Full disclosure, I stopped watching Westworld after Season 3 and retained practically none of what I saw. Still, for some reason I was bummed to hear that the show had been canceled even though I never even thought about watching the fourth, and now final, season. I don’t even think I watched the trailer when it came out. The disappointment probably stems from the fact that the first season of Westworld was one of the greatest seasons of TV I’ve ever seen in my life.
People forget just how big this show was. At the time when it premiered in 2016 it was the highest watched first season of an HBO show ever. It was riding the high coming off of season six of Game of Thrones (my personal favorite) and looked like it was set to be HBO’s next big thing. The sci-fi western had the internet dissecting each and every frame of the episode, Reddit theories ran wild, and everybody was talking about who is real and who is a host. It was an instant week-to-week sensation, something of a dying breed with the emergence of streaming platforms.
Plus it was a rare show that started off packed with tons of A-list talent. Even for HBO, a cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, AND Ed Harris was hard to top. Not to mention Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson, Jimmi Simpson, Clifton Collins, Zahn McClarnon, Simon Quarterman, and Luke Hemsworth among others. And everyone fucking crushed it. There really was no storyline or character that made you go “Not this guy again!” The show seamlessly bounced around from The Man in Black (Harris) looking for Ford’s (Hopkins) maze to Bernard (Wright) trying to figure out what’s wrong with the hosts, to Delores (Wood) and Teddy’s (Marsden) tragic love story, and Maeve’s (Newton) search for her daughter. And no moment was wasted!
The effects were incredible and unlike anything on TV. The action perfectly balanced between western shootouts and futuristic security breaches. The way the music seamlessly worked in rock n’ roll with 19th century saloon pianos was genius. The pilot episode perfectly laid the groundwork for the rest of the season and it was capped by a perfect finale that both closed most loops but left us wanting more. It was at times hard to comprehend what was going on but I had no problem hopping online to go down a rabbit hole of fan theories.
I remember watching the show live and in real time. Outside of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon (Season 1 review here), and Survivor (latest recap here) I don’t remember the last time I did that with any show. At the time my roommate was working the night shift at his job so I had the place to myself on Sunday nights. I’d order a pizza, grab some beer, and go nuts watching this show unfold. The best part was my roommate would watch it the next day and I’d get to watch it with him and pick up on little things I totally missed in my first viewing. It became an event and is something I’ve rarely experienced since or before.
Season 2 was by no means a failure but it was clear something was lacking compared to the first season. Perhaps it was too many characters to keep track of, convoluted storylines, or general fatigue of trying to figure out what exactly is going on. That’s not to say the show had some incredible moments. I loved all the Eastworld content, “Kiksuya” was one of the greatest hours of TV I had ever seen, and the season ended on a high note at the Valley Beyond.
Season 3 completely lost me. By that point I had no idea what was going on week to week. Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy had completely lost what made the first season so gripping. It had almost completely abandoned the west in Westworld and became a sci-fi allegory series that kept relying on the idea that anybody could be a host got stale really quick. Aaron Paul’s character became such a focal point of the show but it lacked the intrigue of William (Simpson) or the bad assery of someone like Teddy. Delores had got to an almost robotic-like state of ‘must destroy humans’ that left us feeling her only motivation was because she was evil. To me the show went from appointment television to a chore each week.
As I said, I didn’t even consider watching Season 4. Those who’ve stuck with the show speak highly of it but I found one stat that sticks out. Season 1 averaged 1.8 million viewers per episode. Season 4 averaged only roughly 300k. That’s about an 83% drop off in viewership. 83%! That’s insane for something that was so popular six years prior. Nolan and Joy apparently had a fifth and final season planned and I guess the fourth season ended on a cliffhanger but at the end of the day it’s easy to see why HBO pulled the plug.
So why was I so bummed to learn about a show that I no longer watch getting canceled? I think hearing the news and reflecting on how much fun Season 1 was just brought me back. Some shows come out of the gate hot and flame out just as others take a few seasons to get going before really finding their stride (*cough* Better Call Saul *cough*) and becoming can’t miss content. That’s what stinks about TV though, we don’t always get to see the story end, all we can hope for is to enjoy the ride while it lasts.
At the end of the day I think Westworld would have been better off hanging up their boots after one season and letting it’s legacy live on as one of the greatest mini series of all time. Obviously it wouldn’t be a perfect fit as is but frankly there just wasn’t enough story to drag this out over five seasons.
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