Last week, after Westworld briefly introduced the drug Genre, it wasn’t hard to guess, based on the title for the next episode, that its set-up would be paid off quickly. But the chaotic, often thrilling “Genre” does play against one key assumption: That, as in Watchmen’s “This Extraordinary Being,” the drug would serve as a catalyst for a key character’s flashbacks.
No, instead the flashbacks taking up a bulk of the episode are all Serac’s, as he essentially narrates a love letter to his god/creation, the current incarnation of Rehoboam. Many of the key details of his story have been known for a while — most importantly, the deal with Incite that gave him access to the massive amounts of data necessary to build “the system,” becoming insanely wealthy and powerful.
But “Genre” does follow up on the brief glimpse of another boy in Serac’s flashback to the destruction of Paris, becoming a tale of two brothers who “came to the new world with one goal: to build a god.” Serac narrates in detail what that quest has meant for him, essentially laying out all the details of his supervillain plan — control all of human society by using people’s personal data to not just predict their life choices, but dictate their futures. And, for those who fail to conform within the boundaries the system imposes on them, there are his “reeducation centers,” where people including Serac’s brother can theoretically be programmed to fit in better.
Oh, and Serac is willing to do anything, including experiment on his own brother and murder Liam Dempsey Senior, to preserve the system. Like I said, supervillain. Though what Dolores manages to set in motion this week definitely brings in some shades of gray.
Having successfully captured Liam Jr., Dolores and Caleb keep moving to evade Serac’s security forces, who are hot on their trail — the one potential catch is that Liam, in an attempt to slip away, drugs Caleb with the dose of Genre that his friend had previously given him. Fortunately, while Caleb is disoriented, it doesn’t hinder their ability to escape too badly — and also leads to some surreal riffs on the usual Westworld action.
Because Genre is basically the drug trip equivalent of “a film festival,” this means director Anna Foerster gets to play with the visual stylization of some scenes, as seen from Caleb’s point of view. Some stand out more than others, with the first level of black and white cinema, interlaced with the reality of color, proving to be the most notable.
It’s really the music, though, which elevates these sequences, beginning with a strong noir-influenced track beautifully mashed up with Ramin Djawadi’s always exciting modern-era score. Then, as the battle on the streets of Los Angeles intensifies, in comes Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to invoke memories of Apocalypse Now and other famous battle scenes.
The third stage of Caleb’s trip goes to a pretty literal place: as Caleb gazes upon Dolores in the middle of battle, the instrumental theme from the 1970 film Love Story, written by Francis Lai, begins to pluck at his heartstrings. (For all the Caleb/Dolores ‘shippers out there, it’s important to remember here that Love Story is a tragedy.)
Snapping him out of it is the arrival of Cal’s RICO app friends, Ash and Giggles, who show up just in time to help fight off the Serac goons. Meanwhile, Dolores has gotten the code she needs from Liam Jr. to help her break into the Rehoboam system — and because she has the ability to be in two places at once, she’s able to send it to her Connells counterpart, who has Bernard under his control as they infiltrate the facility. Stubbs tracks them down, but “Connells” has already performed his part of Dolores’ plan, and tells Bernard and Stubbs to leave, because Bernard is the only one who can’t be replaced.
Caleb’s fourth trip kicks in as the gang descends into the train station (visually, not much stands out about this section, though the music choice is Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s “Nightclubbing,” as featured in Trainspotting, and they look very cool while walking through the turnstiles). Once on board the subway, Dolores declares her intention to unleash the world’s Incite data profiles — encompassing their past, present and future behaviors. It’s something which Liam Jr. argues against, because people don’t want to know the truths about their own lives (and provides some hard evidence of this to Ash and Giggles). But Dolores cannot be stopped, and Caleb is on her side. For all those who worry that this show can get a little too vague or hard to understand thematically, there’s this exchange to help clear things up:
Liam Jr.: “Hope is what our society is built on.”
Caleb: “False hope. I would rather live in chaos than in a world controlled by you.”
Based on everything we know about Caleb, and the way he’s been manipulated his entire life, his position here is understandable. But the release of the data does in fact generate the chaos Liam predicted, with also moments of quiet heartbreak, such as a woman looking at Incite’s prediction that her young daughter will die by suicide in five to eight years, and then running her finger over the girl’s wrist.
The further repercussions of this get put aside as Dolores and her team keep moving to avoid Serac’s agents. (Caleb is coming out of his trip, hit now by the fifth stage, which Giggles explains to him is “reality.”) When two agents dive out of a car to take aim at Caleb, Dolores instantly puts herself in front of the bullets meant for him — Caleb is less stunned by the agents’ deaths and more taken aback by the fact that Dolores just got shot, and just zips up her jacket and moves on.
Dolores keeps them moving, heading towards the airfield, by way of a trip to the beach. There, Liam Jr. breaks down about how inferior people like them are what makes the world a prison, and Ash decides to execute some free will and shoots him, taking his glasses with her as she and Giggles leave. Caleb tries to help, but with his dying breaths, Liam keeps chanting “you did it.” Earlier, when Liam had looked at Caleb via his portal into the system, he saw something that horrified him — potentially tied to Caleb’s military past (as hinted at in flashes of memory), potentially tied to an even bigger threat to the existence of everything.
It’s an exchange that seems to haunt him: “Maybe I’m not like other people,” Caleb tells Dolores, probably the beginning of a much bigger conversation. “Neither am I,” she says, in a very Dolores sort of way — just human enough, it doesn’t matter that she isn’t.
“Genre” is a jam-packed episode, filled with details about the past, the potential collapse of society and some very solid needle drops. But the biggest question this episode brings up is more of a meta one than a plot-related one: How many more seasons of Westworld can we expect? In the early days of the series, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan said they had years of story they could imagine telling. However, the major events of “Genre,” specifically the release of the world’s data directly to its citizens, could easily have served as a season finale — specifically, the season finale for a penultimate season.
It’s not that season three is feeling rushed (though boy, that sure was a lot of exposition from Serac this week), but there are three episodes left in this season and it’s not hard to imagine the show finding a way to wrap up its remaining storylines and delivering a surprise series finale in a few weeks. Shows have done it before. And Westworld does like to keep us on our toes.
The Questions Beyond
• By and large, Westworld has managed to maintain a certain level of escapism, if only because it takes place far enough in the future to avoid dwelling on current events. But it’s never fun to see TV shows use real world footage in apocalypse montages, especially right now.
• So was Liam Jr. just wearing his BASIC T-shirt as the undershirt for his fancy tuxedo? What is the hidden significance of that choice? Is it an indicator that Liam Jr. isn’t exactly a computer genius, despite his family’s legacy? Is he just old-school? Or, to borrow a phrase from Eleanor Shellstrop, does it just mean the obvious?
• If you’re not an obsessive freeze-framer, then you might have missed the quick flash of Enrico Colantoni (beloved from many roles, including Veronica Mars, Galaxy Quest, and multiple appearances on Jonathan Nolan’s Person of Interest) in Caleb’s flashbacks — but the closing credits confirms that he is playing a character named Whitman, who we’ll likely see more of soon.
• Speaking of casting, Guardians of the Galaxy star Pom Klementieff has probably made her last brief appearance (of two brief appearances) this season, after being exploded by “Connells” as part of his final gambit. So far this season, this show has been very good about finding intriguing actors … and only using them briefly.
• Please let Lena Waithe come back soon. Ash’s scenes with Liam did a lot to be affecting with maximum efficiency, and the fact that she pocketed his glasses before leaving feels like an important plant for the future.
• The fact that Caleb hasn’t exactly realized who Dolores is (or, to be clear, what she is) raises a bigger question: Not every American has been to Disney World, but the vast majority knows that it exists — so just how aware is the general public in 2059 that people can take very expensive vacations to a mysterious island, populated by extremely humanlike robots to which you can do anything you want? While the massacre at the parks seemed to make the news, the extent of what was happening there before Dolores’s revolution may not have been public knowledge.
• And, well, even if the full extent of the parks was common knowledge, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d expect to encounter an animatronic pirate wandering around downtown Los Angeles.