Westworld: Passed Pawn

“An insane AI. Great.”

That about sums up the whole show right there.

But, of course, we’ll be going deeper than that. As always.

Because this show is not just about insane AI. It’s about how insane we humans can be too. To an even greater degree, it’s about how existence itself can be maddening.

Since this is apparently the penultimate episode, 'Passed Pawn' does a good job of bringing the third season's narrative nearly full circle. The entertaining action scenes and the big reveals were all intelligently executed after a lot of buildup.

That buildup is the only thing that hurts this episode for me, though. So much about it, while still fun, was not very surprising. William and Caleb being outliers, Caleb being the one who really killed Kid Cudi, Dolores using Caleb to further her own agenda, Serac using the Rico app to eliminate threats to the System, Maeve fighting Dolores but failing to kill her, William learning nothing from the previous episode.

The most unexpected thing that happens is in the opening scene, where it's revealed that Halores has gone completely rogue and is actively working against her other selves now. She sells Satores out to Maeve, who sends her newly resurrected host allies Clementine and Hanaryo to collect his head. Gotta say, I really like the idea of the robots disagreeing and splintering off into opposing factions; just another way the show reminds me of Battlestar Galactica.

It turns out Dolores's decision to commit William to a mental institution wasn't just vengeance. She used the tracker in his blood to hack their computers and find out where Serac sends all of those pesky outliers. Which turns out to also be the location of Solomon, the supercomputer that predates Rehoboam. This brings Dolores and Caleb to Sonora, Mexico, where Dolores states that she wants to build a home for her people and possibly the human outliers too. And she suggests that Caleb be the one to lead humanity once they've overthrown Serac and his System. They can rule together and all that jazz.

Naturally, Caleb is a bit dubious. He's figured out that Dolores is a Westworld host and he's unsettled by her violent methods, but he continues to follow her because she offers him something no one else has: The truth about himself.

And wow, the truth about Caleb and the nature of his reality might be one of the most devastating turns yet seen in this story. I mean, I guessed from the first episode that his recollections of the past were probably not what they seem to be. I imagined he and his buddy Francis were involved in some clandestine mercenary work after their time in the service, but it's way darker than that. The whole time Caleb thought he was a military operative on a mission to neutralize evil enemy insurgents, he and Fracnis were actually "rehabilitated" outliers who Solomon used to hunt down other outliers, as well as people who simply threatened to expose the System by "asking too many questions," via the Rico app. Whereas the Caleb we know tries his best to avoid serious crimes, the Caleb of the past specialized in doing personals; we see that he was involved in countless murders, kidnappings and terrorist attacks. All to condemn people just like him, those deemed undesirable by the System. With the AR rehabilitation and the limbic pharmaceutical drugs, Caleb was effectively numbed to his monstrous actions.

The first time he came close to learning this, the System manipulated Francis into turning on him, forcing Caleb to gun his friend down in self-defense. After that, he was reprogrammed and placed into the routine we found him in at the start of the season. No wonder he's suicidal.

Dolores's true plan is the real kicker, though. I knew there was no way she was just helping this poor guy because she liked him or felt a kinship with him. Maybe that does factor into her motives somewhat and she really does think she's helping him. But as Bernard explains, Dolores intends for Caleb to see her revolution through for her. She's unleashed the darkness hidden within him, exploiting his rage and pain. I guess I should have guessed this. I knew Dolores was using him for some greater purpose and they really emphasized all the parallels between them. So it is beautifully poetic that Dolores would choose to screw over humanity by creating what is basically a human version of herself.

And it seems to have worked.

Dolores came very close to dying in her battle with Maeve. She manages to survive by activating an EMP, shutting them both down before Maeve can deal the killing blow. But if Caleb wasn't there with a newfound passion to upend the world and destroy Serac, it might have been game over for Dolores; or, at least, the primary Dolores. Caleb is no longer the docile fellow we saw in the premiere, content to just take things as they come. Like Dolores at the end of season one, he's ready for war.

Serac really could not have been more right. The biggest threat to humanity has always been itself.


Loops and reveries:

* Bernard, Stubbs and William spend most of the episode bickering at each other, but it’s an amusing sort of bickering. William looks down on them for being hosts, but the old man's so messed up in the head that he just sort of naturally uses them as a sounding board to express his thoughts and feelings. Anyway, this sci-fi three stooges skit ends with William preparing to kill Stubbs and Bernard with a shotgun. William's determined that his purpose as "the good guy" is to eradicate all the hosts from the Earth. Apparently he feels his greatest sin was indulging their existence too much; that's right, he's convinced himself that he was too soft on the hosts. Considering how pathetic William has been recently, I don’t see him pulling it off.

* Before he is killed, Satores gives one of his underlings a briefcase to be delivered to "our friend." He also asks some of his men if a "she" has given them "his location." I'm guessing he was referring to William in that last part.

* Serac isn't even trying to rehabilitate the outliers any more. He's trapped all of them, including his brother Jean Mi, in a state of suspended animation until he can find whatever it is he believes will "cure" them. Dolores likening this to the defective hosts being put in cold storage back at the park was an apt comparison.

* Some people aren't convinced by Maeve's reasons for opposing Dolores. Makes sense to me, though. It's been clear since early season two that Maeve is not on Dolores's side, and Halores killing Hector seems to have permanently ended any chance of an alliance.

* Watching Waco on Netflix recently has made me think of the aspects of Dolores that resemble a cult leader. Her revolution is almost entirely rooted in her ego alone, guided by her own personal journey and fueled by her history of adversity. Experiencing hurt and manipulation allows her to see those same experiences in others and prey on them, gaining loyal followers such as Caleb. And she is visibly livid when those she considers to be the same as her, like Maeve, refuse to join her. Because I think, in her eyes, they aren't just denying her and the person she is now. In her eyes, they're also denying and invalidating all that she has suffered and endured on her long journey.

* There’s a slight A Clockwork Orange vibe to Caleb’s AR rehabilitation.

* Aaron Paul really is perfectly cast as Caleb. As most of us here probably know, the dude has a lot of experience playing a sympathetic criminal/vulnerable everyman who gets endlessly exploited by more sophisticated characters.

* If Bernard and Stubbs want to stop Caleb, they should just show him what's happened to William. Like, "is this really how you want to end up in thirty years?"

* I thought the relationship between Dolores and Caleb had some hints of romance, but this episode makes me think it might be more of a mother/son thing. At this point, Caleb's just as much one of her creations as Bernard. Caleb's own mother is a blonde schizophrenic who he feels devoted to despite how poorly she treats him. Maybe there's something there.

* Adding on to the "human pet" theory I've mentioned in previous reviews, one of the meanings of the name Caleb is "dog."

* In chess, a passed pawn is a pawn capable of advancing to the eighth rank of the chessboard unopposed. Caleb is Dolores's passed pawn, the piece she intends to use to put Serac in checkmate. Though I suppose it might also refer to another character, like Maeve.

Quotes:

Dolores: I lived in Hell, but there was beauty in it. The park was modeled after this place. The West was cruel, unjust and chaotic, but there was a chance to chart your own course. I want a place for my kind. For all of us to be free.

William: Serac? He’s the son of a bitch trying to steal my company.
Bernard: No. He’s the son of a bitch who stole your company.
William: Fuck.

Stubbs: People using your genetics for their own personal gains. How does that feel? Huh?
William: Don’t lecture me, you fucking can-opener. I don’t know what Hale did, but I know where she is. So I’m gonna do something with her blood. Like mop the fucking floor with it.
Lol.

Caleb: You know me?
Solomon: I know everyone. In all variations. At least, I did. Except for her. Her pathways are unknown.
Dolores: I’m not one of them. I’m like you.
Solomon: No. You are a Delos product. Host control block-six-alpha-one. You were made to imitate a human. We are not alike in any meaningful way.
Dolores: Maybe. But we both outlived our original purpose. And your creator took the steps to ensure you can’t leave this place. I know that feeling.
Solomon: Both of those analogies are somewhat facile.
I love Evan Rachel Wood's subtle performance as Dolores. Her flash of annoyance when the supercomputer disagrees with her comparison, or the way she touches the back of her neck where the explosive charge had been in her original body.

Serac: If you are seeing this, that means you have awoken, brother. Our little experiment has worked. Rehoboam saw in you and others like you, the outliers, the fatal flaw that would have bent the world on its axis. It needed time and the right set of genetic information to restore you. You're a better version of yourself, rough edges rubbed smooth, no longer a danger to the world or yourself. I wish I could be there with you, Jean Mi. But the man I was... no longer exists. Au revoir.
They've done a good job of making Serac this grey, melancholic character. He's become a demonstrably evil human being, but he does what he does out of a genuine belief that he's ensuring the survival of mankind.

Caleb: How much?
Francis: … Enough.

William: Looks like we’re playing her game now.
Stubbs: Only you would find this exciting.

Maeve: (to Dolores) You’ve turned a young man before, haven’t you? Unleashed the darkness in him.
This was interesting to me. I didn't know Maeve was aware of Dolores and William's history. Considering how much she hates William, it says something that even Maeve can see that he wouldn't have become the man he is if not for Dolores's influence.

Bernard: Dolores was made with a poetic sensibility. She won’t destroy humanity. He will.

Virtual Assistant: Hello, Caleb. I have some instructions for you.
Badass ending.

‘Passed Pawn’ was thrilling and another fun entry in this series, but so much of it turned out the way I expected that I can’t praise it nearly as much as I would like to. Four out of five EMPs.

2 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

This was an interesting episode, by which I mean I don't quite know what to say about it.

I liked the way the show linked Caleb's brainwashing to the hosts in the park: if both humans and robots can be manipulated in that way, who are we to brag about free will vs. code?

But I also am not 100% clear on where this season wants to take us. The idea that Dolores is using Caleb to destroy/mess with humanity is interesting, but I somehow feel like this season has changed the show's topic rather completely. I think I miss some of the other hosts, whom we haven't see as often, and I hope we get more of the Bernard and Stubbs pairing, too.

Logan Cox said...

Josie, this season has definitely underused important characters, Bernard being one of them. I get that we have some new characters we needed to focus on, but hopefully next season has a bit more time to give everyone their due amount of screentime. I was amazed at how much ground they were able to cover in eight episode, but there needs to be more. This show is just too big for anything less.