This week’s Westworld saw mysteries revealed, a long-awaited showdown that didn’t disappoint, and plenty more—with just the season finale to come. Tony Stamp is here to unpick what went down when the episode streamed on Neon this week.
My favourite moment in this week’s Westworld, in an episode where several shoes dropped and we got some definitive answers to Exactly What Is Going On Here, came near the end. The holy trinity of Bernard, Stubbs, and William come across a gas station strewn with bodies, and Bernard comments “This world was a powder keg just waiting for a spark: Dolores”.
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The show is commenting on the danger of Serac’s plan to manipulate the globe into obedience, but it’s also drawing attention to the audacity of its own storytelling. We’ve gone from a tale about a futuristic murder park to one about the entire world descending into chaos. Say what you will about Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan but you can’t fault their lack of ambition.
Credit where it’s due also to the way this season’s reveals have been handled. We got three whoppers this week, and all three have been carefully seeded so they feel like logical outcomes more than rug-pulls. Not as surprising as Bernard’s time jumping shenanigans from season two perhaps, but much more satisfying. Caleb’s past was finally explained, we learn the fate of ‘the outliers’, and Caleb’s part in Dolores’ plan comes into focus. OK that last one is still a bit murky, and we don’t know which strategy Solomon has fed him, but in our rotating roster of who’s Good and who’s Bad, Caleb may have just risen to the top of the Bad column? If you trust Bernard, that is, and count ‘ending humanity’ as a bad thing.
But to quote Caleb’s Dr Greene, “Let’s start at the beginning”.
Actually, let’s put the beginning at the end, because that scene with Sato and Charlotte (hey, that’s what she’s calling herself now), is an outlier itself.
So let’s start in Sonora, Mexico, with Dolores back in the saddle alongside Caleb (evidently horses are still a thing in 2052), ambling through a very Westworld-y landscape. The former seems to have softened considerably after last week’s events, even admitting her kind might be finished: “All but extinct thanks to Serac. But people still have a chance”.
Dolores subtly pivoted back to series protagonist this week, not driven by the creation of a new species, but the preservation of humanity without the shackles it’s been burdened with. “They’ll need someone to lead them,” she tells Caleb, after saying the Mexican landscape could provide a new home, which left me wondering if we’ll see some Mad Max-type desert action in the just-announced season four.
When they arrive at the mysterious facility Dolores executes six security guards (ok, she’s still not exactly a saint), and the duo meet Rehoboam’s predecessor Solomon, which “ran so many projections, so many strategies, it developed some anomalies.”
“Serac’s brother was schizophrenic,” explains Dolores, “Solomon inherited some of his ways of thinking”.
I’m not sure we get to see what that entails, exactly, but it is a novelty seeing the AI talk to the pair in a somewhat sassy French accent (presumably that of Serac’s brother Jean Mi), telling them “I know everyone in all variations. Except for her,” throwing shade at Dolores and her assumed kinship with “We’re not alike in any meaningful way”.
From here we learn about the facility’s ‘reconditioning therapy’, and Caleb being one of its first recipients. It’s effective on one out of ten patients, apparently, and according to hologram Serac, ensures its subjects have their “rough edges rubbed smooth”.
It turns out that Caleb and his unit had been deployed to Crimea under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, with the actual task of taking out insurgent leaders. “The quants had a strategy engine looking at the data and feeding us names” he tells Dr Greene in an incredibly William Gibson-esque bit of dialogue.
But after he returned and received reconditioning he was assigned to hunt down hundreds of outliers, and these memories were repeatedly stripped away and subconsciously blurred with his memories of war. My favourite detail is that Serac and co are responsible for making the Rico crime app we saw in episode one, as a way to locate ne’er do wells.
Caleb’s awakening is complete when he remembers his encounter with special guest star Enrico Colantoni, here playing Whitman—not an insurgent leader at all but a pharmaceutical boss whose company manufactures the very limbic drugs that Caleb takes to “keep everything dulled”.
He makes the mistake of removing Whitman’s gag, and for that he must die. “It’s listening” the bound man tells him, “It’s always listening”.
Ask too many questions and the system designates you as a problem, which means Caleb’s buddy Francis gets an offer to murder his partner, and soon after that Caleb gets a counteroffer. He ends up killing Francis to save his own neck, as Ramin Djawadi’s score employs a mournful string section and Solomon solemnly says “Every human relationship can be adjusted with the right amount of money”.
It’s worth noting how legitimately sad Dolores looks during all this. She clearly cares about Caleb, and the most basic part of my very basic brain can’t help but want some sort of human/host romantic entanglement.
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While this is happening Bernard is on exposition duty, teeing up the other half of Sonora’s mysteries. He takes a look at William’s records and discovers Dolores tagged him in order to gain access to the facilities’ records via his blood, so she could learn where Solomon was housed. William is logged as ‘Classification U’, along with many other people whose therapy didn’t work and wound up logged as missing or dead. Bernard learns that Serac was trying to reprogramme people, just like Hosts, thanks to the biometric data sold to him by Delos. “The end of the world came knocking and you let him in” he admonishes William.
MiB is unfazed; he’s too busy being offended at learning Stubbs’ true identity. “Fucking Ford. The head of security. He infested the whole operation” he scoffs, and when Stubbs bites back William’s retort is golden: “Don’t lecture me you fuckin’ can opener!”
Back at Sorona the Serac hologram has dubbed the outliers “a fatal flaw that would have bent the world on its axis”, and we soon learn what’s happened to them: Solomon keeps them in some sort of stasis, not dead but not really alive.
The reveal of the vast warehouse where they’re stored was fairly chilling, with strong echoes of Minority Report as Solomon tries to justify its actions: “The world caved in on itself until the Outlier program began. Crime has been reduced worldwide. Hunger, deprivation. Removing outliers from the population also ensures they will have no offspring”.
Yikes. AI Hitler over here, Amiright? But fond as it may be of eugenics, Solomon has handed Caleb the keys to Serac’s end. “Tell me how to kill your creator” he hisses with maximum Aaron Paul angst, and the big French sphere obliges.
Meanwhile Dolores has gone to meet with her old acquaintance Maeve, out for blood after Hector’s death last week. She speaks in her host sister’s mind and commands the helper robot to attack her, before they move outside and we get a super-powered robot smackdown with some serious Michael Bay energy (helped by that Magic Hour sun and a lot of sweat). Maeve is basically a samurai now of course, but did you know that Evan Rachel Wood has a black belt in Taekwondo? Neither did I, but it turns out that’s mostly her doing her own fighting.
As they tussle they’re aided by some robot brethren in the form of Dolore’s drone/rifle combo and Maeve’s Guncopter, the latter of which ends up taking off Dolore’s damn arm. “You’ve died many times but this will be your last,” Maeve tells her, just as Dolores hits the EMP designed to keep Solomon in line, and the two of them crumple to the ground.
Caleb returns to see this outcome, and Solomon’s helper bot begins to deliver him instructions. Those would be for what Dolores called “A new story for the human race”, which Jean Mi had requested just before Serac imprisoned him.
Caleb seethes as we cut to credits, and it’s all the more ominous given Bernard’s warning. “He’s Dolores’s plan,” he tells Stubbs, “Dolores was made with a poetic sensibility. She won’t destroy humanity. He will.”
Why Bernard knows this with such certainty, and why he’s only saying it now, I don’t know, but I do know he’s saying it near a sign reading ‘LAB TO SLAB’ that advertises artificial meat. Hilarious, and almost certainly a thing that will exist within our lifetime.
Which brings us back to the start, at an opulent restaurant in Jakarta, where Sato (Dolores) receives a threatening call from Charlotte (also Dolores), mourning the loss of her new family and looking for revenge against herselves. It’s a Dolores insurgence, just as expected, but has Charlotte partnered with Serac? Because we can assume that it was Clementine and Hanaryo that Maeve was printing last week, and they show up here to kill Sato, which Charlotte seems aware of… we shall see, but that was definitely Maeve’s delightfully ominous theme playing during their fight with the Yakuza.
So the big question mark hanging over next week’s season finale is what Solomon has instructed Caleb to do. Presumably he’ll finally find out what Dolores actually is, and there will be an encounter between all the different host factions and Serac, but beyond that… who knows.
I’m eager to see what the parameters for season four will be, particularly as the world in 2052 tears itself apart. Will global chaos mean a narrowed focus, perhaps on a small band of survivors? Will Caleb actually become some sort of leader, in defiance of Bernard’s prediction? Will the series come down on the side of free will as a human right, regardless of the consequences? The powder keg has already blown up. So now what?