Lines in the sand are drawn (or deepened) as the world crumbles around our heroes.
The title of Westworld‘s season 3 episode 6, “Decoherence,” presumably refers to the concept of quantum decoherence — the process by which an otherwise coherent quantum state is degraded by the presence of outside manipulation (e.g. measurement). That certainly fits the themes of this episode, the tale of otherwise perfect systems destroyed by the mere act of seeing it or existing in it. But more colloquially, it feels like a metaphor for Westworld overall, one of the most inscrutable and difficult-to-follow prestige dramas of the modern age.
Even now, in its streamlined cowboy-less form in season 3, one still has to keep up with myriad murky reveals and character twists and background details that can turn your head if you’re not careful. But as the show careens towards its probable endpoint in two episodes’ time, this episode does an admirable job of deepening the battle lines that are already drawn and setting the stage for what will (hopefully) be a satisfying showdown.
As we begin, the world is still beginning to feel the ripple effects of Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) Incite data breach, disseminating the data-mined predictive profiles of everyone on Earth to their phones. Just look down and see your fate, your true self, what others think of you. But tech magnate Serac (Vincent Cassel) is undeterred; in fact, he uses this moment to accelerate his plans amid the chaos, eliminating Delos staff and aggressively absorbing the company, traveling to Delos HQ to review his new acquisition.
This is bad news for Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), or the Dolores copy inside Charlotte, who needs to find a way to save the host data preserved in Delos’ databanks. Not only that, but she also needs to find a way to protect the real Charlotte’s husband (Michael Ealy) and child, with whom she’s formed an unlikely bond. “You’re still mine, and I’m yours,” says Dolores over the phone to her; she believes in her copy to get things done.
Meanwhile, Maeve (Thandie Newton), presumably rescued by Serac after her fatal encounter with Sato-Dolores in Singapore, is in Serac’s simulated Warworld training and preparing for her mission. The episode begins with Serac restating his promise to her: help him stop Dolores, and she can be placed in a simulated world where she can be with her daughter. Another wrinkle to the bargain: Maeve wants her lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) back. Serac promises her that, and much more: the beaten-up pearl of the Dolores that occupied the recently-barbecued Connells has been recovered, and plugged into the simulation as well. This way, they can have a nice heart-to-heart in the simulated version of Westworld labs.
Maeve and Dolores have long felt like the Professor X and Magneto of the series, though with their roles tantalizingly muddled from time to time. Here, we get a nice check-in with their differing perspectives — the cooperator and the radical. “You want me to be a saint,” Dolores tells her in the Westworld simulation, “but you’re not a saint. You’re not a villain either. We’re survivors.” Maeve’s daughter and the rest may be secure in their own digital fantasy land, but the hosts left behind have to do whatever they can to live. For Maeve, it’s striking a bargain with the devil to protect the ones you live. For Dolores, it’s forcibly taking the world back for her people (and, to Maeve’s dismay, crushing Hector’s pearl and killing him forever).
Maeve’s daughter and the rest may be secure in their own digital fantasy land, but the hosts left behind have to do whatever they can to live.
But they’re not the only ones reckoning with the sins of the past and ways to move into the future. William (Ed Harris), having been moved into the mental health facility where (presumably) Caleb got his mind reprogrammed, finds himself subjected to the same VR therapy he was. He’s implanted with the same metal roof-of-the-mouth contraption Caleb was (no more peanut butter for these folks, I presume, could you imagine trying to clean around that?), and zapped into a nightmarish replay of his traumatic childhood.
If Maeve and Dolores are fighting for a future for their people, William is truly, aggressively embracing his end and the end of humanity. After seeing what he’s seen (and accepting that he alone is responsible for murdering his daughter), he resents humanity for selfishly stripping the planet of resources, leaning hard into man’s inherent sense of self-destruction. “We’re maggots eating a corpse,” he says to the shocked, dismayed group therapy sessions.
Of course, he gets a second shot at that in his VR therapy, where he’s sat down not only with multiple versions of his past self — the Man in Black, Old Businessman William, teen William, and even young William (Jimmi Simpson) from season 1 — but James Delos (Peter Mullan) himself, the cackling group leader through the hellish rerun of his life’s failings. It’s here, in seeing the path his life has taken from childhood to old age, that he realizes the lies he’s told himself, the self-mythologizing. He’s a piece of shit, and he finally embraces it. (And he does so in the goriest of ways, by violently beating his other selves to death.) He was in a prison of his own sins, and now he’s freed. Or, as he says to the Delos in his mind, “I’m the good guy.”
Westworld has long delighted in prodding the black-and-white morality of both the Western and the sci-fi parable. And now, between Maeve, Dolores, and William, we’ve finally escaped the white hat, black hat moral system any of its characters have pretended to operate under. We’re all just creatures fighting for survival, and we’ll kill whatever we must to do it — even if it’s our own past.
That’s a lesson Charlotte learns the hard way; after being exposed as a host by Serac, she’s forced to make a break for it, a thrilling sequence featuring quite a few Terminator/Atomic Blonde moments for Thompson, and the long-awaited arrival of Delos’ big boi, the riot control bot she controls with her phone. She almost gets away, packing Charlotte’s husband and child into a car to drive away from this place, when BOOM! An Incite-planted car bomb takes everyone out, save a fully-burnt Charlotte with fire on her back and – now – in her eyes.
As Westworld hurdles towards its inevitable conclusion, everyone’s hurt, pissed, and ready to risk it all.
- Let’s not forget Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who bust William out of the facility at the end of the episode. It’ll be interesting to see how the three of them play into the end of this little fable — arguably the two purest souls on the show sharing a fate with the most rotted, calcified character that remains.
- The little background details of a post-Incite world are haunting and fascinating — William’s therapist bursting into tears and hanging herself, bodies casually falling from buildings behind Charlotte. And was that a picture of the host mind map being graffittied on a wall?
- The shot of Incite goons torching the Westworld hosts feels like a true button on that part of the show’s history; the park is truly, irrevocably gone from the show’s DNA.
- Speaking of erasure, the Delos logo flickering out of the building’s monitors to be replaced by Incite is another chilling end of an era.
- The little “shit” Harris grumbles out upon seeing his William-filled group therapy session is just delightful.
- Serac realizes Charlotte is the host/mole after realizing that the real Charlotte would never check in on her family during a corporate crisis. It’s fitting that Dolores-Charlotte’s undoing is that she ended up being kinder to her family than the selfish person she’s imitating.
- I LOVE YOU RIOT CONTROL BOT. BE FREE. KILL HOOMANS.