kevin winter/getty images
kevin winter/getty images
While erstwhile global smash hit Game of Thrones was somewhat busy, in the tradition of Albert Brooks, defending its life at a Comic-Con 2019 post-mortem panel, another HBO show that in many ways was passed the zeitgeist torch by its network sibling was busy holding forth on Saturday, July 20, with what was probably the most intellectually substantive and thought-provoking Hall H panel in years.
Westworld fans were treated to a first look — two looks, actually, since the trailer was replayed near the end of the gathering — at the show’s third season, set to premiere in 2020 at a date yet to be determined. In between, though, married co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, dove into the murky ethics and technological foreboding that informs their ambitious and often violent science-fiction mystery, bandying about phrases like “algorithmic determinism.”
The pair was joined onstage by returning cast members Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Tessa Thompson, as well as third season new addition Aaron Paul, a self-described “psychotic fan” of the show. Kicking things off, Nolan spoke solemnly about the difficult moments at the end of a season when he and Joy have to call actors and tell them their characters won’t be returning. In a staged but no less audience-pleasing twist, Luke Hemsworth, who plays Head of Westworld QA Security Force Ashley Stubbs, then bounded onto the stage to join his castmates, prompting Joy to quip, “I never like to leave the house without a Hemsworth.”
The next season of the show, subtitled “The New World” (the first season was “The Maze,” and the second “The Door”), picks up after the second season’s android host rebellion and escape from the Wild West theme park into the real world. Westworld newcomer Paul plays Caleb, a construction worker in near-future Los Angeles with a robot coworker who meets the vengeful fugitive host Dolores (Wood). While its exact timeline remains a subject of fierce debate among online fan communities, Westworld’s stylish Comic-Con footage showed, among other things, Maeve (Newton) snapping the necks of some Nazis in a World War II-themed park; the return of Ed Harris’ Man in Black, last seen trapped in the testing loop; a gun-wielding Charlotte (Thompson) taking control of various situations; Dolores and the other hosts who escaped with her into the real world being hunted by humans; and a new character played by Vincent Cassel.
The cast all spoke in glowing terms about their admiration for Nolan and Joy, plus the series’ heady mixture of philosophical introspection, technological speculation and evaluation, and human drama. Of course, they also discussed violence and nudity, other hallmarks of the show. Newton shared an amusing anecdote recalling a conversation with Cassel, and his assertion that Maeve had not had much nudity in Westworld’s first season. “At first I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ because I was naked all the time in season one,” said Newton with a laugh. “But he had seen the show and really knew it very well, so ultimately it was so interesting to me because it confirmed that that nudity was not sexual, and so the way you remember it isn’t in a demoralizing way for my character. You think of her power and control, and (his memory) was a great example of how he saw me as this powerful figure.”
If Westworld’s frequently dark and edgy examinations of complex and timely societal issues and the manner in which they intersect with both technology and human morality makes people uneasy, that’s all by design, its creators said. “The show should be uncomfortable, because of what it puts a lens on,” argued Joy. “The implications of it are brutal because you look at the news in the real world and think about how we should be able to broker better community interactions than what we have. The things that keep us primitive and base should evolve.”
Wright, for one, expressed excitement about how Westworld’s new season will “explore the ways in which inequality is increasingly driven by these tools we’re all a little addicted to at the same time,” he said. “In the real world, technology is creating job displacement and income disparity and concentration of wealth. And that’s something we increasingly focused on as we worked on this — the social and economic impact these technologies are having. So to answer the question of when this story takes place, it takes place now.”
Toward the end of the panel, moderator Amy Webb paced the assembled talent through a “lightning round” of technology and privacy-related questions that revealed a bit of a house divided. When asked who on the stage had a smart speaker or digital assistant like Alexa in their home, Nolan raised his hand, prompting a startled glance from Joy. “I didn’t tell you about it yet,” he said with an apologetic shrug. Wright and Wood admitted they did, but said they keep them unplugged; Hemsworth, meanwhile, revealed that he also had one, but his daughter threw it across the room, and so it doesn’t work anymore.
Joy and Nolan also recalled submitting their DNA to a personal genomics company like 23andMe, before starting a family. And when asked who owned a car with auto-drive or assisted steering capabilities, Wood’s hand shot up — as well as those of a sheepish Joy and Nolan, yet again. “Look, it’s a hard show, and you’re tired at the end of the day,” said Nolan. “And we’ll discover in season three that robots are really good drivers.”