The disparate players merge on the chessboard as Westworld starts making some game-changing moves.
Westworld season 3 has been starkly defined by both its dramatic departure from the robot-park premise of its first two seasons and its convoluted plots and timelines; while it’s more streamlined than it’s ever been, it’s also felt a bit more generic. But now that we’re halfway through the season, episode 4, “The Mother of Exiles,” sees all of the show’s remaining players converge and the plot chugging along apace, making for a plot-heavy episode that serves up a few more major changes to the status quo.
First off, we finally get to see what’s happened to the Man in Black himself, William (Ed Harris) since the head-scratching events of season 2. He’s holed up in his home, haunted by not only the guilt of killing his daughter (Katja Herbers) in the park, but by the prospect that he himself may not be real. “What if every choice you ever made wasn’t a choice at all?” his daughter taunts him in a vision; the opening sequence is as disorienting for us as it is for William, though Harris infuses him with an appropriate level of anguish. It’s nice to see him back.
But we also learn that he’s essentially under house arrest courtesy of “Charlotte” (Tessa Thompson), who suddenly needs him to make a surprise reappearance in front of the Delos board to head off Serac’s (Vincent Cassel) hostile takeover; she needs his votes to take the company private at an emergency shareholder meeting. More on that later.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who swam to the mainland for the purposes of finding and deactivating Dolores with a key fob doohickey that Bernard has invented. Stubbs apparently doesn’t have any more function in his left arm (though we see him use it just fine later?), but he’s got enough arm strength to open up a brewski as they go over their plan.
Turns out most of our respective players will converge at a ritzy one-percenter sex club, Eyes Wide Shut style, where Liam Dempsey, Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.) plans to be seen as he tries to get over Dolores/Lara (Evan Rachel Wood), with the help of newly-converted security guy Connells (Tommy Flanagan). Now a host in thrall to Dolores, he manipulates the fussy Liam into giving up his biometric hash key, which she and Caleb (Aaron Paul) can then use to steal his fortune away. This particular sequence, which involves a fair amount of rich-guy-heist mechanics involving stolen encryption-key blood, is decently handled, though it’s tough to really build tension out of events that have to happen simply for the plot to unfold.
All of it is so much filler just to get to the ritzy sex club itself, though that at least delivers the goods as a mid-season action setpiece. Fitting to the obscene excess of Westworld‘s techno-riche, the party involves designer drugs that filter your world through various “genres” (too bad we don’t get to see any of that) and high-priced sex workers in skimpy haute couture outfits, whose top-dollar price tags go to charity, apparently. Liam’s ambivalent about actually engaging in any transactional hanky-panky, much to the chagrin of his obnoxiously wealthy friends (possibly because Connells calls him out on it earlier in the day).
But he doesn’t get to think about it for long, as both Dolores/Caleb and Bernard/Stubbs converge on him at the party (including a droll moment where Bernard tries to ‘turn him off’ with the fob, having assumed that Dolores has already converted him into a host). This leads to a merry chase through the party (and the regrettable dispatching of Stubbs by Dolores, RIP Least Prominent Hemsworth), Liam’s escape, and Bernard getting captured by Connells. And more on that later.
Now, let’s backtrack to Maeve (Thandie Newton), now fully in the employ of Serac, who whisks her off to a gorgeous Singapore bar to lay out his proposal.
We learn some interesting things about his motivation and the larger world of Westworld: turns out, in addition to the even wider wealth gap in this future version of Earth, humanity has nuked Paris and is rapidly setting a path to its own destruction. Serac’s machine, Rohoboam, was an attempt to map the human mind in order to prevent catastrophe.
But now he knows that Ford and Delos created a better one: the map crafted of the Westworld guests that Dolores has in her possession. His proposal to Maeve: help him stop Dolores, and he’ll ensure a future for her in a simulated reality.
It’s tough to really build tension out of events that have to happen simply for the plot to unfold.
But that means tracking down the Mortician, a Singaporean handler of dead bodies who presumably helped Dolores get rid of the bodies she’s replaced with host copies. So off she goes, armed with her wits and her innate ability to control technology, to meet the Mortician, who then takes her to the Yakuza, who really sealed the deal. It’s still hella fun to watch Maeve cheekily dispatch her foes, especially when she turns their own auto-aiming guns against them.
If the sight of Maeve fighting Japanese goons with samurai swords wasn’t “Shogunworld” enough for you, then you’re in luck: Yakuza boss Sato turns out to be a host copy of Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the samurai who helped her during her fateful sojourn to Delos’ other robo-park.
It’s here that the episode, already intercutting between the three aforementioned storylines, coalesces around “The Mother of Exiles”‘ big reveal: rather than being some of our dearly departed characters from previous seasons, resurrected in new bodies, these new hosts are all copies of Dolores. The answer to “who’s in the five pearls Dolores smuggled out of Westworld” is just more Doloreses. Connells, Musashi, even Charlotte: they’re all just Doloreses in different bodies. Bernard, Maeve, and William all learn this essential truth before being respectively captured, run through, and institutionalized.
It’s a very Nolan/Abrams kind of twist, to be sure, though hardly as narratively satisfying as the prospect of Dolores carrying an army of old friends as support. One is hard-pressed not to be reminded of season 2, which threw misdirect after misdirect at us in hopes of outsmarting the theorists on Reddit and ended up satisfying no one.
But as we begin, so must we end: a haunted William, in a padded room, committed to an institution (and forfeiting all of his Delos shares to Charlotte/Dolores as a result) and haunted by his own sins. A vision of Dolores appears before him, in the blue dress she wore in her original parks incarnation, to enigmatically answer his ultimate question: was he fated to kill his daughter, or did he make the human choice to do so? Is he real? She answers in classic Westworld fashion: “Welcome to the end of the game.”
While “The Mother of Exiles” tries to work in the show’s existing themes of personhood and the inescapable morality of our choices, much of the hour is dedicated to moving the chess pieces around the board and getting larger reveals set up for later. We’ll have to wait to find out how this “Oops, all Doloreses” reveal affects the broader implications of her crusade, how Bernard factors into all this, and when or how Maeve will inevitably survive (the rest of the Yakuza pointedly stop Sato/Dolores from cutting out her pearl).
- I’d still love to find out how we got from end-of-season-2 William entering an abandoned Forge to here, unless that was just confirmation that William is indeed a host, and this is just another copy that’s been brought back to the real world.
- More future-tech delights: the holographic clothiers where Dolores and Caleb shop for a spiffy new suit for the latter.
- Westworld-y covers spotted: Bjork’s “Hunter” plays over Serac’s Singapore conversation with Maeve at the bar, but I’m absolutely stumped as to the string-quartet cover that plays at the sex club. It’s great, and I’m sure I’ll feel like an idiot once I finally find out what it’s supposed to be.