[Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the “Westworld” Season 3 premiere, “Parce Domine.”]
It was really only a matter of time before Nazis made their way into “Westworld.” In one of the big surprises from the HBO show’s Season 3 premiere, a post-credits scene re-introduces Maeve (Thandie Newton) into a terrifying new setting. No longer trapped inside the dangers of the Wild West, the parting sequence from this episode includes a dramatic zoom out of a city under siege, ending with the reveal of a Nazi flag.
“Westworld” is far from the only TV show to bring fascism into its narrative — “The Plot Against America” premiere is coming roughly 24 hours later on the very same network — and series co-showrunner Jonathan Nolan said that prevalence helped guide the decision to incorporate a fictional World War II story.
“We’re a moment culturally where the meaning of that conflict, the meaning of the rise of fascism in the 20th century, the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazis is being eroded and subverted and perverted and, frankly in very frightening ways, turned into a fucking video game,” Nolan said.
From some of the show’s earliest discussions about what parks would be included beyond Westworld and Shogun World, having one set in the early 20th century was always a possibility. In line with the other park’s selling points of selectively picking what indulgences and horrors that visitors could incorporate into their stay, this idea of Warworld sprung from a literary pun in the early goings of the show’s writers room.
“We first set the conflict in the Spanish Civil War. It was rooted in a joking idea in the room from way back, of one of the parks being called Hemingworld. Drinking at the Hotel Nacional in Habana Vieja, then take your fishing boat out on the Keys, but then also go to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War and fight the fascists. Ironically, we ended up shooting our World War II section in Catalonia. I read Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ in traveling down there,” Nolan said.
Despite the temptations of an Ernest Hemingway-inspired diversion at the beginning of Season 3, telling the story from the viewpoint of people in the future meant that they had to anticipate certain attitudes three decades from now.
“The Spanish Civil War is fascinating. But as far as putting it together, we said, ‘Who the fuck are we kidding? In the 2050s, World War II will just be another video game.’ It will have been co-opted and turned into something enjoyable,” Nolan said. “So many villains in film and television are likened to Nazis. Who better who better to kick the shit out of? So it’s commentary on a number of different levels, but it proved irresistible. Honestly, in that sort of queasy way, it felt like an inevitability that that would be one of the parks.”
One of the other new standout elements in the early going of this revamped Season 3 is Aaron Paul’s character Caleb. Much of his part in the premiere centers around carrying out criminal tasks via an app seemingly called Ri¢o, a winking reference to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that’s been on the federal books since 1970. Wordplay aside, that bit of world-building came from a group excursion with architect Bjarke Ingels (who also lent some of his designs to the futuristic downtown L.A. city skyline).
“We were on a boat with a bunch of really smart people and someone got talking about blockchain and my eyes kind of glazed over. But then I started really listening and started trying to absorb what she was explaining in terms of the implications of what blockchain could render. It got me thinking in very dystopian terms about accountability and the ability to control or regulate behaviors,” Nolan said.
In a show powered by questions of control and manipulation, it made sense to Nolan to have this criminal underbelly of the future to not only be streamlined, but so intertwined with technology and the ramifications of a gig economy.
“It’s just a fascinating thing because it depends on who builds the blockchain: Is it a nation-state or private individuals?” Nolan said. “We knew that we were presenting a world in which there was a panoptic-like, algorithmic intelligence watching and organizing things. But you also want to see the concomitant arms race of illegality. I think there will definitely be criminality in the future. As long as there are humans, the dark side of human appetite, as long as there is wealth and equity, there will always be criminality.”
The “Westworld” Season 3 premiere is now available to stream on HBOGO.