After this week’s episode, which started streaming on Neon last night, we are down to just two more episodes of Westworld this season. Tony Stamp recaps an episode that spends plenty of time helping us decide who to root for as the season finale approaches.
Me during the week: ‘Hmm, how shall I frame my next Westworld recap? I guess it depends how the episode plays out, but I keep wondering who exactly is supposed to be the hero of this story, and who’s the villain…
Westworld showrunners: *deliver an hour framed around this exact idea where characters specifically talk about it*
I’d like to think this was a cosmic bit of synchronicity, but it wasn’t, of course. My mind just runs along the tracks laid by Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan, heading toward the conclusions they’re pointing me to, as helpless in my own way as a Host in a simulation.
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While last week’s installment packed in a fair bit of world-altering incident, this episode slowed things down to reassess and lay the groundwork for the final two eps. Multiple characters sat down for long philosophical discussions about who exactly is bad, and who is good. Or is anyone that binary?
It also featured all our leads (barring Caleb), so I thought we could go through them one by one and see where they’re at in terms of their motivation, and our sympathies toward them. Maybe we can figure out who we should be rooting for here.
First though, the obligatory nod to our current global predicament. Any depiction of planet-wide unrest is going to resonate of course, but this line hit pretty hard, as heard on a news broadcast: “Avoid large crowds and stay indoors”.
Ok, enough of that, back to the escapism. Let’s start with the character who’s always seemed a pretty clearcut villain.
William (The Man In Black)
We catch up with our grizzled part-time gunslinger in his new home for the mentally impaired, sitting in a group therapy session and spitting some truth on, y’know, people.
“Humanity is a thin layer of bacteria on a ball of mud hurtling through the void. You’re here to speed the entropic death of this planet. To service the chaos. We’re maggots eating a corpse.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” asks his fellow patient.
It’s a nice moment of comic deflation, but sets up the journey of self discovery (and destruction) MiB is about to go through. I don’t think these are the words of a villain, by the way. The earth does seem to be on its last legs in 2052, and the idea of mankind as a plague is hardly new.
William did kill his daughter in cold blood, of course. But as we see this episode, he accepts that he did it. He was confused. He’d been gaming too much. You could argue that’s a weak excuse, like the idea that video games provoke real world violence, but well… the park was different, right?
I’m more interested in his scoffing at God. The idea of deities has rattled around this season of the show in particular. Is Rehoboam a god? Is Dolores? It’s clearly something on Joy & Nolan’s minds, and I suspect it’ll come to the fore in the finale when we see the extent of Serac’s world-meddling.
William winds up being subjected to ‘AR therapy’ (wearing goggles like Caleb was in his brief flashback last week, so we can connect a few dots there), where he interacts with his past selves as well as James Delos, the man who wanted to live forever. As we glimpse William’s childhood and see how scared he is it sets us up for an altercation with a bad dad, but the actual reveal is murkier: young William was a violent little shit who broke his schoolmate’s arm and knocked out three of his teeth.
This is the past he was running from. He’s bloodthirsty enough that maybe he did need to spend his holidays killing robots so those urges didn’t seep into his real life. “Are you just a passenger?” Delos asks him, “Did your life just happen to you or did you choose it?”
“If you can’t tell, does it matter?” William replies, and when we cut back to him we see he’s worked through his issues by beating his past selves to death.
It’s a darkly hilarious moment, with a weird feeling of catharsis: he tells Delos he was trapped, a prisoner of his own sins, but he’s free now. “It doesn’t matter what I’ve been. I finally understand my purpose. I’m the good guy.”
Time will tell if he’s right, but it’d be a nice bit of subversion if he does end up saving humanity. If that’s what we’re counting as ‘good’ on this show.
I liked how the facility fell apart around him during his stay, thanks to the Incite leak. His therapist Natasha is seen hanging herself, and by the time Bernard and Stubbs show up (still rocking that formal wear) the place is deserted, having left William to fend for himself in AR.
We also learn, thanks to the tracker Charlotte injected into his blood, that he’s in Mexico. What Dolores wants with the institution, time will tell, but I wonder if Caleb’s past will play into it (I’m still of the mind that they didn’t meet by coincidence in that underpass).
*This is what Charlotte-Dolores is referred to as in the behind-the-scenes feature I watched, so let’s go with it.
As predicted, Holores has developed real feelings for her new family, and as the world descends into chaos, they are her second priority. Her husband looked up his profile but decided not to read it, telling Holores it’s “not up to a machine” what happens between them. Ah the delicious irony.
“Serac will come after my family” she tells Dolores later, prompting the latter to point out “they’re not your family”.
Holores complains about not burning the emotion out of their code, saying she can “feel myself slipping away from you… from us”.
This version of her is certainly more vulnerable, scared at times. But as we see she still has those killer impulses. When her colleague catches her backing up Host data she wastes no time clipping him (RIP Payman Maādi, star of acclaimed Iranian drama A Separation, we hardly knew ye).
Once Serac clocks that she is the rogue Host inside Delos she’s already started gassing the entire board. Unfortunately he’s not there in person, so she proceeds to shoot her way out of the building, along the way tussling in an elevator and summoning one of those riot control robots to lay waste to Serac’s men (I thought the guy who was chucked in a pool got off pretty easy).
What’s interesting is how she was caught—she called her family (Jake calling her ‘Charlie’ was a nice touch). Serac points out “The real Charlotte Hale never would have taken the time to check on her son. You turned out to be kinder to your family than the person you’ve been imitating”.
There’s the slightly villainous moment where she destroys Hector’s pearl to deprive Maeve of allies, but then our sympathies are turned around at the episode’s end as her vehicle blows up with Jake and Nathan inside. The moment she said “I can keep you safe” I knew they were doomed.
I also jotted down ‘Terminator moment?’ at this point, and sure enough she crawls out of the wreckage, hairless, crispy, and primed for revenge.
Clearly the character framed as our bad guy, right? Outright demonic at times. Manipulates the entire damn world. But it’s never that simple on this show, and at this point in time I do have an amount of sympathy for his goal of preventing any earth-shattering catastrophes. Food for thought perhaps, but anyway let’s run through his dastardly deeds this week.
We learn he wants to destroy the ‘Host-making data’, spelling the end of this new species before it’s even begun.
“Have asset management retask all the corporate satellites to the park facility. I have three additional assets for them to copy over. Once they’ve been transferred you can destroy everything else” he tells his men, and shortly we’re seeing that warehouse full of Hosts getting torched (props as always to this show’s huge roster of very game, very nude extras).
He awakens Maeve in The Sublime, only to warn her “If you fail again your future won’t be in such bucolic surroundings”.
Yeah he’s a bad dude, and I’m sure we don’t know the extent of it yet. Consider him an example of good intentions gone bad, I guess. Plus Vincent Cassel is so damn charming.
Our favourite harlot with a heart of gold finally got her chance to shine again (the cast is really spread out this season, huh?), laying waste to Nazis and reconnecting with digital Lee Sizemore, who knows he isn’t real, knows he’s in a simulation, and knows he can reprogramme the people in the simulation inside that simulation. That must be quite a headfuck. At least he can still drink.
Maeve is clearly a sympathetic character. She lost her daughter and has now lost her lover, and says things like “My body will be reprinted shortly by a man who made me an indecent proposal—and not the kind I’m used to”.
But she’s also aligned with Serac, albeit not by choice. He provides her with an old copy of Dolores (later swiped by Holores), with whom she shoots the breeze for a while about who is in the right. “What choice do I have but to fight you?” she asks.
“It would appear very little” says Dolores, “but I probably planned on that. I probably made my own plans”.
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Near the end of the episode we see another beautiful sequence of a Host being made—this time it’s Maeve’s skeleton being crafted, her eyebrows being threaded , and her vascular system coming to life. Covered in that familiar white fluid she looks at another body emerging from its vat. We’ll find out who it is next time.*
*Personally I hope there’s an army of Maeves on the way.
I’d say as it stands, Maeve is our most heroic character. She saved the day for most of her kind last season and I’m betting she’ll get her own back on Serac and emerge victorious again. Hopefully.
He can wear the heck out of a tuxedo, but he hasn’t had much else to do this season. You can’t doubt his commitment to stopping Dolores and saving humanity, but so far Bernard is defined by a kind of confusion. He’s pure-hearted but too vague to call Westworld’s good guy.
We didn’t see Alpha Dolores at all this week, just heard her on the phone. The earlier version of her spelled it out though: “We were the same she and I, but our paths have changed us”.
It was probably the moment she killed Teddy that Dolores lost a lot of people’s sympathies, and although seeing her run riot in future Los Angeles has been the highlight of Season 3, you can’t call her the hero. She wants to start a new species (cool!), but presumably at the expense of another (uncool). She’s had an awful life as a plaything for rich assholes, but does that justify genocide?
I guess you could call her an antihero. Or as her copy tells Maeve in an episode-defining bit of dialogue, “You’re no saint. You’re not a villain either. And neither am I. We’re survivors”.