Westworld teased more action ahead of episode five, and as we saw when it streamed on Neon, delivered not only that but some big plot beats. Tony Stamp dives into the details.
Since it started, Westworld has been threading a particular needle. What defines free will, and do we really want it? In this week’s episode we finally got the history of Rehoboam, the machine keeping humanity on a certain set of tracks (and descendant of David, Saul, and Solomon), only for Dolores to send the entire globe careening of its axis, leaving a big question mark where there was once a smooth circle.
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It’s interesting hearing Vincent Cassel’s Serac tell his story (while Dolores accesses his ‘foundational cognitive history’) at this particular moment in our history. As a boy he saw Paris obliterated, and he and his brother swore to keep humanity in check by predicting their every probable outcome. Watching this now, as we all hunker down to avoid spreading a dangerous virus, you have to think: a device that could have seen this coming sounds pretty damn good.
This episode adds a wrinkle: what happens to the people you can’t control, the ‘flies in the ointment’ as Serac calls them. We see how easily he can pull the strings as he threatens a Brazilian president into toeing the line, but as his backstory continues and we learn more about his perfect system of control we see its flaw: people like his brother. Martin/Dolores refers to them as “the ones who don’t belong” as he tells Bernard about the facility where they’re housed. Odds are good it’s the same chic institute Serac’s brother ended up, maybe the one where we last saw William/The Man in Black.
Serac tells Liam Dempsey Sr about this ‘population of outliers’, saying that with them around, humanity is doomed. Rehoboam tries to control this by sending them to “high risk sectors” like war, “a woodchipper to eat them up and spit them out”, but Serac wants to save them instead.
“It’s possible to edit people” he says, and later Dempsey Sr, who earlier called Rehoboam a “giant steel ballsack”, tells Serac “you can’t geld humankind”.
I’m sure we’ll get more answers about whatever Serac is up to, and I’m guessing whatever it is will pave the way for future seasons of the show. But it isn’t the main mystery presented in this episode. That would be Caleb and his shrouded past.
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He is Exhibit A in the show’s presentation of people who don’t fit in. Liam Jr rants “The system isn’t the prison. You are. To all of us. We can’t fix you. And we can’t get rid of you!”, underlining in Sharpie Westworld’s ideas about the wealth/ class divide, before going on to tell Caleb “you’re the worst of them”.
Why, we still don’t know. We see Caleb and a prisoner with a bag over his head (a glimpse of Veronica Mars‘ dad Enrico Colantoni, who’ll surely be seen again), hear about his friends “slaughtered on the battlefield”, and see him strapped down in a few shots that feel very Manchurian Candidate-y, but exactly what he’s suppressing remains a mystery.
Caleb ends the ep having second thoughts, wondering if people shouldn’t know their own fate. But by then the cat is definitely out of the bag. Earlier he was comparing humanity to the rats he used to trap, motivated by their own sense of hope. “Hope is what our entire society is built on” says Liam, which Caleb counters with “false hope”, saying he’d rather live in chaos.
But we’ll come back to the subway scene soon, because right now we need to deal with the episode’s flashiest sequence: the car chase. Is it Westworld’s flashiest sequence full stop? Quite possibly. It’s what I imagine a Michael Mann-directed science fiction film would look like, the camera swooping around beautifully sleek future-vehicles as they weave through explosions and homing missiles whiz through the air.
It’s also, by far, the silliest the show’s ever been, and that’s setting aside the fact that for some reason Liam is wearing a t-shirt that says ‘basic’. It becomes borderline frivolous because we’re seeing it through Caleb’s eyes, and he’s tripping his balls off. The very literally-named drug Genre is back, and our war vet is its unwitting recipient. As Lena Thwaite’s friend with the emotion t-shirt helpfully says, it’s like a “movie marathon”, digitally implanted in Caleb’s limbic system, adding, in the show’s most meta bit of dialogue, “watch out for that last act though”.
So we go through noir (cutting to black and white every so often to show Caleb’s POV, while Ramin Djawadi’s score tries out some retro sounds before cycling back to Westworld’s usual Blade Runner-esque synth squawks), then action as Flight of The Valkyries kicks in, then romance. Caleb gazes longingly at Dolores, wreathed in flame, and she looks back with an expression that clearly says ‘dude, what the fuck’.
I saw someone online recently posit that the show shouldn’t have left the parks, and I couldn’t disagree more. Scenes like this, that crackle with the energy of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s imaginations, just wouldn’t be possible.
The gang heads to the subway, which is a nice literalisation of the idea of being ‘kept in a loop’, just as Dolores is about to “show [everyone] the rails”, and also gives her a chance to say they’re heading “West”. But it also helps the scene unfold gradually—first it seems like she’s only fed info to the people on the train (as the music swells emotionally), but as we emerge into the outside world we learn no, it’s everybody on the planet (the score segues into a cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity).
This is all happening much sooner than I thought it would, and leaves me wondering what Dolores’ endgame is, aside from taking out Serac. It’s also interesting to see the immediate descent into chaos. As Liam Jr points out everyone has “already returned to their base selves”, which seems like a much grimmer view of humanity than Westworld’s creators have shown in the past (although sure, they don’t seem that fond of the ultra-wealthy and how they might choose to spend their free time).
Who knows how this will play out. T-shirt guy speaks for all of us as he tells Caleb “It’s reality, man”.
Finally this week, let’s sort through some of the threads that this episode left dangling. For one, Serac’s man told him this: “Rehoboam analysed traffic from the Yakuza facility. It found a connect between encrypted devices in Jakarta, Berlin, San Fransisco and Los Angeles”.
So that’s Dolores in LA and Charlotte/Dolores in San Fran, but what about the other two?
There’s also mention of an idea I’ve been wondering about since the show revealed Charlotte/Dolores’ new family. “Living another person’s life changes you. Worlds bleed” Bernard says to Martin/Dolores, and there’s a hint the latter isn’t that happy about blindly obeying his boss (let’s call her the Alpha-Dolores). Does this signal discontent among the Doloreses (Dolori?) as their new lives change them? An uprising in the midst of an uprising would seem appropriate.
Caleb also sees Dolores get shot at close range and shrug it off, so that needs to be addressed. Martin/Dolores lets it slip that Bernard is “the only one we can’t replace”, but he still can’t figure out his purpose in her plan. And Serac and Dolores had their first conversation.
But most importantly, Stubbs is back, babyyyy! “I think you forgot about me” he says, just prior to punching Martin square in the throat.
I had not forgotten. Someone get that Host a beer.
The episode ends with the left-field inclusion of Emerge by Fischerspooner, a song I hadn’t thought about in forever but I guess is thematically appropriate (and as the kids say, it slaps). And while we’re on music, can I say a big thank you to everyone who correctly identified the song I couldn’t pick last week. It was The Weeknd’s Wicked Games. I can finally sleep.
I’ll leave you with two small details I really enjoyed in this ep. One is the self-driving bike Dolores was chatting with earlier in the episode, which whizzes past the Incite entrance on fire (I’m assuming it was the same one).
The other comes just after humanity has been shown its past and probable futures. Free will is back on the menu. Chaos reigns. This one guy has wandered down to the beach and is just standing there in the background of a shot. Ankle-deep in the water, staring out to sea, I imagine him thinking to himself ‘Ok then. So now what?’