WESTWORLD Season 3 4K UHD: Most Definitely Worth the Watch — and the Upgrade

The first season of Westworld was a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. Few things on television were as satisfying as watching the puzzle pieces of a narrative fall into place week after week, only to deliver a stark tale that further reinforces the danger of man playing god.

For those that never caught an episode, Westworld is the story of an old west themed amusement park in the future populated by “hosts” or synthetic humans. Visitors to the park are placed in an RPG of sorts, as the hosts are on what are called “loops” or scenarios that offer distractions for the guests to get lost in the world that surrounds them. (For those Star Wars fans, albeit for the robots, this is what the hotel iteration of Galaxy’s Edge promises) The black heart at the center of Westworld is the choice all guests are given when they enter the park. They can don one of two hats when entering the grounds — a white hat, which usually means indulging the hosts in their games and scenarios or the black hat that offers the temptations of exercising the most primal urges one can have on the defenseless hosts.

Oh, I almost forgot, guests can rape, maim and kill hosts and the hosts are unable to retaliate due to programming.

Very loosely based on the book by Michael Crichton, the television adaptation birthed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy in the first season followed Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), one of the original hosts as she traveled on a journey of self discovery and vengeance on the way to enlightenment. As these stories tend to go, one of the pair of creators behind the park began experimenting with Delores, attempting to break her from her “loops” and help her to develop sentience or “free will”. In keeping with what usually happens when man experiments with AI, once Delores opens her eyes, she rises up thwarting her pacifist programming and leads a bloody rampage of revolution throughout the park grounds — while digging up every skeleton she could find.

The big secret Delores unearths is the human immortality project. Basically like any corporate entity, when Westworld said their attendees were free of any observation that was a lie. At the end of season two we discover that Delos, the company that owned the park was in the process of utilizing the data collected in the park to give them the ability to clone the consciousness of a human into the body of a host and essentially allowing them to live forever.

Delos believed the soul of a man could be conjured up by the unencumbered choices he made while in the park. Thanks to a sensor embedded in the hats that all guests were given, they acted like your web browser recording your “unwatched” behavior on the internet, waiting to spring an ad on you. Instead of ads, Westworld hoped to use this raw data to offer up their wealthy guests the very real ability to transcend the mortal coil with a new Delos host body. Talk about the ultimate park souvenir? When Dolores revolts, this raw data from park attendees along with the disembodied hosts are all uploaded and locked before she escapes into the real world.

While I enjoyed the second season, it made the fatal mistake most sequels do, trying to replicate the original while simply amping up what people loved about it in the first place, its puzzle box narrative. This had the show going even more elaborate narrative-wise with multiple storylines, set on multiple timelines that also fell prey to unreliable narrators. Season Two’s puzzle lacked the elegant simplicity of Season One and because of that it turned a lot of viewers off who were simply frustrated. Luckily a lot of course correction was forthcoming in season three that just hit 4K UHD.

Westworld Season Three picks up three months after the revolution/massacre from the finale at the end of Season Two, which ended in quite the loss of life, with some of them being high ranking Delos execs. This of course has another company swooping in to take control of the parks, Incite – who is after the data Delos had gathered from their guests for their own project that also looks to shape humanity.

Incite hopes to use the data gathered from the park’s guests choices to help aide their omnipresent AI Rehoboam, who has in its own way put humanity into their “loops”. The AI works to keep humanity off the path of destruction by “helping” them to be their best. Everything from political policy to job hires go through the AI, kind of like how Netflix will offer you up a film you are sure to enjoy based on your last watch. Delores now out in Los Angeles in 2058, is looking to take humanity down with the help of Caleb (Aaron Paul), a human ex-soldier who much like Dolores was, is tired of being stuck in someone else’s story. Of course Incite fights fire with fire, by tasking another host (Thandie Newton) from the park to hunt Dolores who has the encryption key to the Delos data embedded in her brain.

I think many viewers took issue with Season Three because it is so different, but still very much in the same vein. It also could possibly be because hits a bit too close to home. Picking up on that thread of collecting data from the prior season, Season Three digs hard into algorithmic determination. If you’ve seen The Big Hack or The Social Dilemma, you know where this is going and how painfully relevant this is, especially after getting out of an election cycle. The short of the story is companies like Facebook use data collected from their users to create psychological profiles that are then used to sell and influence, because they know those hyper accurate buttons to push. It’s basically that whole thing where Facebook serves you an ad for something you were just thinking or talking about, those algorithms are that good. Season Three delves into the what-ifs of when someone or something wishes to pilot humanity as a whole based on this data and how the good of the many would override the free will of the few.

Think of it as exploration of that whole “moral machine” argument — should an automated car sacrifice itself and its owner, if it was about to plow into a bus and save more lives that way? — but on a much larger scale and based on the worst of humanities’ choices.

Westworld Season Three flips the formula from the first two seasons upside down, with Delores now free in a world of humans who are now stuck in their own loops. This narrative is paired with the very relevant thematic elements of algorithmic determination with the subtext of when does the sacrifice of a few begin to outweigh the rewards for the many? This gives the viewer some much needed food for thought paired with the bloody action and salaciousness you’d come to expect from a show that dedicates itself to dissecting the cause and effect of some of the most base and primal human behaviors. Unlike previous seasons, we end on a note of actual hope as the door is left open for Season Four to possibly re-invent the series yet again while carrying on its story, as the slaves liberate their own captors (but at what cost?).

One thing that I think is lost on HBO shows is that our first experience with them is usually not the ideal one. While they are shot in 4K and get the same attention as theatrical films, they are then later compressed and re-encoded to stream to your platform or of choice and that quality in turn is incrementally decreased even further depending on the bit-rate you get when watching the show on your device or cable box. So think of it as if you’re watching a copy, of a copy, of a copy when you watch an HBO show live. I think personally that is a bit to blame for that Game of Thrones season eight episode that was rendered to digital mashed potatoes by bit-rate, codec and its night setting. If you want to know what those shows are supposed to look like I can’t recommend watching from a UHD disc enough, it’s a 1 to 1 copy that really restores the lush cinematic integrity of the presentation. I can’t stress enough how immaculate the presentation here is with an HDR layer that further adds to the show’s film-like look. It’s almost like seeing it for the first time, because you’re able to pick up on nuanced visual clues the creators used to further influence the viewer. HBO usually sweetens the deal by actually still adding bonus features as well that hope to give the viewer further insight into the show.

Westworld Season Three is a hill I will gladly die on any day. I love the depiction of an pre-apocalyptic future that looks like it just rolled off the Apple assembly line, that is rotten to the core. Nothing could be more on point than how that visual is tied into how the tendrils of information have enabled a corporations to lull humanity into complacency. Evan Rachel Wood delivers not only the gut-renching performance we’ve come to expect, but also shows serious action chops along with Thandie Newton. What this season does with Dolores Abernathy is equal parts redemption and exploration as we see her different sides personified on screen both physically and metaphorically. It says something about showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are still able to pull out these emotional stories, while still working in these thematic elements and encapsulating them in a patented Bad Robot puzzle box to such a satisfying effect.

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