The first season of HBOs Westworld is one of the best TV seasons of the last 10 years. After an excruciating 18 months wait season two debuted and was mostly a strong follow up. The finale did give a sense that we were closing up this chapter of the story with the exodus from the central park and out into the real world. After another two-year wait we got a shorter third season but the addition of Aaron Paul to the cast was hugely exciting and it was clear that the show could go in any direction from this point forward. What’s the direction chosen in the third season satisfying?
Honestly not really. The problems aren’t immediately obvious. In fact, the first five episodes of this season do a pretty solid job in establishing this new incarnation of the show with less focus on the mystery boxes of the first two Seasons and more of an action orientated approach. This works well as the action is really solid throughout but is something of a step down from previous seasons. This is in large part due to the writer’s insistence on keeping absolutely every character in a massive cast on the board over a shorter season (even with the majority of the episodes running a full hour.) This is not counting the introduction and Arron Paul or Vincent Cassel as the seasons villain (whose character feels incredibly generic for an actor of his ability.) For as much as these issues persisted across the first five episodes the core strength of this incarnation of the show were still incredibly strong. If the season stuck the landing in the back half it would still be a very strong season for a great show.
Unfortunately, the wheels really come off in the back half of the season especially the final two episodes which were some of the most disappointing TV of recent memory. There are character deaths, followed by immediate resurrection only to be killed off again to end the season. The issues with the broadness of scope aggravate when you realise at the end of the season there are entire characters and arcs that could be cut and running time utilised more effectively. Characters just show up when required exclusively because the plot needs them to.
The biggest issue sadly turned out to be Aaron Paul. There’s nothing wrong with his performance but he is underserved by one of the most undercooked character arcs possible for this genre of show that gets far too much time dedicated to its mediocrity. The core strength of the action beats is still there but by the end of the season it’s the one saving grace of a what turned out to be a very disappointing second half of the season
Westworld really fumbled the chance to establish a new incarnation of the show with its third season. The first half is solid throughout with some strong action beats. That said the wheels really come off it in the second half thanks to sloppy writing, disappointing character arcs and the general sense that the show isn’t using its runtime in this shorter season effectively. The Seasons post-credit finale reveals are cool in suggesting where the story is going next but while this season is far from awful if it continues down this path approach future seasons with caution.