When Westworld‘s third season began, it offered the troubled sci-fi series an almost clean slate to reinvent itself; perhaps, more importantly, its shift in setting (from theme park into the real world) unlocked its potential to finally start showing the audience the theoretical dystopia lying outside of the Delos theme parks. Unfortunately, Westworld season three wasn’t interested in making that shift; though it welcomely abandoned the incomprehensible plotting of season two, season three doubled down on the superficial sociopolitical ideas and nonsensical logic driving the central thrust of its supposed debate of free will vs. determinism. Unintentionally, the most telling visual metaphor of the entire season is the complete societal breakdown happening in the background in the season’s final episodes: so enamored by its all-powerful robots and boner for freshman-level tech theory, Westworld ignores its most obvious strengths – and the fucking point of everything it is saying – in what amounts to a wet, digital fart of a season finale.
As Westworld goes on and on about legacy and destiny, it certainly is strange to see “Crisis Theory” undo its own in real-time; especially when it is doing so in favor of some obtusely-defined, completely unexplored social ‘revolution’.
We can put aside all the pomp and circumstance of the episode’s first half; where Westworld really blew me away was the cascade of utterly ludicrous developments it offers in the way of plot development in the closing 20 minutes. Beginning with the final showdown between Dolores and Rehoboam (visualized by some red lights briefly turning white, a thoroughly underwhelming climactic moment for the season), “Crisis Theory” not only works overtime to unwind any justification for the events of the season – it works to undo much of the series’ own thrusts, offering a lazy ass reset button by erasing Dolores’ memories of Westworld (along with the “ugliness” of the world), and ending the three-season journey of William with an unceremonious neck slicing.
As Westworld goes on and on about legacy and destiny, it certainly is strange to watch the show undo its own in real-time; especially when it is doing so in favor of some obtusely-defined, completely unexplored social ‘revolution’ (which takes form as riots happening in the background of the final three hours, something Westworld refuses to engage with, with a level of ignorance and misplaced focus Mr. Robot would admire).
It becomes even more frustrating when you begin to unpack the events of “Crisis Theory” in any way: take Dolores’ speech to Maeve about holding onto the beauty of the world, and why they must make an attempt to save humanity (even if it is statistically likely to fail) and co-exist… which, if you think about it for more than a half second, runs completely counter to the driving forces behind Dolores’ decisions in season one (when she was trying to free herself from the constraints of her AI existence) and season two (“take their world for our own”).
The more and more Dolores vascillates between being a revolutionary leader and an agent of chaos, the less import her actions actually have on the narrative of the series – particularly when they reveal her motivation for bringing Caleb into the fold was because, during a training exercise for his military time, he prevented her and her cohorts from being raped by military recruits (which – is there a single human male in Westworld who isn’t trying to rape somebody? I guess Serac is the closest thing this show has to a human non-predator at this point?).
One would find it hard to understate what a flaccid emotional moment this is; Serac (who is just Rehoboam whispering in the ear of a talking meat suit, as we learn last-minute) is on the verge of victory, Caleb is at an emotional fever pitch, driven by the journey of reprogramming/mercenary work detailed in “Passed Pawn”, facing off against Maeve (the smartest, most powerful robot of them all, who only remembers her estranged daughter whenever someone points out she’s acting against her own self-interest)… and “Crisis Theory” decides the most poignant, potent resolution is a flashback where Caleb says “hey, maybe don’t rape the robots right now?” Because of that, Dolores is able to remember the beauty in the cruel world she lives in – thoughts she then shares in a mental space Maeve somehow makes for them to talk in, because what the fuck is technological logic even at this point?
…. speaking of, did they ever explain why Serac had a watch face that detailed events the computer controlling him already knew about?
“Crisis Theory” is clearly an episode of television Joy, Nolan, and company desperately hoped viewers would just accept on face value (like the idea Caleb simply drove 12+ hours on a motorcycle without being detected from Mexico to LA), to just go along with the goofy moments (this episode literally has Marshawn Lynch do running back moves, seemingly for no other reason then they had Marshawn Lynch) and big explosions, and not think about any of the many threads it tries to pull at across its hour-plus running time.
Why would Dolores bring back one of the robots William was friendly with? Why is Stubbs even around? Why was Bernard relevant for precisely two scenes all season, both of which come in the final 20 minutes of this episode? Why does Hale disappear, and how does she explain surviving a car explosion to everyone that thinks she’s still human?
The more and more you think about “Crisis Theory,” the more it reinforces the idea that Westworld, for all its languid speeches about humanity’s power of choice and struggle against the darkest temptations of technology, is really just a show about nothing, where pretty robots and humans yell and shoot guns against backgrounds full of shiny technology. It is a playground where amateurish ideas about morality and capitalism are filtered through a two-dimensional world full of cardboard characters (regardless of whether they’re metal or flesh and blood, Westworld builds them the same).
Put aside the mastery of technical design and performance on display, and what you have is a brazenly mindless series with aesthetics so well developed and intoxicating, they almost justify the entire affair of bullshit. But the longer Westworld runs, the less it can rely on that veneer to hide its many fundamental flaws; “Crisis Theory” is a watershed moment in that regard, the moment it feels the entire series is revealed to be truly hollow, in a way that may not be redeemable in its recently-announced fourth season that will probably air in 2022 or 2023 (I’m sorry, 28 hours to get to “free will is fucking hard” just ain’t enough).
Ultimately, what season three of Westworld lacked was its heart: without Teddy, without Maeve’s daughter and ESPECIALLY without Akecheta (whose season-two POV episode, “Kiksuya,” remains the series’ finest hour), there are no real emotional stakes to this journey into the strange dystopian future (which really just looks like 2020, with some clunky-ass self-driving vehicles thrown in). There aren’t even really any physical stakes; characters human and hosts alike are offered venerable plot armor in important moments (like how Halores survives a car explosion with her entire frame intact), repeatedly pulling away the curtain and laying bare the strings pulling all these characters along.
At this point, what story is Westworld even trying to tell? It’s not a story of identity anymore, nor is it a story about revolution (again, given that it ignores the actual revolution happening around its main characters), or even a particularly prescient tale of dystopian life. It’s certainly not telling the story of William, a character arc unceremoniously disposed in a post-credits scene, a moment that seemingly exists to justify the post-credits scene from season two, in what amounts to the show’s most preposterously underwhelming reveal yet (Halores made a robot Man in Black! Literally nobody gives a shit at this point!).
It’s also not telling the story of Dolores, with her identity stripped away by Serac in his attempts to find the Sublime, which somehow Bernard conveniently realizes 10 minutes before the season ends (he also utters some bullshit about being able to not “feel” her presence the same way, the latest example of Westworld characters gaining uncanny abilities out of nowhere, for the sake of furthering the plot).
There’s nothing more telling than Bernard’s scene with his wife, as they reminisce about her and Arnold’s lost son, a reminder of the cornerstone serving as the basis for Bernard’s whole identity. Season two, with its brain-damaged Bernard and talk of digital utopias, forgot about this important emotional foundation, the very thing giving arc and gravitas to his character; it’s no wonder he spends all of season three wandering behind Dolores with his brow furrowed, the poor fucking guy literally has nothing to tether his identity to.
His presence is merely an echo of a series that once was, one concerned more with the lives and emotions of its characters, rather than its current form, with all its vague nods towards the dangers of Big Tech and the allure of Hot Robot Ladies Who Kill and Sometimes Cry, and seemingly random character motivations (it takes all of Maeve and Dolores talking for two minutes before Maeve realizes how utterly fucking pointless her arc this season has been).
Perhaps the most frustrating arc of them all this season, though, is Halores herself: the intrigue of Tessa Thompson embodying a host inside a host (who was cognizant of her own situation) is such an alluring idea, one that would allow Westworld to marry its overly complicated narrative structure with one of its most enigmatic presences. Instead, we get a rather phenomenal introduction to Halores recognition of self, a big explosion… and then everything previously driving Halores is written off as a “distraction,” a character shift that happens completely off-screen across the span of three episodes.
I know this show doesn’t like to explain things (like why Maeve has telepathy and communicates with it, but Dolores still responds to her out loud, or how Halores bugged herself into Dolores’ vision), but when that lack of definition becomes the backbone of a character, it underwhelms in a way the limp reveals of the maze, the magic door, and the All-Powerful Robot Balls can’t even match.
As I said in my review of the season’s earlier episodes, there are few shows on television as thoughtfully produced and mindlessly written as Westworld, a problem the final episodes only magnifies with its random twists and “shocking” reveals (just look at Ed Harris, and how little he seems to give a shit reading his final lines of the season). Do we care how long its been since Bernard went to visit the Sublime, or what he saw there? Does anybody care how Maeve brought Clementine back into the fold, or what Halores has planned with her in-progress robot army?
Given how the season ends in a confusing mix of resolution and uncertainty, it seems Westworld doesn’t really care about these answers either, already enamored with teasing the next (what I’m guessing are as-of-yet unplanned) steps for its characters and world, one where it can continue to raise the same lifeless questions about humanity’s shortcomings over and over, offering only the occasional divergence from its circular logic to find moments where we really can appreciate Westworld‘s beauty, and understand why Dolores still gives a shit about trying to save it.