Westworld Is Extremely My Shit. But I Simply Don’t Have It In Me to Watch Season Three.

I know a lot of people are turned off by Westworld‘s big swings and occasional misses, but I’ve never really been one of them. As a fan of pretty much everything peripherally science fiction-related, I appreciate Westworld‘s cerebral approach to a show that could have simply been a sexy killer robots story. Yes, it’s structurally and theoretically confusing, and yes, it’s Very Serious—but it’s nice to see a TV show taking big budget risks the way Westworld does. Plus, when it does get things right, the series delves into existential questions of human consciousness, identity, and our singularity with technology more effectively than any other TV show. Prestige science fiction shows like Westworld and FX’s Devs are willing to go places that most networks (and movie studios) are afraid to go. Television needs more of it.

Heading into Season Three, I was ready and willing to give Westworld another round after the mind-bending, time-twisting, body-hopping Season Two finale. I’d done my homework. I was mentally prepared to put in the effort for another high-budget chapter in a sci-fi series that can often be deeply rewarding.

But, to no fault of Westworld‘s (or HBO’s or creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s), I simply can’t do it right now. I do not have the mental fortitude for Westworld‘s bullshit at this time.

Of course, I gave it a chance. The first episode was surprisingly fun. There was a crime app, Aaron Paul, near-future super-spy Dolores, and an evil corporate artificial intelligence that could be dictating the actions of humanity as a whole. Episode Two brought us back into the Delos parks with Bernard reprogramming human-revealed-to-be-robot Ashley Stubbs, and Maeve waking up in a WWII-era park only to realize that her consciousness (brain orb?) is actually being housed in a simulated loop located in the real world at some tech millionaire’s personal data-farm.

Yet, with all that’s going on in the world right now, I’ve left these episodes feeling deflated, and drained. I do not feel intellectually stimulated, and certainly not entertained. It’s become hard to meet Westworld half way—to put in the work of following along and investing the mental energy when our minds are consumed with other anxieties. As Americans began to brace for the onslaught of Coronavirus on March 15, Westworld‘s Season Three premiered to disappointing ratings. As Variety reported:

The season 3 premiere drew 901,000 total viewers to the live broadcast on HBO, which represents a 57% dip from last season’s premiere (which drew 2.1 million) and the show’s lowest viewership tally to date. Overall, the episode scored 1.7 million viewers across HBO’s platforms when taking into account digital viewers. That means its viewership was split almost 50-50 between live and streaming, a much more even balance than previous seasons which skewed far more towards live. For comparison, the last episode of “Westworld,” which aired way back in June 2018, scored 1.6 million total viewers.

Although industry publications like Deadline and Variety predicted that Americans would be watching more television while stuck in self-isolation, that hasn’t helped the Westworld numbers reported so far. It certainly appears that, with little else to do but watch TV, people have not been choosing Westworld at the same rate they did in previous seasons. Of course, there are other factors at play here—it’s entirely possible that Westworld‘s polarizing second season and the nearly two-year break turned viewers off, too.

Westworld feels like watching a techno apocalypse take place in slow motion.

But it’s also true that Westworld is just too much right now, at least for me. It’s interesting to see how viewing habits have changed as millions of Americans social distance. Many of us here at Esquire have gravitated to classics that give us the comfort of a bygone era. Others have escaped into the absurdity of Tiger King. Live broadcast TV has seen a bump in its game shows and the brain candy that is The Voice.

Instead of watching Westworld, I’ve been binging old episodes of Chopped and indulging in the simple pleasures of island life on the new “Animal Crossing”—both different forms of comforting entertainment.

But I also haven’t turned away from science fiction entirely. I’ve been reading Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, which is a collection of sci-fi short stories that delve into time travel, simulated realities, alien worlds, and the nature of our reality. In a lot of ways, it examines a number of the same themes that Westworld does. It has made me wonder why I find one so engaging and escapist and the other such a chore.

Exhalation: Stories

Amazon

Exhalation: Stories

Ted Chiang amazon.com

$25.95

$18.29 (30% off)

Part of it is the tone. Many of Chiang’s stories are hopeful, sweet, and position technology as something that needs to be examined. Not as good or evil but as a tool in our evolution as humans that needs to be fully understood. Humans are not the villains in his stories, and neither is technology. The antagonist is our struggle to fully comprehend the ways in which it can challenge our understanding of the universe.

Westworld on the other hand exists in a near-future technological dystopia. It’s set in a world where humans have already failed—they’ve mistreated technology to the point where it’s rebelling against them. The faults of humans have already doomed them. Westworld feels like watching a techno apocalypse take place in slow motion. The weirdest part is consuming this type of content when the bulk of our human communication is computer-mediated. Aside from my partner, the only other human faces I see are on a screen. It’s hard to watch a show in which technology, or our misuse of it, is the enemy, when it’s the only thing currently connecting me to other flesh and blood humans.

Once this passes, and we’re going outside again, interacting with real humans again, and when my computer or phone is my link to the world only most of the time instead of all of the time—maybe then I’ll be able to enjoy a world in which the devices surrounding us can also kill us.

Matt Miller Culture Editor Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.