For Westworld fans who also loved Breaking Bad, there is only one way to react to Aaron Paul joining the cast of Westworld Season 3.
In August, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy promised a “radical shift” in Season 3. Paul, the 14th-best famous person named Paul, is the perfect actor for the show’s pivotal pivot. Paul has the charisma, energy, and enthusiasm to inject the show with the humanity Westworld desperately needs, and now Nolan and Joy need to make sure they don’t screw it up.
Paul earned five supporting actor Emmy nominations and three wins for his role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. He also earned critical and popular acclaim for his emotional range and emotiv—OK, fine, people mostly remember him for staring sadly into the distance or yelling, “Bitch.” But he is so good at that.
Paul was crucial to Breaking Bad’s final seasons, exploring Jesse’s darkest depths, but in the first few seasons, he stood out for his crucial comedic relief. He effortlessly played the idiot you can empathize with.
Paul’s portrayal of Jesse was both funny and deeply human, and Westworld desperately needs both of those things. The show had an up-and-down Season 2 that further enraptured core fans but alienated many viewers who couldn’t keep track of the indecipherable plot or shoddy character arcs, and the latter is the biggest concern entering Season 3. The show constantly explores the differences—or lack thereof—between humans and robots, but the robots feel as lifeless and mechanical as you’d expect. Exacerbating this problem is that all of the human characters are gone except for Felix and Sylvester, who suck. Emily is dead, the Man in Black is [rips bong] a host, and Dolores killed Charlotte Hale and went to the mainland in a copy of Hale’s body. (Jeez, what a season it was.) The only main character in the series with anything resembling a personality is Maeve … and she’s dead.
Paul is the perfect personality for a show without any, which is what makes the stakes for how Westworld uses him so high. He’ll be maximized if he’s in a role that exhibits emotional range and grapples with the suffering in the world by cracking jokes (you know, a person). In a perfect world, Dolores and Bernard meet Paul’s character and convince him they are human, and we get a full season of Paul spitting one-liners while Bernard and Dolores have their fish-out-of-water moments in the big city. The material could be endless.
Paul: Sorry, my phone died.
Bernard: [Puts a hand on Paul’s shoulder] I’m so sorry.
There’s a chance that Paul is the saving grace of Season 3, but Paul could also be wasted if he is cast as a host in a world we’ve yet to see. Do we really want to see him as a Roman Legionary deciding he doesn’t want to take orders anymore? Worst of all, though, would be to see him as the umpteenth human being on Westworld with zero human-like traits. (Does anyone talk like this?) And don’t think that Paul is so charismatic that he’ll naturally thrive in any role—Tessa Thompson radiates life every second she is on screen in Sorry to Bother You and Thor: Ragnarok, but Nolan and Joy somehow made her character as lifeless and unfun as any of the hosts in the park.
Paul has incredible range and elite cursing ability, but whether he is a host or a human, his casting—and Season 3 by extension—will be wasted if he’s just another robot.