HBO's ominous tech-thriller Westworld is finally back--but given the show's infamously complicated timelines and dense, constantly evolving mythology (what, exactly, were the hosts trying to do back in Season 2, again?) it's safe to say we came into the premiere of Season 3 with some reservations. Dolores had finally escaped the park for real back in the finale, but what did that actually mean--and, perhaps more importantly, what was she actually trying to accomplish beyond carnage and violence?
The good news is we now have an answer to both of those questions, and they came refreshingly quickly for Westworld. There were no overlapping time-traveling narratives or baffling red herrings to speak of (so far at least), and we can't help but feel like the entire season is off to an incredibly strong start because of it. It's not that there aren't still bigger mysteries at play here--there are plenty, to be sure--but the pervasive sense that the show is more concerned with withholding information to keep Redditors on their toes than it is with telling a compelling story is thankfully nowhere to be found.
Season 3 dives directly into the fallout of the riots at the park and gives us a look at Dolores' immediate goals--she's aiming to take not just Delos down, but the whole of human society, from the inside out, and using the fact that no one actually knows she escaped (thanks to her clever gambit with a host-clone of Charlotte Hale's body) to her full advantage. Immediately, there's a real sense of just how screwed--and clueless--humanity really is when going up against the hosts. In the Westworld future, mankind is even more dependent on technology than we are in reality and Dolores is able to effortlessly turn just about everything against her first target, from the security of his own house to the woman who may or may not be a host replica of his wife. It's both scary and satisfying, but more importantly, it feels logically sound. Of course, the humans have no fail-safes in place for their tech being turned against them--we've already seen what they think they can do with it and to it through their experiences at the parks, so it's only natural that confidence extends to the real world.
In addition to establishing Dolores' new status quo, the premiere also introduces a brand-new character and, with him, a whole slew of really fascinating world building details. Caleb (Aaron Paul) is a human, ex-military, struggling to get back on his feet after something happened to get him discharged. Now he's working as a construction worker by day and running illicit black market gigs by night. Said gigs come to him by what looks to be an app called "Rico" ("make money motherf****ers," it says upon booting up) that provides very Grand Theft Auto-style missions to anyone who's brave (or stupid) enough to accept. The app even has some sort of stat system where criminals can level up the sort of jobs they can accept. Here's hoping we learn more about that soon.
Caleb's introduction also casually introduces the idea of humans having "implants" of some sort--Caleb's is apparently turned off, though the option of having it turned back on is there. Apparently, having it reactivated could "smooth some of the rough edges" in his life right now, implying that whatever the implants are actually for, there's a behavioral or cognitive function at the very least--but Caleb isn't interested in going down that road. It's an interesting mystery trail head and one that doesn't feel out of place or overly complicated.
And then there's Delos proper with Charlotte Hale--or, whoever is inhabiting the host Charlotte now. Like Dolores, no one knows that Hale has been body snatched and three months post the massacre at the park, she's sitting pretty at the head of Delos's chain of command--much to her coworkers apparent chagrin. It's fascinating to watch Hale navigate the corporate side of things, knowing what we know, and it's a welcome change of pace from the Westworld norm. For once, we as the audience are holding more cards than the characters themselves, and the tension that creates feels fresh in context. Whoever is occupying host Hale's body is doing a fantastic job of selling the bit--it certainly doesn't seem like anyone has noticed something is amiss.
That leaves us with Bernard who had one of the more bizarre final turns at the end of Season 2. Why did Dolores bring him back when she knew he was going to try and stop her? That's still yet to be determined, but it seems like the question is haunting him as much as it's haunting us. Bernard has functionally gone into hiding, living a humble life as a farmer, blending in as best he can, and to be certain that he's not being manipulated or controlled the way he has been in the past, he's installed some sort of security subroutine in his systems. This is represented as an eerie sort of self-Q&A session where Bernard accesses his memory and then interrogates himself ("You wouldn't lie to me, would you, Bernard?") to see if Dolores has been back to screw around with his reality yet again. It's--well, haunting is probably the best word for it. Poor Bernard has really been through the ringer and it shows. Though his trauma is potentially our gain--there's a good chance this means there won't be any major memory scramble plotlines this season, if we're lucky.
The premiere ends with a bang as Dolores' schemes apparently go up in smoke--though not exactly for the reasons you might assume. Delos security pings Dolores as an identity thief and threat (they're not wrong) but assumes, apparently, that she's still very much human, which leaves her with an unexpected trump card even as she's carted off to be disappeared. It's another fascinating way to emphasize just how completely unprepared the humans are for the threat of the hosts--the idea that there might be a host revolt happening hasn't even pinged their radar at all, even with everything that's happened at the parks. Though that could all be changing very quickly now that Dolores' cover has effectively been blown. This season feels like a powder keg in the best way, and more importantly, feels like it has a clear sense of purpose and identity. It's a totally new direction compared to Seasons 1 and 2, sure, but we can't wait to see where it goes from here.
Also, don't forget to watch through the credits because, uh, what the hell is happening with Maeve?