Welcome to ‘Westworld,’ Aaron Paul

The 'Breaking Bad' actor continues to be a TV mainstay by joining one of the buzziest HBO properties.

In the convoluted land of HBO’s Westworld, concepts of life, death, and the humanity (or lack thereof) that proliferate the multiple timelines in between are fluid and absolutely inexplicable. Throughout the course of the show (which only has 20 episodes so far), we’ve witnessed characters undergo intense personality shifts. And when it comes to those destined to perish, even the finality of death isn’t always a total given.

Westworld is consistently a mind-boggling exercise of world-building and identity politics, which makes it inherently tough to decipher. The show asks complicated questions about reality and personal agency through an increasingly knotty and uncertain premise. What is certain is that hiring the likes of Aaron Paul – best-known as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad – is a surefire way to pique fascination about Season 3 this far in advance, regardless of how overwhelming its content can be.

According to Deadline, Paul is the newest addition to the Westworld cast, joining the team for its upcoming third season. No details about the plot, let alone any specific characters, accompany this announcement for the time being. The season doesn’t even have a premiere date yet, either.

Spoilers Below

In truth, deciphering Paul’s potential role in Westworld so early in the game could very well be a fool’s errand. As evidenced by the end of Season 2, no character is exempt from the show’s outrageous twists, and it’s tough to trust anything the show could possibly tease. If the finale of Season 1 felt like a cathartic wrap-up and introduced some clear themes into the future of Westworld, the ending of the show’s follow-up season did nothing to easily satiate audiences, even as the universe of the series keeps expanding.

Westworld’s habit of repeatedly presenting new puzzles for viewers to solve confounds expectations in deliberately extreme ways. However, these ever-changing machinations do inspire intrigue, especially in the wake of Season 3, which yearns to definitively break the show’s mold. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Westworld co-creator and co-showrunner Lisa Joy repeatedly champions a focus on a story based away from the fabricated parks and even the hosts’ safe haven of “the Sublime.” Now that we have a couple of hosts running around in the outside world, more moral quandaries are bound to open up. Humans have often been ascribed unsavory traits throughout the first two seasons of Westworld. But are we about to meet a few that buck that trend?

Per Joy:

“What does the future of ‘Westworld’ look like? I don’t necessarily think that we’ve seen the last of these artificial worlds that are central to the concept of our series as a whole. But the major lens that we will have is going to be the real world. If the park does emerge and come back, we would plan on explaining how that could be, and why.”

Further along, she continues:

“I’m really curious creatively to see what happens to Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), now that they’ve finally earned their freedom.”

And I’m so keen to figure out where Paul fits in with the rest of that focus. Season 2 ended with Dolores setting some of the hosts free in the Sublime but smuggled five host brains out with her. I wonder if there’s a chance for Paul to play one of them somehow.

Still, to have Paul play a human instead – one who isn’t a rich asshole pillaging his way through one of the parks – would be a great change of pace for the show as a whole. The thought of seeing Dolores and Bernard continue to come to terms with their newfound freedom among a wider cross-section of society presents more opportunities for character development and emotional investment that the show, in all its complexities, could always invest in.

Anybody who’s seen Paul in Breaking Bad knows just how poignant and versatile he is. I laughed out loud at every single Jesse Pinkman quip only to watch Paul evolve into the stark, heartbreaking reminder of the humanity that the show so desperately needs. Breaking Bad’s mastery of antiheroism is obviously unparalleled. Nevertheless, characters like Jesse – and wounding actors like Paul – make protagonists like Walter White mean so much more, if only because Jesse gains his heart rather than loses it.

I’ve longed for Paul to bring such ruinous abilities to the big screen in substantial ways. Sadly, movies like Need for Speed, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Triple 9 do nothing for his filmography. In contrast, Smashed and Eye in the Sky provide more concrete evidence of his talents as he continues to succeed at channeling the utmost dramatic weight. Paul goes toe-to-toe with the likes of a stunning Mary Elizabeth Winstead and a formidable Helen Mirren in these films, respectively, but he absolutely holds his own.

By far, Paul has found more consistent success on TV, though. Post-Breaking Bad, he has taken up a number of voice-acting roles, most notably as Todd Chavez on BoJack Horseman. Paul then headlined the Hulu drama The Path for three seasons, depicting a member of a religious cult whose faith is increasingly tested. The series allows Paul to go all out and put his range on display, toying with the strangeness of otherworldly cult scenarios and the naturalism of the family drama that unfolds alongside these more psychological elements.

Honestly, I’m all for Paul conquering the TV landscape by adding Westworld to his hefty list of small-screen credits. It’s the ideal medium to showcase his multifaceted capabilities on. The ball is now in HBO’s court to make sure his brilliance isn’t wasted.

Sheryl Oh: Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)