Can Westworld reboot itself? The series started off so strong with its first season, but nearly everyone seemed to be befuddled by season 2. The second season wanted to be bolder, but this boldness ultimately resulted in a confusing, messy narrative that had most viewers throwing up their hands, or throwing in the towel. But season 2 also climaxed with a sign of big changes to come: Many of the main characters were no longer in Westworld, or its sister parks. They were out in the real world.

The stage was set for something entirely different. Which brings us back to the main question: Can Westworld reboot itself? The answer is: Maybe – but it doesn’t really want to. Because while season 3 first starts off seeming like a brave new world, it’s only a matter of time before the show is retreading familiar – and befuddling – ground.

The robot revolution will be televised in Westworld season 3, as theme-park robot turned freedom fighter Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has found herself out in the real world with a thirst for vengeance. After a lifetime of being enslaved by the human race, Dolores is ready to spill some blood – and she does, on more than one occasion. Dolores has a big plan – or so it would seem. The nature of Westworld is that of the fabled Mystery Box – a storytelling approach that turns narratives into puzzle boxes that the audience fruitlessly tries to solve. Whatever Dolores’s ultimate goal is, it’s safe to conclude it involves putting us pesky, cruel humans in our place.

But as Westworld season 3 kicks-off, it’s not just Dolores the show zeroes in on. Nor is it a familiar character. Instead, it’s a new face – Caleb (Aaron Paul), a former soldier scraping to get by. He works a construction job where his main co-worker is a robot (we’re talking an old-school robot here; not a humanized Westworld host bot). To make ends meet, Caleb also uses an app to commit illegal side-jobs – think of it as TaskRabbit for petty criminals. Caleb’s sad, lonely lifestyle sets him on a course to eventually collide with Dolores, and he’s soon the one and only human she’s letting in on her schemes.

This initial set-up, with Dolores and Caleb slowly coming together, are among the show’s most compelling moments, and they promise something fresh and new – but it’s ultimately a freshness that never fully materializes. Because it’s only a matter of time before we back in the park, reconnecting with Maeve (Thandie Newton), the ass-kicking, all-powerful host who chose to follow her own path rather than join Dolores’s revolution. Maeve has caught the attention Serac (Vincent Cassel), an evil billionaire (is there any other kind of billionaire?) who is up to no good – and who wants to use Maeve to do his bidding.

As for the rest of Westworld‘s main characters, they’re scattered about – but all roads lead to Dolores. Last season, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) met her demise, and was replaced with a robot Charlotte. The robo-Charlotte has a personality implanted by Dolores – one of several personalities, or “pearls”, she stole when she escaped the park. Who does this personality belong to? Westworld eventually gets around to answering that, but for the time being, bot Charlotte has assumed real Charlotte’s life – which isn’t going so well. She seems to be spiraling out of control, and prone to self-harm. Thompson is a much bigger star now than when Westworld first began, which means she has a much bigger part this season – allowing the actress to showcase her considerable skills, playing her character in a constant emotional flux.

On the other side of the coin is Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), another host robot – but one who doesn’t share Dolores’s bloodlust. He’s the light to Dolores’s darkness, and he’s on a quest to stop her from doing…well, whatever it is she’s doing. And what of William, aka The Man in Black (Ed Harris)? Season 2 saw him end up in a dark place, but season 3 has him in a whole new situation – one that seems almost an afterthought to the main storyline.

There’s plenty of wiggle room here for Westworld to be something new and exciting, but the series seems completely incapable of committing. It only dips its toe into new waters, only to quickly withdraw. It’s as if showrunners Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan are afraid to stray too much from what they know. This isn’t to say that Westworld should’ve recreated itself as a completely new series. But after the murky season 2, it was clear that the show needed a new approach – and that never happens here. Adding Paul as a new main character seems novel at first, but he quickly takes a backseat to everything else.

That’s not to say there aren’t still plenty of violent delights. The cast continues to be great across the board, with Wood once again delivering a powerhouse performance – the controlled, cold, precise way she delivers her dialogue remains a thing of beauty. And Paul makes a nice side-kick, tagging along with a mad glint in his eye. The season also ups the action – there are more shootouts, more car chases, more fights – fist, sword, and otherwise – than any season before. It gives the show a grand, blockbuster movie scale, although more than a few of those fist-fights are poorly choreographed.

But not even the most thrilling action set-piece can offset the many painfully dull exposition dumps, where two characters sit very close to one another and babble on about futuristic mumbo-jumbo. At one point, a character says, “No one knows what the system is doing,” and that might as well apply to the show’s outlook itself. There are the occasional smart flourishes, though. The future-tech the show has built up feels lived-in and believable. One particularly cheeky scene has paramedics unable to do their job because their automated equipment has failed to give them instructions. As a collection of moments like this, Westworld season 3 is mostly a success. But ulimately, Westworld has become a journey without a clear destination

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