After nearly a two-year hiatus, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan come roaring back with the Season 3 premiere of Westworld, and a mighty roar it is. With the first two seasons’ emphasis on the hosts’ rebellion and whether they would ever be able to escape the park or not, that Season 2 finale threw so much thunder, I would have been all right with that being the series finale.
But — apparently — Joy & Nolan were just getting started as the show undergoes nearly a total reboot now that we’re finally out of the park and plunging into the real world in the year 2052, which channels the detailed, casual futurism of Blade Runner with a sleek sheen more befitting its sudden pivot over toward corporate-espionage noir…
As the world reacts to last season’s massacre, we see Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) running around taking care of business, then we spend considerable time getting to know Caleb, a new character played by Aaron Paul (he of Jesse “Yeah, bitch!” Pinkman fame) who capably slides into the Rick Deckard fixer role, though he’s a bit more frazzled and traumatized than Harrison Ford’s archetypal performance.
The extra-long episode doesn’t even give us enough time to check in with major characters like Thandie Newton’s Maeve or Ed Harris’s William (though we might not see that guy for quite some time if that post-credits scene from the Season 2 finale is any indication).
While Jeffrey Wright turns in another rock-solid performance as Bernard, this premiere is really Wood’s show, as she takes her new body through its paces, conducting hacking, remote surveillance, and unmitigated bursts of violence with precision and detachment. It’s a charismatic performance that makes it easy to root for her even as she murders anyone who gets in her way without compunction.
There is some confusion, as my understanding was that the way we left it was that Dolores was in a new host body that looked like Thompson’s Charlotte, only we have Dolores running around with Evan Rachel Wood’s face.
Are there two Dolores consciousnesses now? Or is this another split-timeline trick, we’re starting out with Tessa Thompson right after she escaped the park trying to take Delos Labs public and all that Wood murder is later? The mystery of who is running the show this season in Charlotte’s body will be revealed in due time.
Long story short, this premiere had a huge job to do, reinventing/rebooting the series to match the expanding narrative scope and then jungle the rampaging arcs of its ensemble while finally delivering on a satisfying run all through the real world of the future, and it delivers on all counts. 5/5 Smart Murder-Mansions.