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'Westworld' review: Season 3 offers a necessary reset

Evan Rachel Wood stars in HBO's "Westworld,"

 Evan Rachel Wood stars in HBO's "Westworld," which returns for its third season on March 15. Credit: HBO/John P Johnson

SERIES "Westworld"

WHEN|WHERE Season 3 premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The second season of "Westworld" wrapped as Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) finally got out of the park by commandeering the robo-body of park boss Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). Out there in the real world she makes a new Dolores and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and who knows who else. (She did smuggle out six "pearls," or brain orbs.) Meanwhile, the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is about to undergo a "fidelity" test by his real (or robo?) daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers).

The third season finds Delores in L.A., about to begin her human conquest. She'll get help from at least one human — Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), a construction worker who supplements his meager income by blowing up the occasional ATM with a little help from a friend (Lena Waithe, who also joins the cast).

Meanwhile, poor Maeve (Thandie Newton) is still a host in a new game. 

MY SAY We all had choices to make after "Westworld" served up the tangled heap of congealed spaghetti otherwise known as season 2 back in 2018. For some fans, that came down to this: Tums, or maybe something a little stronger, like Pepto-Bismol? And for the raging headache, Excedrin or Extra-Strength Tylenol?

The producers, meanwhile, had no choice. Only one option presented itself, and that's called a "reset," and "reset" is what you will get Sunday. Resets can be wonderful, or restorative. This one was also necessary because the second season was so damnably hard. It wasn't just one punch in the face, but a flurry of them, and while the pain rained down, you still had to retain the presence of mind, or what was left of the mind, to figure out what had just happened and why it was so significant (or not). TV is supposed to be pleasure, not torture, although with "Westworld," it's always helpful to expect the unexpected.

Sunday arrives like a cool breeze on fevered brows. New characters are quickly introduced who are played by actors we already know and love: Paul ("Breaking Bad"), obviously, and Waithe ("Master of None"), but also the terrific Scottish actor Tommy Flanagan (Chibs, from "Sons of Anarchy") playing a corporate heavy. Peter Weller isn't here but the spirit of his iconic creation is. Dolores as RoboCop stalks the crepuscular streets of Future-L.A. with resolve and terrifying precision; if she was badass last season, she is badasssss this one. 

Some fans (or at least some critics) made the mistake of assuming this show was some sort of deep reflection on technology, human identity, and free will, with side trips to American history and contemporary culture, all garnished with Shakespeare or Foucault on Nietzsche or whomever else we busily Wikipedia'ed to understand the many refs and tangents.

But the second season proved that "Westworld" was mostly just hooey and Peckinpah. Sometimes fun hooey admittedly, also compelling and often beautiful hooey, but still. hooey. Meanwhile the violence was appalling, and still is, albeit far less so early on. 

In fact, if "Westworld" ever worked and when it works now, it's really just about the triumph of form over substance, appearance over reality, and (yup) of superlative production values masking occasionally slapdash intellectual ones. Meanwhile, the core conflict revolves around what we want the future to be, and don't want it to be — of technology run amok, and the whole sordid outcome of our own Icarus-like hubris.

But mostly we just want it to look really cool. This third season complies, handsomely.

BOTTOM LINE This necessary reset looks great, but if the 2nd taught us anything, just watch, don't think.

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