Last week on Westworld, we were given hints that William and Caleb have an unexpected link involving the AR therapy under the control of everybody’s new favourite villain, Serac. But when did Caleb come into Serac’s orbit? And what does that mean for Caleb?
In an uncharacteristic rush to show its cards, the penultimate episode of Season 3 reveals its hand a little too quickly for once. And whilst the backstory it does reveal is interesting in and of itself, it loses some of its impact in the telling.
But perhaps the biggest issue for me is how little has been built upon the fiery violence of the previous week…
At the end of Episode 6, “Decoherence,” the Charlotte Hale version of Dolores was burnt alive after her car had been fitted with an explosive device. Her ‘family’ was killed and she was left with charred skin and no hair. This is a substantial assault and so you might expect that the following episode might focus on Hale as the victim, how she might seek her revenge and against whom.
So it’s disappointing and a little confusing to find Charlotte Hale only appearing here for the first two minutes of the episode, if that. Why waste such a superb dramatic moment with such a small follow up? We don’t even have any real handle to the depth of Hale’s motivations, other than that she blames Dolores for what happened with the explosion, so she is going to take out the remaining Doloreses as revenge.
To this end, we see her on the phone to Musashi-Dolores, who is not concerned by Hale’s threat. But Hale is not Hale, of course, but Dolores, and Musashi-Dolores perhaps should have given it a little more thought. Imagine his surprise then when he’s ambushed by a couple of old faces from the past, the hosts sent by Serac to help Maeve—Clementine and Hanaryo. It’s certainly good to see Clementine, who I think is one of the show’s most underrated characters. And she and Hanaryo make quick work of Musashi, Hanaryo getting the drop on Musashi with a blade through the gut.
But does this mean then that Hale is now on the side of Maeve? And how would they have found each other? I suppose Serac would have been able to track Hale after the explosion and give her location to Maeve, but to what end when the explosion had been set up to kill Hale? It’s all a little confusing and undercooked. Considering Hale has been perhaps the most compelling character this season, it’s a shame to see her underused like this after her most dramatic moment.
And talking of underused…
Justice For Bernard
If there’s been one victim of the show’s mostly successful streamlining of their narrative storytelling, it’s been the share of screen time each character has been able to have. Certain characters have started strongly then been pushed into the background (Charlotte Hale), some have been appearing on and off throughout but enough to make them seem consistent (Maeve, Caleb, William in the latter half of the season) and some have been over-dominant (Serac, Dolores). But this means that a certain major character has been underused this season: Bernard.
Considering how pivotal a character Bernard was to the show in its first two seasons and how the climax of the second appeared to be setting up Bernard as Dolores’ big opponent, not Maeve, it really is surprising how under-utilised he’s been this season and how far down the pecking order he’s fallen.
It seems a crime to waste an actor as good as Jeffrey Wright and a character as complex and nuanced as Bernard, but it’s true of this season as a whole that Bernard really has been reduced to a footnote, barely of consequence, where he used to be one of the factors that really drove the narrative. He’s spent most of the season, when he’s appeared, on what he thinks are Dolores’ targets, always being a little off-centre, dragging Stubbs with him for the ride.
This week, Bernard and Stubbs are accompanied by a petulant William, who they came across as they were searching through Serac’s readjustment facility. It’s here that the penny finally drops for Bernard. It turns out there’s a list on the system there where the name of every outlier for whom the readjustment therapy didn’t work is held. Perturbingly, these people are either marked as missing or, as in the case of William, deceased. Now, William’s still here—so what gives?
William understands that Serac is trying to disappear people. He also understands that the reconditioning process essentially turned people into the equivalent of hosts—partly because he was the one who sold Serac the personal data to work with! William is unrepentant: Serac was paying good money, so Bernard can get off his high horse. He’s not Arnold, after all. But he doesn’t have to be. He just needs information. Which Stubbs gets for him, when he finds Caleb’s profile amongst those for who the therapy worked. So now we know—Caleb did indeed undergo AR therapy.
But what does this tell Bernard about Dolores’ plan? A lot more than anticipated, actually. Here is where I think the execution lets down the idea. Bernard surmises that Dolores is not going to be the one to actually destroy humanity. She’s going to use Caleb to do it instead. This is quite a neat idea; the irony of a host programming a human to destroy humanity on behalf of the hosts. But the way Bernard comes to the idea and tells us in a couple of quick sentences of exposition is baffling. The revelation doesn’t feel earned, by either Bernard or by us.
Not only that, but the reason given for Dolores’ choice to go down this route is pretty, well, naff actually. “Dolores was made with a poetic sensibility,” Bernard tells Stubbs while keeping a straight face, “she won’t destroy humanity. He will.” Now: I could see Dolores refusing to take the blame for humanity’s complete destruction and wanting to put the onus on humanity. I can even see her taking pleasure in the irony. But a poetic sensibility? If I was to attribute such a characteristic to anyone, it would be Maeve, with her intense feelings of love for her daughter and for Hector, not to mention her more-well-developed understandings of the drives of both humans and hosts. But Bernard would have us believe that Dolores is the Emily Dickinson of the hosts. Strange.
So what does all this mean for Bernard going into the season finale? Will he save the day after all?
Not if the Man in White has anything to do with it.
Earlier in the episode, William states that he has confronted his sins and there is only one of such he cannot blot out: the hosts themselves. Now he knows that his calling is to eradicate the hosts altogether. He warns Bernard and Stubbs: kill me now or I’ll end up killing you later. And true to his word, as they pull up at a gas station to swap cars, William comes across a gun left there during an apparent riot or hold up and turns it on the two hosts. Will Bernard and Stubbs become the first victims of the Man in White? We shall see…
The Readjusted Killer
According to Wikipedia, the episode title, “Passed Pawn,” refers to “the chess term passed pawn; a pawn that can make it to the opponent’s side of the board without being captured can be promoted to powerful piece but generally requires strategy and sacrifice to make this happen.” Bear this in mind as we look at Caleb and Dolores’ arc this week.
It’s been clear for a few weeks now that Dolores knows a lot more than she’s letting on, especially regarding Caleb, and that she’s playing a longer game than had been thought at first. This episode is validation for all those thoughts.
Dolores has brought Caleb to Serac’s readjustment centre in Mexico (if only Bernard had hung around a little longer, he could have confronted her). She wants to get at Solomon, Rehoboam’s failed predecessor, who is apparently schizophrenic like Serac’s brother (now there’s a revelation!) But the real revelation is for Caleb.
On the way to the centre, Caleb opens up to Dolores about what happened to him and best friend Francis. Supposedly they were in Russian targeting and killing highly dangerous insurgents who were using data tracking systems to cause havoc. Unfortunately, Caleb’s unit got targeted in return and an explosion killed all but Caleb and Francis. In return, they kidnapped the leader of the insurgency but they were ambushed trying to transport him, and Francis got killed in the ambush.
But this is not what happened. Dolores knows this. And now, so does Caleb.
Because the centre itself is triggering repressed memories in Caleb’s mind—the AR therapy, the drugs, having to retell his story with Francis over and over. Solomon, seemingly world-weary and all knowing, helpfully fills in the gaps: Francis was not killed in action. And he certainly wasn’t killed by insurgents. The blood lies squarely on Caleb’s hands!
This isn’t a huge surprise but it does make good narrative sense. It’s been suggested for weeks that Caleb has a past that he somehow was unaware of. Now we know why. He and Francis were brought back from Russia after the rest of their squad were killed. Identified as outliers, they were brought in for reconditioning AR therapy, which in both cases went successfully. But as 9 out of 10 cases were unsuccessful, Serac put these dangerous, pliable men to his own use. Those who could not be frozen and were already back out in the real world were targeted to be killed. The Rico app was used to send them their targets, whilst the drugs they were taking helped to alter their perceptions and memories and made them believe they were still in the army, killing insurgents. Serac got rid of his outliers. Caleb and Francis thought they were still serving. Everyone was happy.
It all went wrong when Caleb and Francis were assigned to kill the CEO of the company that produces the drugs they had been taking, simply because he had been asking too many questions. Rohoboem has identified him to now be an outlier and so he must be removed. But the CEO has a big mouth and puts doubts into Caleb’s mind to the validity of the situation as he perceives it to be. He also tells Caleb that now he has opened his mouth, Rico will send Francis a bonus mission for a substantial amount of money to kill Caleb. Caleb doesn’t want to believe it but sure enough Francis gets a message from Rico and his bearing stiffens. It’s enough to make Caleb start to understand the reality of his situation, and when Francis draws his gun on Caleb, Caleb shoots first, killing Francis, eliminating the threat but eliminating his best friend in the process.
It’s a heart breaking story, depicting a Clockwork Orange-esque fascist solution to ‘anti-social’ behaviour: to rewrite a person’s personality and memories without their consent, all in the name of a belief (which I do think Serac has) that it is for the greater good, for the creation of a just world. But, like Watchmen in its way, the question remains of whether you can truly create a just world using unjust means. Which brings us back to Dolores. She aims to bring a just world for her and other hosts to live in, but her method is murder, whether directly by her or through the manipulation of Caleb. And while she has her reasons, is what she’s doing to Caleb any better really than what Serac did to him? For both, Caleb is a pawn, a piece to be used in the furthering of their aims. What does Caleb actually want? They wouldn’t know, it’s not in their interest.
So the truth is out. Just in time for Maeve to make an appearance.
Dolores’ Last Stand?
And so we have it at last: Maeve vs. Dolores. Place your bets, ladies and gentleman.
Maeve has been helicoptered in and she’s dressed in sleek stealth combat gear—so she means business! The fight itself was pretty cool—quite intense, full of explosions. But I was surprised at how quick it was over, with Maeve getting the advantage and cutting Dolores’ arm off. Of course, I expect all hell to break loose for real next week during the finale so I can’t be too harsh on them here.
But while Maeve and Dolores hack each other to pieces, Solomon provides Caleb with a data device that has a solution on it as requested by Dolores. One assumes it instructs Caleb on how to kill Serac. And it will have to be Caleb, because Dolores seems to be no more. At least in this host body. Luring Maeve inside the centre, Dolores releases an EMP that shuts down herself and Maeve, forcing a stalemate in their battle. Now Caleb is the last man standing and he is armed with a motive and a fury to do Dolores’ bidding and kill Serac and destroy humanity. She has taken out Serac’s last line of defence in Maeve. But do we know for sure that Caleb will do what Dolores has lead him into? He has a mind of his own, and if that mind has truly become enlightened, might he choose a different path? He is an outlier, after all…
Join me next week for the big season finale! I’ll be waiting for you…in Westworld!