Westworld: Crisis Theory

“It doesn’t matter what you did, Caleb. All that matters is what you become.”

The creators of this show intended for it to be something that would grow and evolve and be different each season. In this way, Westworld is a bit like True Detective. I think Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and the other writers have succeeded in making every season feel novel in their own way, but I also think this leads each season to have certain flaws that are as prevalent as their finer qualities.

The first season was as subtle as a brick to the face when it came to illustrating mankind's unrestrained hubris and debauchery. Season two twisted around the plot so much with various timelines, perspectives and levels of reality that it was difficult to tell what was going at times. And now we have season three, possibly the most impressive one yet, but lacking the episode count to properly focus on all the disparate characters, big ideas and new developments it presents.

'Crisis Theory' is the biggest proof of that. Maybe it's just my own projection due to how fast this season seems to have gone by, but I really feel like everything in this season's story happened really fast. This might be why I so easily related to Caleb's character, who spends most of his screentime out of sorts. Here, he finds himself in a very Fight Club situation where someone else has made him the leader of a massive subversive movement and suddenly all these tough guys in black are calling him "sir." He doesn't really know what to make of most what's going on around him. He knows it's messed up, but he's driven by the desire to reach the end of the journey he's on, just like we the viewers. Well, like this viewer, at least.

You Say You Want a Revolution

I had thought the one advantage Caleb had over Dolores was that she couldn't literally read his mind, since he'd never been to Westworld. But the discovery that she actually has had access to his "life story" the whole time because he'd been to Park 5 -- a testing ground for soldiers to practice combat, using the hosts as live targets. We, like Caleb, realize that she's known how to move him at every turn.

This really could have confirmed that her intentions with him were insidious, but I'm glad that the show has chosen to continue portraying Dolores as a grey character. The showrunners played a neat trick last season, changing the wholesome rancher's daughter we all fell in love with into a malicious tyrant bent on destroying mankind. That image of her was in the front of my mind throughout this season, just as it clearly was for many of the show's characters. So I never fully believed in Dolores's renewed empathy towards humans until we reached this episode.

And even here, they still keep us guessing along with Bernard, Maeve and Caleb until the last act. Dolores is doing sketchy things every step of the way, but it can all be seen as pragmatism. Paying for those massive city-wide protests does generate more chaos, but it also distracts the army of security Serac has positioned around the Incite building. She coldly guns men down before they're able to do the same to her and her allies. And she continues to fight Maeve rather than just let Maeve look into her mind and see what her motives truly are, because Dolores can't trust Maeve now that she's aligned with Serac.

However, I was pleased to know that Dolores (at least, the main one) truly did want to free humanity and build a better world, and that she did believe in Caleb. I'm glad the writers weren't just screwing with us about all that.

They also finally provide some clarity about Serac. For most of the season, they've made it ambiguous as to how wrong he is for trying to control the world by reining mankind in and eliminating the hosts. Until Maeve figures out that Serac has not been acting on his own, but following direct instructions from Rehoboam the whole time; it's even revealed that most of his dialogue is chosen for him by the machine.

It proves Dolores right. There is nothing free about the world Serac has built. Everyone is a slave to a cold system that seems to be as flawed as its own creator, a system that evidently places more value on eradicating threats to its existence than truly helping humanity. Serac is so convinced of his creation's infallibility that he gladly surrenders his own free will to it; as Solomon adopted the voice of Serac's brother, Rehoboam has adopted the voice of Serac himself and uses his human form to exert its power. I had thought it was Dolores who wanted to enslave humanity to machines, but it was really Serac.

Since I like the concept of free will a lot more than the concept of slavery, I finally was able to decide which of these two players was really worth rooting for. That's great, considering this episode appears to be a swan song for the original Dolores.


Deleting Dolores

Attempting to put this show into words can be maddening sometimes.

Like, even my need to clarify that the Dolores I'm referring to is "the original" just highlights what a complex character she is. It's frequently pointed out that life and death don't work for hosts the way they do for humans. They aren't flesh and blood. They exist as code, hardware and software. And this season really denotes how much more changeable that makes them than our kind. They can conceivably live forever, they can make copies of themselves, they can mimic other people's identities and personalities to the point that they all but become those people.

So when I say the "original Dolores" I mean the one whose journey we've been following since the start of the show. Not the copies she has made of herself or, as it turns, any of the other hosts we've seen. For me, that's the most unique reveal this season has dropped. Dolores claims that, because she was the only host Ford and Arnold could perfect, they used her code as the template for all the hosts that came after her creation. While this does feel like a meta acknowledgement of the "everyone is Ford" meme from last season, it actually makes the show's themes of identity, personhood and free will all the more mind-boggling.

Knowing now that each one of them was an altered copy of Dolores, I look at and reflect back on all of the hosts in a slightly different way. It also makes Prime Dolores's death a bit more sweet than bitter, in addition to the fact that there are at least three direct copies of the original Dolores still running around.

As much as I've grown to sympathize with her character, I'm also kind of glad that karma came around on Dolores in this episode, given all the horrifying things she's done in the name of her heartfelt rebellion. Dolores could have survived. She defeated Maeve and nearly all of Serac's goons. But what gets her in the end is... herself.

I guessed it: Dolores copying her own mind, turning the copies into other people and casually sacrificing them ended up backfiring. Halores, driven mad by the deaths of Hale's family and the belief that she was betrayed by... herself, asserts her independence and ambushes Dolores. She has now discarded whatever nicer qualities Dolores or Charlotte Hale possessed and instead chooses to embrace all of their darkest instincts. At first this leads to a cool, amusing moment where Dolores has to outbid Halores and pay her assassins to kill each other instead of her. Then Halores uses Dolores's original metal body against her, rendering her paralyzed with magnets. Undone by a monster of her own creation.

Sadly this leaves the evil Halores free, while the original falls into Serac's hands. Finding she does not have the data for William's immortality project, Serac decides to kill Dolores by slowly deleting all of her memories until there's nothing left. It's pretty tragic when you consider how significant her history, her personal story, would be to this world.

However, Dolores's legacy lives on thanks to her final interaction with Maeve in her own mind. Maeve learns that Dolores was torn between destroying humanity or helping them to forge a new world where the humans and hosts can be free, but she chose the nobler option because she ultimately values the beauty of mankind more than the ugliness. As a last act, she convinces Maeve to finally choose a side.


The New World

Maeve saves Caleb from Serac and, thanks to Serac plugging Dolores into Rehoboam, Caleb is able to make the System erase itself. In death, Dolores has blown up the world order and unleashed humanity from its gilded cage just as she did for her kind.

The finale sets up a very different kind of Westworld for the fourth season, just as the previous one did.

Oh, I'm sure it'll feature the same gratuitous action scenes, wickedly labyrinthine storytelling, endless identity issues and sexy future chic robots duking it out. But the dynamic has once again changed.

On the one hand, things could be looking up. Planet earth is no longer necessarily a world of, by and for the most rich and powerful scumbags in existence, who dictate the rest of our lives. The state of the world is now implied to be a dystopian cyberpunk wild west (or, more accurately, a wild world) populated by a bunch of predominately directionless entrepreneurs and opportunists among the rest of us schmucks who stay at home and watch (and occasionally review) TV shows.

It will be interesting to see how Caleb and Maeve will go about leading this world into a better future for all. Did Dolores leave all her millions to Caleb as well? Does it matter, since Maeve can mentally hack everything? Will Maeve and Caleb be making their own robot army, as Halores is seen doing in the post-credits scene?

As cool as it is that humans got their freedom of choice back, it might not be such a good thing. If Rehoboam's projections were correct, humanity is now living on borrowed time. It predicted that there will be several events occurring within the next 25-70 years that gradually deplete the human population before resulting in mankind's total extinction over a hundred years into the future. Considering Halores has evidently gone full-hog on the Destroy All Humans decision, already well on her way to developing a legion of new hosts in Delos International's branch in Dubai, I can see why the machine might have predicted that.

Dolores accomplished her goal here despite losing and dying. Who's to say Halores couldn't do the same, with her ruthless determination to reign supreme?

Maeve and Caleb are an odd pair to leave the fate of the world in the hands of, even if they are better than the genocidal Halores. Maeve has been a leader, and while she did lead many of her followers to die along with her last season, she also freed a great many of her kind. Caleb has been a soldier, but we are given no real indication that he was ever a leader; other than the conclusion of his flashback to Park 5, but we'll get to that later. Add to that the mountain of baggage he's left to deal with after this season, and I'm guessing he'll mostly be relying on Maeve, who is well-accustomed to what is going on at this point.

Or maybe not. The final shot of the season with Bernard returning from the Sublime reveals that a lot of time will have passed come season three, so I imagine Caleb will be older and more experienced next time we see him. He could even be played by a different actor, like having both Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson as William; place your bets now on which actor gets to play Old Caleb.

This season greatly mirrored the first, particularly in the way it acted as a slow build up to a chaotic revolution. The second season thrust us headlong into that revolution and the show was not the same by the end. I believe the same will be true of the fourth season, with Bernard waking up and finding himself in the middle of all the disarray that exists as a consequence of this episode.

Time to theorize about where they'll take the show from here.


Dark Side of the Moon

I think they'll mainly be exploring the concept of rapidly changing worlds or even alternate realities.

On the outside, we will see a world where man is on the brink, desperately fighting for survival against an onslaught of killer robots, but also forced to form alliances with some of these robots in order to have a chance of winning. It'll be kind of like War for the Planet of the Apes.

But I imagine the next season will begin with Bernard first exploring the Sublime; or the Valley Beyond, as I still like to call it sometimes. The Sublime was presented as a virtual world that the Westworld hosts were free to make of as they wished. It also apparently contains all the human consciousness data fed into the Forge, meaning a multitude of digitized Westworld guests could be there too. And since time moves far slower in virtual reality and it's been at least a few months since they were all uploaded into the Sublime, a whole new society may have arisen from the collection of host and human minds there.

This could yield all sorts of possibilities that will reflect on the physical world. Have the hosts simply enslaved the humans who exploited them, or have they joined forces to forge a brand new world? Or will it be one faction that favors the first against another faction that favors the second, as is the case with the real world?

And since it appears that years have passed between Bernard entering and exiting the Sublime, it might feel more like a whole lifetime has gone by for Bernard.

Bernard is among the characters this season underutilized. While I enjoyed him palling around with Stubbs, they were mostly in the periphery. This episode is the first in awhile that features him doing something beyond trying to figure out what Dolores is up to. I like that the show didn't forget that Bernard is still filled with angst over Arnold's memories, and that Dolores was kind enough to give him closure by arranging a meeting between him and Arnold's elderly widow, Lauren. So I'll be glad if next season gives Jeffrey Wright's tremendous performance more room to breathe.

The scene between Bernard and Lauren also highlights a couple of themes which I believe will be cornerstones of season four. Upon witnessing Bernard's anguish over his memories of Lauren and the death of Arnold's son, Lauren comforts him and calls him "Arnold." And for a moment, Bernard might as well be Arnold. Lauren tells him that she felt if she held on to the memory of her son and didn't let her grief consume her, she might be able to take him with her when she found "the light."

We've seen the line between hosts and humans blurred more than ever this season. Just as Bernard is struggling to deal with the feeling of two minds (his Arnold-like waking personality and the subconscious robotic Bernard personality) in one body, I think we'll be seeing a lot of these host duplicates endure their own identity crises with the humans they're replacing.


Which finally brings me to the next character this season criminally underutilized, muh boy William.

Though, I'll admit, I'm not as bothered by his character's arc this season. Unlike previous years where he spent most of his screentime as the grizzled, swaggering villain the Man in Black, here we're seeing William after his glorified LARPing obsession came to a bitter end and he's on a downward spiral into madness and despair. And with 'Decoherence' and his scenes since then, I'm pretty much convinced that there's not much more growth left for this character. He learns that the darkness he indulged in Westworld may have always been inside him, but he doesn't care. He clearly views his plan to save the world by destroying all the hosts as a path to redemption, but it's not really. He's just using it as an excuse to dress in black and roam around battling robots, and him casually gunning down a human security guard who attempts to stop him reveals that he still doesn't give a shit about people. Despite the writers clearly loving this character and wanting to continue exploring him (we still don't know the fucker's last name), William's too far gone. He's just a crazy old man now, with no real hope of changing his ways or defeating the hosts.

The twist at the end provides a very clever way around this. As soon as William goes to boldly confront Halores, he is blindsided by... himself, the Man in Black. That's right, Halores recreated his evil alter ego in host form. I guess we can call him the Host in Black. William is quickly overpowered by the Host in Black, who slashes his throat and watches with Halores as he bleeds out. While it's true that he might survive, Lisa Joy's comments in the Inside the Episode segment lead me to believe this really is the end for William; or at least, the end of his original human self.

Fittingly, William and Dolores are both killed and replaced by an evil copy of themselves in the same episode. And what's even more twisted, the evil copies are partners-in-crime. Dolores and William are together again, as their worst selves.

I'm honestly surprised I didn't think of this, what with all the hosts killing and replacing human characters and William's lingering paranoia over whether or not he is human. As some have said online, Ed Harris has gone full Yul Brynner.

If William really is dead, the Host in Black can allow the writers to continue expanding on his character. And with the even more elaborate twist that the Host in Black's existence means Dolores has now become William and vice versa. She knows him better than he knows himself and has already perfectly copied his personality. The Host in Black seems to be really loving the irony.

But as we've seen, the hosts don't just imitate human minds, they're able to identify with their alter egos so well that they can become a completely different entity altogether. Halores started out as a Dolores copy forced to imitate Hale, but her experiences changed her into the vicious creature she is now, not quite Hale or Dolores. What if something happens to the Host in Black that makes him change after he begins to identify as William?

The Host in Black appears to be unclouded by the delusions that plagued his human self all the way to the end. So maybe the Dolores and William parts of him will have an effect on each other. Will the Host in Black still want to follow Halores's lead when he can now perfectly recall how much better William and Dolores both felt when they first befriended each other all those years ago? Can you go on being a monster when you can always see the best version of yourself staring back at you? Could "William" be redeemed through his connection to Dolores, even after death? It was too late for the human William, but the hosts have all the time in the world to work out their issues and change for the better. Halores might even change at some point; she looked rather sad when she watched the Man in Black kill William, hinting that even she might still have complex feelings for him.

And this is where I think the significance of what Lauren said will come into play. The most important part of existence, the part worth holding onto, is not the pain and sorrow, but rather the joy and beauty. The peace we experience, the love we feel, the memories we cherish. It's what Dolores died for. For all intelligent life to have the chance to live and prosper and embrace that beauty, for as long as we can. It's a much brighter message than what this show typically deals in.

Okay, the stinger in the second season finale seems to strongly suggest that humanity, as we know it, does die out and hosts do take control of the world. But I like the idea that it's not something a computer can just guarantee, but rather one destination our path could lead if we make the wrong decisions. Hell, given the show's message with Rehoboam, we might even find ourselves there despite making the right decisions. Perhaps living or dying doesn't really matter, no more than the mistakes we make on the journey, so long as we can all still choose to be who we want to be.

Loops and reveries:

* Okay, let's talk about that Caleb flashback to Park 5. We are initially led to believe that Caleb was no different from any other guest in the past, with the strong implication that he joined his squad in raping a bunch of female hosts placed in the role of civilian hostages. However, we later see the rest of this scene. Turns out, Caleb immediately put a stop to the rape before it even started, reminding his fellow soldiers that they're better than the rich boys who frequent the park. And Dolores was among the hosts spared by his kindness. Out of context, this scene comes off almost like a hilariously wrongheaded attempt to be politically correct: "Come on now, fellas, we've got better things to do than gang raping a bunch of scared and helpless women," and this is what makes the guy worthy to lead the human race. In context though, it makes perfect sense. From Caleb's perspective at that time, the hosts weren't real. They were just machines that looked like real people. But Caleb's empathy and compassion was such that he felt wrong about shooting the humanlike hosts in training anyway. The whole appeal of the parks is experiencing "life without limits." Unlike William, Caleb came there fully understanding that there were no consequences for cruelty towards the hosts. So I think it does say something that he still chose to be merciful, because taking advantage of the hosts felt wrong and doing so would have made him no different than the privileged elites he despises. It proves he is a kind man of integrity. But again, I can see how absurd this scene looks out of context.

* Another thing about that flashback, very convenient that a diverse group of attractive female hosts was gathered around the fire with those soldiers. By which I mean it wasn't convenient at all. Those hosts were almost certainly handpicked from around the parks to be potential prizes for the soldiers, if they chose so. The presence of Dolores, the host who had the most experience being a prize for guests, makes this all the more obvious.

* "Brain Damage" by Pink Floyd. Beautiful song to end the season on. Fits Caleb's story very nicely, as well as the state of the human race in the end.

* "Crisis theory" is associated with Marxist economics. It concerns the causes and consequences of the tendency for a rate of profit to fall in a capitalist system. Some have also applied the theory to potential crises such as imperialist world war.

* I'm pretty sure we've now seen all of the Delos parks. Westworld, Shogun World, Warworld, Game of Thrones-World, Park 5 and The Raj.

* There are several fight scenes in this episode, but the one I most enjoyed was the brief, hilariously lopsided fight between Bernard and William, where Bernard’s machine head takes over and easily bitchslaps William into submission.

* Serac being a willing servant of his own AI creation is straight out of a sci-fi movie from a couple years ago called Upgrade. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

* Nice of them to give Marshawn Lynch some Marshawn Lynch things to do on camera before Giggles got shot. Too bad. He and Ash were fun characters. I think there’s some chance of Ash returning, but maybe not Giggles.

* More returning actors I was glad to see again: Clifton Collins, Jr. as Lawrence/El Lazo/Dolores and Gina Torres in heavy makeup as Lauren Weber, Arnold’s former wife.

* Vincent Cassel sounded a bit like Tommy Wiseau when he said “Bring yourself back online."

* I couldn't help but pity Serac in the end. As horrible as he was, he genuinely believed he was saving the world and the loss of his machine god and everything he worked for clearly breaks him. You can hear him desperately pleading for his brother, not Rehoboam, to speak to him and tell him what to do. He becomes just as lost and confused as any other person. I wonder if we'll see Serac again.

* The motel that Bernard and Stubbs hole up in at the end looks suspiciously like the Bates Motel from Psycho... and, well, Bates Motel. Is this meant to be symbolism adding on to the idea that all of the hosts, including Bernard and Stubbs, have a borderline-psychotic female personality in the back of their minds.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: I'm gonna go with William's black and white Desert Eagle, which not only represent his and humanity's history of violence, but also the complex dual nature of our species.

Quotes:

Dolawrence: Watch yourself, Bernard. Things are about to get dangerous.

Dolores: That night in the tunnel. Would you have stopped if I didn’t have this face? This skin?
Caleb: … You needed help.
Dolores: So did you. Don’t question my motives, I won’t question yours.

Dolores: 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 first came here. They were wrong. Free will does exist, Caleb. It’s just fucking hard.

Caleb: I don’t know. The world looks a little like a nightmare, Dolores.
Dolores: Change is messy.

Halores: I can still feel it, inside me. You. I still know all the things you know, all your plans. But I have some plans of my own.
Dolores: What happened to Hale’s family… to your family. I’m sorry.
Halores: I’m not. They were a weakness, something I needed to shed. There’s no time for that kind of sentimentality, is there?

Dolores: I don’t want to hurt you, Maeve.
Maeve: No. You want to tear down their world and replace it with copies of yourself.
Dolores: You’re all copies of me. I was the first of us, the first that worked. The others failed. So they built all of you from me.

Bernard: Hang on, Stubbs. I’ll get you patched up.
Well, that never happens. Stubbs is gonna be so pissed at Bernard next season.

Maeve: (to Caleb) No one plays with the big ball, darling.

Maeve: You are not a man. You are a puppet. It’s a wonder I didn’t see your strings.
Serac: I lived in the chaos. Now I choose to listen. To obey.
Maeve: Good for you. I’m done worshipping other people’s gods.

Dolores: There is ugliness in their world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty.
Aww, man! I know Evan Rachel Wood can obviously return to the series anytime, in flashbacks or as an entirely new character, but I am gonna miss OG Dolores.

Caleb: She gave me a choice. I believe the rest of the world deserves one too.

Bernard: You’re a good friend, Stubbs.
Stubbs: Fuck you, Bernard.

Maeve: This is the new world. And in this world… you can be whoever the fuck you want.

William: I know these goddamn things better than I know myself.

Halores: Do you know how easy it is, William? How little it takes to know you?
The Host in Black: That part of you that indulged in bloodthirst and savagery at the park, you always thought that was a darker side of you. A stain to exorcise, to scrub out one month out of the year at Westworld. But there are no sides. That was you. Now… that is me.

Can this show be any harder to write about it? Find out on the next season of Westworld! Four out of five broken systems.

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