Aaron Paul shows us a not-too-distant future in ‘Westworld’

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 8:16pm

NOSELL

HBO

Well, it’s here folks: The robots are out of the park. Season three of “Westworld” brings the promise of a host takeover through the ringleader of our army of artificial intelligence, Delores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood, “True Blood”). She claims she wants to rule the human world, which, for all its futuristic luxury, still has lots of problems. After being locked into the perspective of those in the parks for the past two seasons, the expanded setting of season three makes it easier to see the societal issues that permeate through a future of touchscreens, home artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

After being framed as a scapegoat for the Westworld massacre in season one, our de facto protagonist, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright, “The Goldfinch”), is hiding. He works at a meat packing factory in Southeast Asia. In his free time, he has engineered a means to better control his computer alter-ego with the touch of a button. While the rest of the world is unaware that he is also a host, he tries to find a way to return to the park in order to prevent further destruction. As he works and lives, we can see how severely underdeveloped some areas of the world remain despite the highly advanced technologies that exist in American society. 

The dystopian class-divide is depicted most clearly through the storyline of Caleb, played by the brilliant Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”). “Sometimes it seems like the world looks alright. They put a coat of paint on it,” he says to his therapist, “but on the inside it’s rotting to pieces.” As a construction worker, Caleb helps build the many elegant skyscrapers that adorn Los Angeles. As an ex-soldier Caleb is still mourning the loss of his fallen comrade. He can’t seem to catch a break as he constantly tries to secure a job above his class standing. In one particular scene, Caleb receives a call informing him he’s been turned down. After politely asking where else he might be able to apply, he realizes he’s only talking to an automated voice on the other end. This constant rejection forces Caleb to routinely turn to petty crime to manage his lack of control over his life. 

Surrounded by the pervasive affluence of the future, the addition of Caleb’s perspective to the story gives a better idea of civilians who may be considered “low-lifes” within the narrative. In classic Aaron Paul fashion, a lowly character is used to give us more understanding as to why Westworld was built in the first place. In an age where computers dominate over human freedom, it would seem therapeutic to assert your power over a bunch of robots in a controlled environment. His presence also guarantees an inevitable interaction with the hosts, which will prove to be intriguing from the perspective of someone who has never had the means to set foot inside the park’s premises.

One of the most delicate elements of “Westworld” continues to be the carefully placed musical accompaniment. Our ears bounce from hurried electro-funk beats during action sequences to slower piano riffs during scenes of contemplation and character intimacy. The image of the scripted, self-playing piano lingers from the first-season as Delores slowly leads the hosts to break free from the coded scripts they have been imprisoned by.

The newest season of “Westworld” proves it will consistently dare to venture into uncharted territory. This time, a larger emphasis on technological dependence, filled with contemporary surroundings, leads us to question the stark divide between the humans and the hosts, or if any exists at all.