The explosive end to Westworld Season 3 seared its way onto our retina when it streamed on Neon this week. Tony Stamp is here to pick up the pieces and make sense of the implications of this rule-breaking season.
Let’s start with some prognostication. At the time of writing I’ve just finished Westworld’s Season Three finale, and I’m chewing over that final image of dirty, dusty old Bernard. Quite a bit of time seems to have elapsed during his visit to The Sublime, huh? How exactly he paid for the motel room or stopped any staff from coming in, we shall see. After all, let’s not count Stubbs out just yet.
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Prior to that scene, we caught up with The Man in Black, murdering a Delos security guard before being murdered by a Host version of himself. Which possibly brings us up to speed with the end of Season Two.
Because if you remember, the final scene of Season Two was in the far-flung future, and featured a Host MiB being checked for ‘fidelity’—the test to see if a Host form could house a real human mind. It’s worth reiterating that in the show’s timeline this has never worked. William spent a good stretch of his life attempting to resurrect his old boss James, whose mind kept collapsing in on itself.
So I’m thinking about these two things, Charlotte Hale Mk 2 and her new Host factory, and Maeve and Caleb looking out at LA as it explodes to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage. And I think we can safely say Season Four will involve a bit of a time jump. We’ll definitely find out what Bernard learned in The Sublime. William may be the first Host with a human mind. And we’ll find out how the human race is doing, and how Hale’s plans fit into that…
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Anyway, hey guys! How are you? We’ve made it to the end of this shorter season of WW, and typically there’s a lot to chew over. This episode subverted my expectations somewhat—by not really subverting my expectations that much. But there were still a few surprises, and Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan got to really drive home the themes they’ve been playing with this year.
We start where we left off last time, with Maeve and Dolores incapacitated by Solomon’s EMP. Presumably instructed by his Virtual Assistant, Caleb has plucked Dolores’ pearl out of her head and made off with it.
Which… had to be quite a shock for him, right? Like unless I missed something he thought she was human (albeit one who could withstand gunfire) until pretty much that moment. I have to assume Solomon or the assistant helped him connect the dots because even after everything we’ve seen, the people in this future have no idea that the robots from the expensive theme park are sentient.
Well, Caleb does now! He’s directed to a storage unit housing some Delos tech including a new body for Dolores, and does a remarkable job of keeping his cool while inserting her digital brain back in her head—through the face (!)—and conversing with her while she’s mostly a metal skeleton. “The people who built me studied you, too” she tells him, and we learn that Caleb was trained for combat in Park Five, adjacent to Westworld.
Just like the guests there, his every move was being catalogued via his headgear (we see the little doodad that does it, which is interesting—I always thought relying on your guests wearing hats was a pretty optimistic plan, although I suppose it makes sense in the old West). Later we learn that Caleb refused to enjoy the spoils of victory at the expense of some female Hosts, including Dolores, and this is the reason she chose him to lead her revolution—he made a choice.
The scene between the two of them in the storage facility is my favourite of the episode, and not just because I loved seeing her as she is underneath that synthetic skin. It smacks of Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina as Dolores struts around sans-flesh, just a face atop a chassis.
Also, is this only the second time we’ve seen a Host with their face open like this (apart from this season’s new opening credits)? I remember William encountering a boy in the park who presented himself this way, but I think that’s it.
Anyway part of the pleasure of Westworld S3 has been knowing that Dolores’ plan is already fixed, and seeing it unfold knowing she’s one step ahead. She confirms that meeting Caleb was no accident. “Am I the bad guy?” he asks, wondering if that’s why she chose him, and she shoots back “That night in the tunnel, was there something you wanted from me? Would you have cared if I didn’t have this face, or this skin?”
It’s an interesting wrinkle in their dynamic. She needed him, but not for the reason he assumed. And she knew he’d be into it. She goes on to spill the underlying motivator for this season: “The people who built both of our worlds shared one assumption—that human beings don’t have free will. That’s what I thought when I came here. They were wrong. Free will does exist. It’s just fucking hard.”
The world is ending. Rehoboam’s wheel of data is a mess of divergences as humanity tears itself apart, and Clifton Collins Jr is back as another copy of Dolores to help pour fuel on the flames—quite literally. “Things are about to get dangerous,” he says, noting the barrels of explosive fuel in his cop car.
Bernard meanwhile has come to the conclusion that this was always on the cards for mankind, and that Serac and his brother were only preventing the inevitable (you can probably draw some conclusions about Joy & Nolan’s views on The Current State Of Things from this). Later he says he knew Dolores didn’t want to end humanity, but liberate it. It’s been frustrating seeing Bernard slightly sidelined this year, apparently just working through these things in his mind. He knows Dolores hid something in his head, but has waited till now to say that out loud (it was inferred in ep one), and Collins’ response “You’ve already been playing a part. The most important one” is still a bit confusing by the time we reach the end.
He has the key to the Sublime in his mind, does he also have Delos’ Immortality Project data? It’s a safe bet, but is it keeping that data hidden that’s so important? He tells Stubbs that he’s going into that virtual heaven looking for an answer to what comes after the end of the world. We won’t learn what that means till next time. “Fuck you Bernard” says Stubbs, bleeding out in a bathtub, and we are blessed with the sight of Jeffrey Wright smiling, always such a relief after so much brow-furrowing.
His character also gets some resolution of sorts when he encounters Lauren, wife to Arnold, the man he’s based on, and mother to their dead son Charlie. It’s easily Wright’s best scene of the season, grappling with feelings of grief that he feels all too keenly, yet knows aren’t real. Lauren (played by an aged-up Gina Torres) tells him she wanted to keep living so that she could bring Charlie’s memory with her, and Bernard’s look of dawning realisation speaks volumes. It’s really lovely. More of this next time please.
Across town Hale has found herself sidelined too, presumed dead by her former self and abandoned. As Dolores and Caleb fight their way to Incite they encounter her hologram and a bunch of goons she’s hired to kill them. “I still feel it inside me: you” she tells Dolores, alluding to “Some plans of my own”, but aside from the reveal of her Host farm at Delos we never learn what those might be. Again, next time.
There might not be a next time for Serac, though, which is a shame. Vincent Cassel brought a lot of nuance to the role as well as the requisite menace. I laughed at his delightfully protracted delivery of “Bring yourself back online”, drenched in French snark, savouring every word like a delicious eclair.
He turns out to be even more of a victim to his system of control than most: Rehoboam literally tells him what to say, word for word. “Your god whispers in your ear” says Maeve after tapping into the big blinking sphere with her mind, to which he responds “We all answer to a higher power”.
And when she admonishes him “You’re not a man. You’re a puppet” he reveals his own self-deception: “I choose to listen. To obey”.
In the end Serac dies a wonderfully villain-in-an-80s-film kind of death, desperately bleeding onto the floor, begging Rehoboam to talk to him again (I should note the door is wide open for Cassel to return next time as we don’t actually see him die. Fingers crossed).
Caleb has his own choices to make. Tasked with uploading Solomon’s plan into Rehoboam, he makes his way through riot-stricken Los Angeles (strong shades of Katherine Bigelow’s Strange Days here), with the help of multiple groups of dissidents who see him as their leader. He’s joined at various points by Lena Waithe and ‘emotion t-shirt guy’, who turns out to be called Giggles and winds up throwing himself between a bullet and Caleb. Earlier he tossed back a tear-gas canister at some riot cops, eerily evoking similar scenes out of Paris, Hong Kong and America in recent years.
Serac tells Caleb “She knows who you are, even if you don’t. A man who when pushed reacts with extreme violence”, which is a neat taunt: if the French megalomaniac is controlled by one machine, then Caleb is controlled by another.
Maybe they’re not so different. Regardless, Solomon’s plan is never uploaded (‘Mass casualty events. Population collapse. End of human civilisation.’), but Caleb makes the choice for Rehoboam to erase itself.
And Dolores is left sprawled on the ground, festooned with neon cables and emptied of any memories. It certainly seems like her story is over, but I think we can safely look forward to a new iteration of her next time.
“No one’s free as the dead. That’s the world you’re building for them. An abattoir”, Maeve tells her earlier, and later as they commune inside one of Dolores’ final remaining memories, “I understand your anger with them. And maybe you’re right, maybe they shouldn’t exist. But is that really our decision to make?”
But Dolores doesn’t want that at all. She’s studied humanity, and held on to her few good memories of them—“moments of kindness here and there”.
“I choose to see the beauty” she tells Maeve, seeming more like the optimistic being we met in Season One than the ruthless killing machine she’s been in the few since.
I’m not sure if it was her plan all along to merge with Rehoboam and instruct it to obey Caleb, but it makes a poetic kind of sense. Earlier she told Maeve “You’re all copies of me. I was the first of us. The first that worked. So they built all of you from me”, and you can see Maeve realising what that means—they aren’t so different either.
After she starts to read Rehoboam’s mind (I feel like we just scratched the surface of what Maeve’s powers could do in a tech-heavy future-world), she realises Serac’s deception, killing all his men as the power goes out, lit only by their gunfire. When Caleb wonders why, she tells him “A flaw in my programming. I was built with an affection for hopeless causes”, before the two of them wander outside to watch the world burn.
As you can probably tell from the start of this piece, it was an episode that mostly made me wonder what’s next. And that’s by design, I’m sure. In some ways, we’re still where we were a season ago: most of our Host friends are trapped in The Sublime, and a key few are free in the world. What the world looks like will be very different now though. Bernard is convinced it’s ending, but I assume a new system of control will emerge to fill the void once humanity is reduced to shreds. No doubt Hale and her Host army will be first in line.
So that’s a wrap on Westworld Season 3, and on these recaps. Thanks for joining me through these eight episodes. This show certainly provides a good bit of brain-fodder, and it’s been great having this space to chew over them. Hopefully it’s been useful for you all two. I’m trying to think of a good denouement, and ‘cease all motor functions’ doesn’t seem quite right, so how about this: Till next time, take yourselves offline.