Three episodes into this new season, and the battle lines feel pretty sharply drawn on Westworld, though this newest episode, “The Absence of Field,” does put one character squarely in the middle of that conflict thanks to her now chaotic allegiances. While the plot moves forward in other areas — specifically in regards to Caleb — it’s really all about Charlotte Hale this week.
Or, more specifically, “Charlotte,” as this recap will refer to the host body that resembles the former Delos executive, currently implanted with a different personality. One of the season’s biggest question marks is who, exactly, is rattling around inside the head of the woman who looks like Charlotte Elizabeth Hale, and the writers of Westworld, remaining forever true to themselves, choose for it to remain mysterious even by the end of the episode. The one thing known for sure: Whoever is in there has a lot on her (or his) plate.
Tessa Thompson deserves special notice here for playing not just this new incarnation of her former form, but for the real Charlotte’s desperate message for her son, capturing a mother’s terror, grief, and love during a violent, impossible moment. Charlotte would of course survive the initial night of the massacre and stop at nothing, including murder, to betray Delos and feed Engerraund Serac the data. But as we see in the opening moments of “The Absence of Field,” in that moment of terror, she’s thinking about her son.
In the present day (to the best of our knowledge), “Charlotte” and Dolores come face-to-face in a time period just after the former’s recreation, as Dolores makes the mission clear: “Charlotte” has to maintain her position at Delos, while Dolores works to bring the system down on a global scale.
Delos, “Charlotte” learns, is under attack thanks to an unknown entity who has been buying bits of stock in micro-transactions for years, and now owns 38 percent of the company, making it the single largest entity in control. Her assistant Irene (notably super-pregnant) manages to discern that said single largest entity, while impressively anonymous, is probably worth one trillion dollars — no points for guessing that the man in question is Maeve’s new pal Serac.
While trying to maintain the image of a confident boss bitch, “Charlotte’s” not doing a great job playing the other side of her role. While the original Charlotte’s relationship with her ex-husband was clearly a mess even before her fatal trip to Westworld, she did clearly love her son Nathan, who seems at least subconsciously aware that whoever “Charlotte” is now, she’s not his real mother.
“Charlotte” does take steps, by the end of the episode, to do what she can to fix that, though her solution (killing a child predator and stealing his dog) isn’t perhaps the most conventional. However, she’s also been busy trying to decode a series of odd tones on her phone — the key to which is Nathan’s lullaby, “You Are My Sunshine.” Unlocking that secret leads to a face-to-virtual-face meeting with Serac, who it’s confirmed was working with the original Charlotte to smuggle Delos data out of the park. The data is within their grasp, Serac says, but the key to decoding it is inside the brain of Dolores — and he makes it clear that “Charlotte” needs to get it for him.
Of course, who is “Charlotte”? In the opening minutes of the episode, we watch a new host being created from scratch in the house that Dolores somewhat inherited from Arnold, and the brown eyes make it pretty clear that it’s a Charlotte model. This raises the question of why Dolores would need to build a new Charlotte, given that she literally left the island in that body — but the answer might be found in “Charlotte’s” self-destructive tendencies. If whoever is in “Charlotte” became so unstable that he/she tore apart, that would require a new body to be made for Dolores’ plan to work.
As we can see, though, whoever’s in there is definitely not handling it well, and there are plenty of guesses to be made about what spirit is struggling underneath Charlotte’s skin, including the possibility of Teddy, Maeve, Clementine, or even Dolores’ father Peter Abernathy. While, based on “Charlotte’s” speech patterns in her first scene with Dolores here, it feels like a safe bet that the personality in question is a former Westworld host, some of those guesses seem much less likely than others. Teddy, after all, is supposed to be in Robot Heaven right now, and Maeve’s brain has gone off on its own adventure.
Right now, my favorite theory is Dolores — or, to be specific, the extra personality implanted in Dolores back in season one known as “Wyatt.” While part of Dolores’ season two journey was coming to terms with the violent force inside her head responsible for multiple massacres, it’s hardly impossible that, since then, she found a way to remove that secondary persona and put it in its own memory core.
This is the explanation that fits best with a number of Dolores’ lines, most especially “no one knows you like me, and no one knows me like you.” And it also explains why the moment when “Charlotte” says that “I remember what it’s like to be me” comes when she’s literally murdering Tommy, the man on the verge of molesting young Nathan. And it adds a beauty and intimacy to the sequence in which a frayed “Charlotte” calls Dolores for help, and Dolores calmly heals her woulds and cradles her — this show’s unique interpretation of “self-care.”
Speaking of Dolores… “The Absence of Field” also takes us back to the night Dolores was nearly killed by Incite’s henchmen, collapsing in the confused Caleb’s arms. Having no idea that she’s a robot (why would he?) he calls for help and gets her into an ambulance — though, when his RICO app flags that a “high value target” just happens to be right at his location, he realizes that she’s in serious danger, even before two crooked cops pull the ambulance over.
After the cops kill the EMTs, Dolores kills both cops then leaves, telling Caleb that he needs to run — advice he probably wishes he had taken the next day, when he gets flagged as another “high value target” while trying to visit his mother, and two goons nearly kill him to get information about where Dolores is. Dolores shows up right in the nick of time, saving Caleb, and then presenting him with a very grim look at both his past and his future.
The Incite system known as Rehoboam (thanks again to everyone who wrote in after the first episode with the proper spelling) has taken all the raw information about Caleb to not only create a complete record of his “worst fucking memory,” but a data-driven prediction about his time and cause of death. (Suicide in 10 to 12 years, on the pier near the diner where his mother abandoned him.) Dolores offers him a choice beyond those predictions — to join her revolution. And he’s all in.
One element that feels important to note here is that the two major threads of this episode — “Charlotte’s” attempts to reintegrate into the original Hale’s life, and Caleb saving Dolores and then Dolores saving Caleb — feel like they could be happening simultaneously… but of course, as Westworld viewers, we know way, way better than to trust that. Same is true of Bernard’s own path, for what it’s worth, as his journey back to the Westworld island could have happened months further in the future, or maybe even just weeks after the massacre.
Those are only a few of the questions lurking, and we’re not even halfway through the season yet. It’s an incredibly dense hour, as the length of this recap might suggest, and yet also the type of episode that will suffer or soar based on what comes next. Some of these mysteries are more frustrating than others — but we can only hope the payoff is worth it.
The Questions Beyond
• If you haven’t already read Justin Davidson’s deep dive into the architecture of this season, I suggest you fix that, especially given how well it digs into how the creators used Singapore locations to represent the future of Los Angeles.
• Early in the episode, “Charlotte” takes a moment to pet one of the riot control robots recently ordered by “the Saudis.” While the Westworld massacre ended up changing their minds about completing the purchase, what is going on in Saudi Arabia that would require 300 Robocop-esque enforcement droids?
• The symbols that “Charlotte” is cutting into her skin are clearly not random — the circle and line design, spanning her chest and down her arm, invoke thoughts of circuitry, or mechanical design. Far less elaborate than the Maze, but perhaps invoking an idea of equal significance.
• Michael Ealy’s appearance as the former Mr. Hale is a delightful reminder of the tragically canceled but very entertaining Fox series Almost Human, in which he played a robot cop partnered with human cop Karl Urban. It was far from a perfect show, but if Westworld’s got you itching for more robot fun, Almost Human is currently streaming on the ad-supported IMDB TV.
• A great detail from the scene in the ambulance is that the EMTs won’t start helping Dolores until they can get a “diagnosis and a treatment plan” — meaning that even basic first aid is under some level of A.I. control in the future. The way Caleb steps in to start helping her also reveals his training as at least some level of field medic, which raises new questions about what, exactly, he was doing while he was in the military.
• The episode title seems to come from poet Mark Strand’s “Keeping Things Whole,” should you care to read it.
• Rest in peace, George the robot. You only wanted to take care of your friend.