Westworld’s excellent first two seasons were, in retrospect, vestiges of another era of prestige television: When fan interactivity was as important in science fiction viewing as the scripts themselves; shows using the internet to render their symbolic other-worlds three dimensional. Executive producer J.J. Abrams was a pioneer of the fan Easter egg—I’m sorry, I must mention Lost here—and Westworld’s first season hit in October 2016, during a more sophisticated iteration of viewer engagement, its secrets slowly revealed for the most dedicated nerds (myself) via cryptic websites.
Four years later, in 2020, cultural subtlety has been all but crushed for reasons perhaps obvious and maybe less so—I blame Quibi—and so it’s probably fitting that Westworld’s third season is both banging its viewers over the head with its intentions (A.I. is bad; humans are self-destructive; the surveillance state is demonic) and being utterly opaque about them, leaving its big-swipe ideas in the hands of extraordinarily confusing story development and character motivations that are truncated at best, half-baked at worst. Season 3's penultimate episode, “Passed Pawn,” attempted to wrap up loose ends in a fashion the season never really earned—Aaron Paul’s Caleb is just too much of a weirdo to fit into the algorithm? My god—and set itself up for a season finale of backtracking exposition that, with any luck, will explain maybe half the shit they’ve been trying to put forth. And since the season’s myriad ideas have felt thrown at the wall like a superball, it seems like the only way to wrap it up is for a big final scene in which every one of its million (excellent) ensemble players, most underused for the sake of its circuitous plot (FREE JEFFREY WRIGHT), gets together and does a quarantine singalong over Instagram Live, because the metaphors between Westworld’s “New World” and our own are just that hamhanded. Why not? At least it would be fun, and for the first time, this season has made untangling Westworld’s multitude of conspiracies decidedly un-fun.
And still, I cannot turn away: The talented actors, the gianormous budget, the chance to witness the awesome fight training Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood have been putting themselves through for the past four years. Next Sunday’s season finale, “Crisis Theory,” has a lot to figure out, as do I. Until then, however, I rant in the video above in this year’s second-to-last installment of Westworld Conspiracy Corner, filmed from an actual corner in my home. Rehoboam to the world.