This season of Westworld has been both an improvement and a regression.
The main improvements are twofold: one, the mysteries are revealed in a manner that is less convoluted, and two, the idea of artificial intelligence evolving from itself – even from forms that are clones – is fascinating.
The transformation of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) from a clone of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) in another body into an independent Charlotte with her own sense of agency is the best thing the series has ever done – even as it needs more quiet time to flesh things out. That lack of essential fleshing-out time is where this season takes a step back. At the mercy of only eight episodes instead of ten (not sure why), the pacing has hastened some of the larger plot reveals that required more time to marinate for the narrative’s flavour to sink in.
Passed Pawn is Westworld’s most scattered episode of the season. That lack of focus has become a Westworld trademark that the show might consider correcting for season four and beyond (showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan reportedly have a parting contract with HBO for up to six seasons).
Each season openings strong; there’s a lag in the middle (with a few exceptions). And then the writers pack a lot into the few episodes before the season finale. If the last two seasons have set a precedent, the next episode, Crisis Theory, should be a doozy, but let’s take a brief moment to discuss the major revelations from this week’s entry.
Passed Pawn features an excellent opening sequence. The partially reconstructed Charlotte has snapped after last week’s incineration. The loss of the original Charlotte’s real family and her near-death drove her to believe that Dolores was driving her clones to their deaths. It was an action that Charlotte considered too similar to what the humans had done to the hosts. If Charlotte existed to serve as a plot device for Dolores to move forward and sacrifice, a mere pawn, why should she suppress her growing awakening and serve her dehumanization?
Charlotte sets her first betrayal in motion by leaking Musashi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) location to Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto). A beautifully choreographed fight sequence ends with Musashi’s death and a foreboding thrill for what Charlotte will do next.
The question that drives the hosts apart is Dolores’ role in this revolution; a revolution that she describes in eloquent epithets (even though she doesn’t seem to be struggling with the full weight of her consequences). Is she a hero? A leader? Or a slaver, bending her kind to her will to ostensibly free them? It’s what partially drives Maeve (Thandie Newton) to fight her.
Maeve has no love or loyalty to Serac, that much is clear, but she doesn’t see Dolores as opening the door for her and the other hosts to live. With Serac’s threat looming in the foreground, Maeve sees Dolores as the obstacle to her daughter and the other hosts living. The choice is clear, and its clarity makes the fight thrilling and tense, even if you know that both characters are coming back next week.
The reveal that Caleb (Aaron Paul) was part of one of Serac’s (Vincent Cassel) experiments is not surprising, especially after the revelations in “Genre.” The realization that he killed his friend Francis (Kid Cudi) is not surprising either. It seems less like the show is resting its narrative laurels upon this choice, but rather it’s using these knowing surprises in setting the stage for Caleb to do something spectacular next week, and I can’t wait to see what. So far, Paul has provided a stabilizing audience surrogacy role quite well, but I’m ready for the character to take full advantage of his righteous anger.
The more upsetting reveal is that Serac’s reconditioning program has a success rate of ten percent, and the other ninety are put into some sort of cryogenic sleep. In the flashbacks this season, Serac repeatedly referred to the idea that he was simply helping people who were identified as systems by the outlier. In order to “fix” them, all he needed was some more data. The idea is simple enough – the more human behaviour data he has access to, the easier it would be for Serac to integrate that data into Rehoboam and iron out the wrinkles, the outliers.
The question of what happens to people who would still be considered outliers remains unspoken. The major character who is in this sleeping chamber? Serac’s younger brother.
Westworld Episode 3.07 Notes:
+ The technology on display in the Westworld universe this season continues to look impressive.
+ There’s something off about Caleb being deployed in the Russian Civil War. Was that a simulation?
+ Always pro-pro-union statements being made on my primetime drama series!
+ “Every human relationship can be adjusted with the right amount of money.” Well, that’s cynical.
+ What is Dolores’s new strategy for revolution? I can’t wait to see it.