Westworld: Parce Domine

Posted on March 16, 2020

Welp. So much for that plan.

We figured we’d tune into the third season premiere of Westworld, gather our thoughts, and offer folks a light review this morning. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy or simple viewing, because as we noted at the close of season 2, this show had, to use a highly technical TV critics’ term, “gone up its own ass.” And we’ll be blunt (too late, we know): We completely lose interest in a show once it’s gone up its own ass. In the case of Westworld, the tendency for showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy to go to any length possible to obscure the narrative and make it nearly impossible for any viewer to follow it because so many pieces of the story are missing until the very last second they can get away with. The first two seasons were dominated by a story structure that saw multiple timelines more or less happening simultaneously, with a total blurring of what was happening when – and to whom. That was fun in the beginning of the show, but by the time the season two finale rolled around, we and a whole lot of other viewers and critics threw up their hands in frustration and annoyance.

But like everyone else right now, we’re desperate for a diversion, so we sat down last night, cast aside our preconceptions and grudges, and just tried to let the show wash over us.

Haha. What the hell were we thinking?

While it’s true that the timeline fuckery that distinguished the first two seasons has seemingly been dispensed with (although that’s no guarantee, given how there are three distinct storylines: Dolores, Bernard, and Maeve), that doesn’t mean anything was any clearer last night. Dolores still wants to destroy humanity, Bernard still doesn’t seem to have much of a handle on his own situation, and Maeve is still trying to get the fuck out of that hellhole of a Disneyworld. That much is clear and we suppose that’s all we can expect for a season premiere. But it also means we have very little to say about the episode itself. We don’t know what Dolores is really trying to do or even who the various people in her orbit really are, including her now seemingly ex-boyfriend and her apparently soon-to-be ally, Aaron Paul (whose character was given more of a backstory upfront than any other character on the show, the result of which is that … we still have no idea who he is or why he matters). We suspect the narrative fuckery (sorry to keep using that term but it really does apply) comes down to not when everything is happening, but who everyone is. The Charlotte Hale we’re looking at is clearly not the original, since she was killed by Dolores last season while modeling her new Charlotte Hale body. But Dolores is back in Evan Rachel Wood’s form, so whoever that is conducting Delos board business is a complete mystery to us. And once you start from the premise that we don’t know who is in this one robot body, the next inevitable question is whether you can believe that any of the robots are who they appear to be.

We started out reviewing this show, completely caught up in the mystery, the nuance, the performances, and the promise that something deeper was happening underneath all the rapes and shootings. But one thing Westworld made very clear (uncharacteristically so) by the end of last season was that, despite all the trappings and philosophical questions about consciousness, it really is and always was just a story about a robot uprising; one of the oldest stories in science fiction. That’s not a bad thing and it’s certainly not wrong for the creators to try to dress the show up in more intellectual undertones to keep it fresh and engaging. But trying to figure out what’s happening to whom and when? To quote the Lesser Cher, “As IF.” We’ll just be over here, drooling over the gorgeously minimalist costumes of designers Shay Cunliffe and Jo Kissack.

 

Dolores, serving us ’80s businesswear realness.

 

 

Dolores, doing a highly ridiculous but nonetheless highly dramatic drag queen mid-walk costume change.

 

 

Charlotte (or whoever), showing us the latest in sleeve designs for 2058.

 

 

Maeve, rolling up her sleeves like some sort of Robot Rosie the Riveter.

 

 

[Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO]

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