcome its destiny. –James Preston Poole
All of Westworld is now available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now.