Previously on Westworld: The hosts’ rebellion ended either in death or redemption through “The Door,” a virtual promised land. Dolores Abernathy meanwhile managed to sneak herself off the island in a copy of Charlotte Hale’s body, taking a selection of host consciousnesses with her. We know Dolores is back in her own body, and that she installed Bernard in a new copy of his, but just who is inhabiting the body of Charlotte Hale now? And what’s the plan now, outside rampant death and vengeful destruction?
“Parce Domine,” the first episode of Westworld’s third season, does not reveal all of its cards but, in the grand tradition of the show, hints at where it’s heading, a lot less obliquely than the last season, which is to the show’s credit. So let’s use our intelligence—real, not artificial—and take a look at what happened in this season premiere.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Not Kansas, nor Westworld for that matter. The show now inhabits the real world, or should that be our world? In any case, the park has been left behind and yet the hosts are still stuck in a Westworld of sorts, perhaps an even scarier one—the cold, impersonal, cutthroat world of Western capitalism.
Just as the world of the park had been, in its way, a microcosm of class struggle—the dominant human class forcing the hosts into degrading subordination to them—so this human world of “freedom” proves itself to be a stacked deck against which contestants on the lower rungs of society fail to get a fair hand dealt to them. As Caleb, a veteran played with superb conviction by newcomer to the show Aaron Paul, states with a certain bitterness: “they built the world to be a game. And then they rigged it to make sure they always won.”
Caleb is a welcome addition to the show, for sure, as is Aaron Paul. Perhaps Paul is playing to type, the tortured guy just barely keeping it together and trying to do the best he can in awful circumstances, but damn, is he ever good at it, giving flesh to this man in quiet disarray; unable to move forward and so unable to leave the past behind, a past he is constantly reminded of by his former service buddy “Francis,” even when Francis is trying to motivate Caleb to make something of himself.
What does this making of oneself look like? For Caleb, it very much involves technology, reflecting how insidious technology already is in its influence on our lives, and just how much further this will extend.
Caleb is a labourer, a blue-collar worker, scaling terrifyingly high structures in the name of space-efficient construction. And yet, for his pay, he is simply scaling these dangerous heights to control a droid, humanoid roughly in shape and layout if not appearance, so that the robot can do the work instead of him. A droid, I suppose, is more efficient, and does not get tired. Caleb in effect is a glorified droid-sitter. How long before they get rid of the human element?
Even when he applies for other jobs, technology cannot help but intervene. Denied a job position, even though he is told he was “a strong candidate,” Caleb tries to elicit feedback, or just some damn empathy from the person on the other end, only to find he’s been talking to an automated line all along! Why dispense empathy when you can dispense with the cost of paying human staff?
Yet it’s technology that offers him a way out of his situation, however unusual the method may be. We find out “Francis” is actually a replication of the real Francis, who died in combat. Whatever happened to him and Caleb, it clearly still plays on Caleb’s mind. The opportunity to talk to the departed, then, offers opportunities for some form of closure (closure of what, we are not yet certain).
How was “Francis” created? Replicated from the same kind of data Delos harvested from its visitors to the park? If so, perhaps it is not only Delos who were attempting to digitize consciousness. Caleb and Francis were soldiers—is this the military’s way of trying to deal with survivor’s guilt? In any case, it fails on the same stumbling block as always: fidelity. When we are truly close to people, we can almost predict what they are going to say. For Caleb, Francis would not say that even though the game is rigged, you still have to play to get a chance to win. It is this disconnect between the authentic and the artificial that snaps Caleb into cancelling the therapy service.
With therapy proving to be a failure, and legitimate, well-paid work an impossibility, technology rears its head again, providing profit by nefarious means, means that will also lead Caleb to a face familiar to us…
Grand Theft Westworld
The Rico app may be one of my favourite little touches Westworld has layered their world with. A strange melting pot of the dark web, the Uber app and Grand Theft Auto, with its stats and profiles the Rico app rewards and pays those who are willing to get their hands a little dirty. It makes a reasonable point: does lack of money and resources lead people into crime?
For Caleb, he seems to become more reliant on Rico the more knockbacks he receives. His activities range from couriering illicit items and vehicles to forcibly stopping a man having a freak out on some experimental drug. But it’s the delivery of deadly drugs, to be used for murderous ends, that brings Caleb into the world of someone very familiar…
In fact, Dolores finds herself also having to turn to a world of crime to get what she needs. In her case though, I think it’s safe to say she enjoys it. How else to describe the violent delight she takes at the start of the episode in breaking into the house of Gerald, who, as a former shareholder in Delos, holds all sorts of sensitive information that he really shouldn’t? She obtains information regarding an AI company called Incite. But the vengeful nature of how she describes Gerald’s abuses of his partners and the satisfaction she takes in his (inevitable) death betrays that her views on the human race haven’t softened in the intervening time between seasons.
Unlike Caleb, though, Dolores has purpose. It has only been three months in show time since Dolores left the park. But boy, has she been busy…
It would be foolish to believe that the AI in the park is the only AI available in the world of the show. Case in point: Dolores has managed to get in close with Liam Dempsey Jr., the son of the co-founder of Incite. Flying in a Blade Runner-esque aircraft above a sleek, glossy vision of L.A., he says, “Almost looks like it makes sense from up here. All you see is the order of it. The plan.” To which Dolores retorts, “Your plan, you mean? Doesn’t Incite control all of it? Even the traffic?” It’s clear how vital a part of everyday human life AI has become, and it’s even clearer Dolores wants access to it. But to what end? To bring it to self-consciousness, or to destroy it so as to disrupt civilized existence on the most mundane but essential level? Either option seems valid at the moment.
Dempsey takes Dolores to see Rehoboam, a giant spherical device much like the smaller versions that are found in the heads of the hosts. Its power is evidently immense, its intelligence greater than that of the hosts. They have lost count of how many “thoughts”—or strategies—it has per second. The idea was to be able to chart a course for the life of every single person, to make the world a better place. How this has been put into action is again vague, but I like the idea. I would also assume that the same kind of fidelity checking we found at the end of Season 2 would also need to occur; otherwise, how would they be able to chart that person’s course? Which makes me wonder: what is the earliest age a sophisticated AI could observe a person from to generate enough evidence to plot a valid course for a life? Delos were more concerned about the rebirth of people, a prolonging of life. Rehoboam seems to have been designed with creating people’s best lives being the intention.
Rehoboam was a Biblical figure, which, hands up, is not my area of experience. Esquire, however, give as succinct an explanation of the background as anyone: “King Solomon was a Biblical bigwig famed for his wisdom—he’s the guy who proposed cutting a baby in half to figure out who its real mom was. According to religious texts, Solomon was king of a united and prosperous Israel. But under his son and heir Rehoboam, the kingdom was split by a rebellion. Just as leadership of Incite has been passed from father to son in the Dempsey family, it makes sense that the system’s Solomon build might have been replaced by a Rehoboam build. But the name suggests that while the Solomon system might have ushered in an era of world peace, things are going to get a bit rockier in the Rehoboam generation.”
Creators and created (father and son), rebellion; it all sounds like the recent happenings in a certain park. It turns out Dempsey is not the great inheritor, though. When his father died, Dempsey’s father’s partner froze Dempsey Jr. out of the system. He has read access to the outer layers, but that’s it. He doesn’t know what Rehoboam is playing at any more than the next man. The only one who does know is the silent partner; a person whose mouth piece seems particularly agitated that someone is accessing Rehoboam from the inside, as the data it is giving shows irregularities.
What is the true importance of Rehoboam, what is its real purpose and who is in control? It’s too early to tell, but I’m very much intrigued to see this play out in future weeks.
Unfortunately for Dolores, she is found to be hiding behind a false identity and is taken away in a car to be murdered by Dempsey Jr.’s protector, Martin. But just like the song says, the drugs don’t work. In a truly inspired moment, Dolores revives and lays down a Biblical vengeance on her attackers whilst the cheery, kitsch tones of Pulp’s “Common People” plays in the background, a tonal discordance between sound and image that actually really works, the driving two chord groove of the verse giving the violence an action movie sense of fun whilst hammering home one of the major themes of the season, something Jonathan Nolan confirmed was very much intentional.
Dolores is not invincible, however, and she takes a severe gunshot wound to the gut. She manages to prise the name of “Serac” out of Martin before revealing she has a host version of Martin all ready to go for her infiltration purposes. We know at the end of Season 2 Dolores has the facilities to create new hosts. How many others are out there? How many will we see?
In any case, host Martin kills human Martin but Dolores does not get far on the retreat. Who should she happen to bump into but Caleb, falling into his arms as her body appears to be shutting down. Of course, the two characters looking for authenticity amongst all the artifice should find each other on that search. Will they find what they are looking for together? Can Dolores trust another human? I’m really looking forward to seeing where this particular combo will take us.
Other characters are trying to take us in some very different directions. Bernard is on the run, afraid of himself, afraid of Dolores, to the point where he is regularly checking his system to see what influences there have been on him. Bernard finds himself in Australia, a butcher (read into that what you will) whose luck runs sour when two of his workmates discover him on a wanted page. Ironic, as their luck soon runs sour when Bernard tells himself to “remember yourself: please don’t hurt them badly” and then proceeds to pound the snot out of his accusers with the precise brutality we have seen before from Bernard. What I find perturbing is that Bernard has control over his brutality now. He can turn it on or off like a tap. It might suggest discipline; it can also suggest a man on the edge. What else would you call a man who ends the episode chartering a boat to take him back to Westworld?
Meanwhile, Charlotte Hale, the mind inhabiting her still a mystery, pushes for Delos to go private in William’s absence and, in perhaps the biggest surprise, Maeve wakes up in a post-credits sequence to find herself in a room with a dead body and a person bound and gagged on a chair who suddenly starts speaking German. Which makes sense when the reveal through the window brings us into Nazi Germany!
How the hell did Maeve end up there? What is Bernard hoping to find back at the park? Who is inhabiting Charlotte Hale? Who controls Rehoboam? Let me know your thoughts, ideas and theories in the comments—the more batsh*t crazy the better, personally speaking!
Join me next time. I’ll be waiting for you—in Westworld!