Rohoboam’s true purpose is revealed, and Dolores’ ultimate mission expands to cover all of humanity.
Dystopian science fiction is often concerned with one big, overarching question: How much control should we have over our lives? Even as COVID-19 rages across the country, it’s tempting to shout at the people who are still walking around, taking runs, jogging without masks: if we all do this right, we can curb the coronavirus by summer! What do you do with such selfish, irresponsible people? That deeply understandable, self-destructively human impulse to impose our idea of the greater good on others is one which shows like Westworld understand all too well. In season 3 episode 5 of Westworld, “Genre”, we more deeply understand the broader threat Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) et al. are fighting against — she’s not just fighting for freedom for her robot brethren, but for everyone.
“Genre” is as much a character-building episode for our mysterious villain of the season, Serac (Vincent Cassel) as anything else. Spending almost all of the episode on his fancy, Thunderbirds-like jet watching events unfold, he also reflects on the circumstances that brought him here. Through Rohoboam-fueled flashbacks, we see a young Serac (Alexandre Bar) building what will become his all-encompassing predictive computer Rohoboam, with the help of his unpredictable genius brother Jean (Paul Cooper), with the help of funding from skeptical, snooty business magnate Liam Dempsey Sr. (Jefferson Mays). They want to use it to change the world (understandable, given that they’re orphaned from a nuked-out Paris) for the better; Dempsey just wants to use it to get rich.
It’s here that we get a bit more about how and why Serac wants to use Rohoboam to fix humanity, and the various permutations that takes: like another prestige sci-fi drama running right now, Alex Garland’s Devs, the machine at the heart of Westworld is meant to save humanity by predicting it — using social data mining to chart our pasts, and ergo determine our futures. But as we learn this episode, Serac uses it one step further: not just determining where we’ll end up, but engineering outcomes to get us there by ‘editing’ our fates. The violent, the suicidal, the mentally ill are all obstacles to humanity’s progress. The solution, then, is to throw them into the meat grinder of wars, conflict, and despair to weed them out before they ruin humanity. “There is no future for us as long as we have them,” he says. Of course, he’s not immune to sin, as we learn when he stages Liam Sr.’s death by driving him to the crash site of his own jet and bashing his head in. “You didn’t make it.”
This, of course, ties into the story of Caleb (Aaron Paul), a man haunted by the experiences he had in wartime, implicitly at the hands of Insight, an example of the kind of disposable pawn Insight tried to improve or eliminate by editing their lives out of society. Now dragging a penniless Liam Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.) through the streets with Dolores, he ends up going on a strange cognitive journey of his own when Liam tries to escape by jabbing him with the “Genre” drug mentioned last episode. As we’ve been told, it’s a psychedelic drug that throws you from one film/media ‘genre’ to another, from black-and-white Hollywood to romance film and everything in between.
Ever since Westworld left the parks, it’s looked for all kinds of excuses to include the first two seasons’ penchant for cheeky music choices, and this is, unfortunately, one of the most forced yet. It’s a neat idea, and the hour’s first half, an extended chase sequence as Dolores and Caleb hack a self-driving car and shoot self-guided RPGs at enemy vehicles, is one of the show’s most exciting. But the Genre effect is frustratingly mild, manifesting mostly in some black-and-white filters, off-kilter scoring (muted horns for the silent-era, sweeping strings for romance, an on-the-nose Flight of the Valkyries needle drop) and Paul bugging his eyes out slightly. It all amounts to a series of stylized action moments that feel like they could have just existed for their own sake, without introducing a drug that doesn’t really have much of an impact on Caleb’s functionality — he can still shoot and sense just fine — or Paul’s performance. (Still, the subway lights pounding in time to Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” was awesome, I’ll admit.)
But the real meat of the hour comes when they’re bailed out by Caleb’s old RICO buddies Ash (Lena Waithe) and Giggles (Marshawn Lynch, still wearing that fly-as-hell T-shirt with the glowing word cloud), and Dolores reveals her master plan: to release all of Insight’s profiles on everyone in the world — their pasts, presents, and most importantly, their futures. Liam protests, of course: “Our entire society is built on hope” for a better future, he says. “False hope,” Caleb says. He lays everything out with a war story about setting a trap for rats to fall into a drum of shallow water, allowing them to drown instantly. But fill the drum up with too much water, he says, and the rats spend hours floundering in false hope that they can climb out. “I would rather live in chaos than a world controlled by you,” Caleb seethes.
Ever since Westworld left the parks, it’s looked for all kinds of excuses to include the first two seasons’ penchant for cheeky music choices, and this is, unfortunately, one of the most forced yet.
Riding on a crowded subway car, Dolores releases the Insight profiles, and we immediately see the effects: people stare at their phones, learning how and when they’ll die, or what horrible fates await their loved ones. Exiting the subway (to a sad slow cover of “Space Oddity,” naturally), the world descends into infighting and chaos. “They’ve retreated to their base selves,” says Liam Jr. With the Shining theme playing oh-so-obviously, they take him to the bridge where Rohoboam predicts Caleb himself will commit suicide in a decade; no longer needing him, Ash shoots Liam dead, and she and Giggles leave.
All season, Dolores’s presence has been framed as a doom to humankind — destruction of man as penance for the sins they have foisted on robotkind. In “Genre,” we see her modus operandi expand to save humanity from the same systems of control that beset the hosts in Westworld. “We’re taking them off their loops,” she says of the humans she sees let loose from the world. Season 3 of Westworld seems uniquely focused on the age-old question of whether our fate is set, or whether we can do something to change it. Is Caleb fated to kill himself on a bridge one lonely, windswept night? Or can he, and the rest of humanity, find a way to escape the rails Rohoboam has put them on?
- Serac’s first name is “Engerraund”? Sheesh, okay. No wonder he’s got a supervillain complex with that word salad.
- Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) is back! You just can’t keep a good Hemsworth down. I didn’t mention the Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) stuff because it feels fairly vestigial to the rest of the episode, but it’s important to note that the Bernard/Stubbs dream team is together again, replicated Dolores-hosted fixer Connells (Tommy Flanagan) blows himself up along with Pom Klementieff, and that particular loose end is now closed. “My role is finished,” Dolores-Connells says, presumably referring as much to his role in the show’s script as his role in the robo-lution.
- What does Liam mean when he tells Caleb “you did it” in his dying moments?
- What does the freelancer hand Caleb at the end of the episode? What’s in the long duffel bag? A sniper rifle? Some other gadget?
- Ending the episode on the absolute banger that is Fisherspooner’s “Emerge” is a killer way to send us into the final leg of the season.