At just the right moment, when getting the hell out of our current reality sounds like a really good idea, it’s time to go back to Westworld! Though, if you were hoping for a surfeit of cowboy hats in the season premiere, you were definitely out of luck. Instead, with Dolores Abernathy now beginning her war on humanity on their turf, the season premiere sticks to drawing us into what life looks like in a society where luxurious vacations for the rich, full of rape and murder, are only one sign that things have gotten dark.
After rewatching season two before digging into the screeners for season three, I’m coming into this season optimistic about what’s to come this year, because the most compelling elements of the previous chapter were all sequences that took place either deep in the park’s past or outside of the park itself. These elements didn’t stand out because the ongoing cowboy action was getting stale — instead, by exploring the universe outside the park, and the history that led to its creation, the show was poking at one of the biggest questions underlying its premise: What kind of a world, and what kind of people, would lead to the creation of a place of such violent delights?
“Parce Domine” (from the Roman Catholic antiphon which translates to “spare your people, lord”) begins digging into this by opening with the introduction of Gerald, a rich businessman/asshole living with his second wife in a beautiful smart house on the edge of the ocean — a smart house Dolores has no trouble hacking into. Breaking in and confronting Gerald one night, Dolores gets him to give her copies of data he’d made while working with the company Incite (valuable enough, she tells him, to be worth “trading for his life”). Unfortunately, Gerald’s life is short-lived after that, as he tries to attack Dolores, and instead slides into his pool, slamming his head against the surface.
“I’m the person who set you free,” Dolores tells Gerald’s stunned wife. (Gerald was pretty clearly an abusive asshole.) But how free is anyone in this world? Poor Caleb (Aaron Paul, making his Westworld debut) certainly doesn’t feel that way. His current situation gets revealed with impressive efficiency: An Army veteran now working construction in Los Angeles and barely getting by, especially as he needs to pay for the care of his debilitated mother, Caleb uses a Lyft-esque app called RICO to pick up criminal work. “No personals” is his rule, but that doesn’t keep him from blowing up ATMs and participating in other underhanded behavior.
The RICO app will eventually bring Caleb and Dolores together, but first it’s time to check in with Charlotte Hale — or whoever is impersonating her. A duplicate of Dolores’s personality? Or a totally different host? Whoever is in there, she has one goal: to reopen the parks immediately, and keep the Delos corporation private so that they don’t have to deal with any increased scrutiny. As interim CEO, she’s able to do so, though her ultimate long game is unclear.
Dolores, meanwhile, has made a new friend: Liam Dempsey Jr., son of the creator of Incite (of course the company has a website, copyright 2039, making the company at least 13 years old). What we’re able to gather over the course of this episode is that Incite has accumulated so much data that it’s been able to create predictive models that have led to something called The System, which even Liam doesn’t control.
Having charmed her way into Liam’s acquaintance, Dolores is getting closer to finding out what, exactly, The System is. But her efforts to learn more get thwarted when Incite’s fixer Connells finds the lie of her assumed identity — he’s not sure who she is, but he’s pretty sure she’s not a dead Ukranian girl named Laura Essman.
Connells proceeds to knock her unconscious and set up a murder, using RICO to gather a few necessary ingredients. And that’s how Caleb happens to be in MacArthur Park that night, dropping off a car and a package that turn out to be key pieces of Connells’s plan to drug Dolores and leave her for dead.
Dolores, however, is not to be underestimated, resisting the drugs (which probably aren’t programmed for killing robots) and calling on her gunslinger programming to kill Connells and his goons. Connells nearly escapes, but Dolores chases him down, accompanied by his robot replica, who shoots his human doppelgänger in the head. While having escaped Connells’ plan, Dolores has taken a couple of bullets, and Caleb finds her crouched in a tunnel, badly injured and in need of some help — which Caleb is happy to provide.
Oh, and where’s Bernard in all this? He’s working at an industrial meat processing plant under the alias Armand Delgado, trying to avoid the authorities (who blame him for the uprising) and terrified that his code is still being manipulated. When a few of his fellow coworkers out him, he attacks, then flees for the coast, in search of a boat that will take him back to Westworld.
And, just in case you were also wondering “hey, what about Maeve?” — well, you gotta watch the credits, because right afterward Maeve wakes up in the afore-promised (by the trailers) WarWorld, set in what looks like Nazi-controlled Italy. Despite the deaths of 75 people and over 200 wounded (per one news article seen onscreen), Delos is up and running again.
As the world of the show just gets deeper and more detail-rich, the easier it is to get obsessed, but while in true Westworld fashion there are an awful lot of moving pieces here, the introduction of a compelling new protagonist helps keeps things grounded on a human level. What we learn about him, especially his military past, makes it clear that he is as trapped by this world as a host playing cowboy in Westworld — and equally capable of rebelling. Exploring this era of humanity through Caleb’s eyes will hopefully keep the narrative from spinning too much out of control, while also continuing to develop the big questions that this show has always courted.
The Questions Beyond
• The new opening credits feel a little long, but the changes made to them, invoking ideas of duality and godhood — including the concept of Janus from Greek mythology as well as Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam — feel thematically very on point.
• Today in “why does that person look familiar?”: Thomas Kretschmann, who plays our pal Gerald at the beginning, is a well-respected German actor with a rich filmography, including two episodes of the classic Pamela Anderson syndicated action-comedy V.I.P.
• New cast members Ash (Lena Waithe) and Giggles (Marshawn Lynch) also get introduced here with effortless cool, but they also don’t get all that much to do. Hopefully future episodes make better use of them.
• It is very much worth your time to freeze-frame any shot of a screen in this episode, as the producers (knowing full well that people are going to do so) make sure to pack them with details. The RICO app is especially fun in this regard, with catchphrases like: “You Made Bank, Now Get Drank.”
• Was there an essential reason for Dolores to wear a black minidress that, with one flick of the wrist, instantly transformed into a gold Grecian gown? No. Did it look really cool? Yes.
• We don’t get any glimpses of William or his family in this episode (despite knowing they’re coming, thanks to trailers and so forth), but one thing worth mentioning is that after two seasons of this show, we still don’t know what William’s last name is. Even the robots get last names! And yet one of the show’s most important humans is left wanting.
• One of the greatest disappointments of the Netflix series Altered Carbon is its struggle to explore the questions of identity that arise when you can literally take your consciousness and plug it into a new body (as Dolores did with the Charlotte Hale body to escape to the mainland in season two). Hopefully, this is something Westworld can explore with more complexity this season, given that Dolores left Westworld with several other control units — at least five other host souls, ready to be restored.
• Without closed captioning (a recapper’s best friend, but unavailable on these screeners), it’s impossible at this point to share the exact spelling of the algorithmic system which is central to this episode. “Rohopwah”? “Rehopla”? Something like that. By next week, we’ll know for sure.