Caleb learns the nature of his reality and graduates to the top of the food chain as the season draws to a close.
When news broke earlier this week that Westworld would be returning for a fourth season, I found myself more than a little confused. After all, season 3 has been building to such seemingly definitive conclusions: the park is closed, humanity is on the brink of chaos, there are but a handful of hosts even alive anymore. The entire thrust of the season has revolved around what Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) plans to do with her revolution, and whether or not the forces arrayed against her (Bernard, Maeve, Serac) can — or should — stop her. As we trudge steadily on through the penultimate episode 7, “Passed Pawn,” I can’t help but wonder whether we’re truly seeing the end of Westworld or the dawning of an entirely new show. Whatever new form the show takes, it better get here soon, because I fear we’re really reaching the end of what this form of the series can do.
A passed pawn, it turns out, is a chess term that refers to a pawn with no opposing pawns to keep it from passing to the other side of the board. Once they reach the end, they can be promoted — the player can replace it with a more powerful, often game-clinching piece. Given the analogy, it stands to reason that the ‘passed pawn’ in question is Caleb (Aaron Paul), the lowly military vet turned construction worker who’s found himself wrapped up in Dolores’ crusade, and who, in classic Westworld fashion, learns to question the nature of his reality. Dolores’ plan is to bring Caleb to the other end of the board and turn him from the lowest piece on the chessboard to the most powerful player in the game.
How does she plan to do that? By bringing Caleb to Sonora, Mexico, geographical inspiration for the landscape of the original Westworld park and, notably, the location of an Incite facility where Serac (Vincent Cassel) keeps his brother’s early version of Rohoboam, Solomon. “The West was cruel, unjust, and chaotic, but there was a chance to chart your own course,” Dolores tells Caleb. There, she hopes to build a paradise for her people, and she believes Caleb has an important role to play to that end. “I’m just a construction worker,” he protests. “I was a bit player for thirty-five years,” replies Dolores. “Then the time came I knew I had to be more.”
So much of Westworld is about control and breaking free of your programming, in whatever form that takes, and season 3 has hammered home the idea that humanity has been undergoing its own form of conditioning at the hands of Rohoboam’s all-powerful predictive algorithm. Based on what we see of Caleb’s fractured memories — the result of aggressive therapy and reprogramming at whatever facility William (Ed Harris) found himself in last episode — he’s a case study for that control. He’s an ‘outlier,’ a bug in the human system Rohoboam sees as an obstacle to the healthy future Serac wants to secure for humanity.
We keep flashing back to a formative memory of his, the death of his best friend and war buddy Francis (Kid Cudi). At first, we see them doing undercover work in bombed-out Eastern European cities, painting targets for airstrike from missile-bearing satellites (finally, our technothriller indulges in the oldest aesthetic trope in the book: a CG shot of a satellite in Earth’s orbit!). We see a job involving a captured Russian target (Enrico Colantoni), which goes horribly wrong and leads to Francis’ death. Or does it?
As Caleb and Dolores investigate the facility after they too-easily clear it out, they learn its secrets. Not only do they find Solomon and a weapons-grade EMP intended to wipe it out if anything goes wrong, but the warehouse is also where Incite puts all the outliers on ice so they can’t do any more harm to the rest of humanity. In fact, Solomon’s core is based on (and voiced by) Serac’s schizophrenic brother Jean Mi (Paul Cooper), who is himself a human popsicle at the center of Solomon’s mainframe.
Paul’s been a fantastic addition to the cast, and “Passed Pawn” is a beautiful showcase for him.
Dolores is there for one simple reason — Solomon can calculate which possible path forward will lead to her robot (and now human) revolution. But that takes time, of course, and Maeve (Thandie Newton) shows up in her sleek black ninja outfit with (naturally) a katana and an automated drone gunship. And so we get the showdown we’ve been waiting for all season, and as a piece of action filmmaking it’s decently exciting. There’s a knock-down-drag-out brawl in an industrial kitchen between Maeve and Dolores, Wood and Newton throwing each other over stainless steel tables and out into the desert with intense aplomb. Things get especially pulpy and silly when the two have to play drone-gun sumo in a dark shack just outside the facility. Step outside the ring, and you’ll get merked by either a floaty gunship or Dolores’ auto-locked guided sniper rifle.
The fight ends in the most seemingly definitive of draws, though, as Dolores (with her arm blasted off by the gunship!) lures Maeve into the Solomon warehouse, where she flips on the EMP and both go limp.
While this is happening, of course, Solomon tells Caleb the truth about his experiences: Colantoni’s character wasn’t a Russian target, and they weren’t even in Russia — he was a drug manufacturer responsible for the drug tabs they ostensibly take to calm themselves, but which instead plant them in whatever scenario they need to be in to do what Incite wants them to do. Caleb wasn’t just an outlier himself; he hunted other outliers, in a particularly brutal bit of efficiency for Rohoboam.
The tabs, the RICO app, the ‘personals’ — all set up by Incite to get the ‘anomalous people’ to take each other out and save humanity from itself. Francis? You guessed it, Caleb killed him after learning RICO was to pay them to kill each other. And the memory wipes were just further reprogramming to reintegrate him into society. The big problem, though, is that Westworld frames such late-season revelations as big reveals when we’re all attuned to the show’s wavelength enough that we’d all guessed them already. Granted, I prefer this kind of commitment to the obvious over season 2’s serpentine maneuverings to outsmart Reddit, but it doesn’t make the end result any less predictable.
“Every human relationship can be adjusted with the right amount of money,” Colantoni’s drug exec muses, all too aware of the devil’s bargain Francis has entered into now that Caleb has made the mistake of letting him talk in the first place. It’s a concept Westworld is very familiar with — the intersection between class and violence, the way capitalism eats us alive by short-circuiting our normal priorities with the search for wealth. Season 3 isn’t really treading new ground in that respect. It’s just changed the landscape and consolidated the players.
But now the secret’s out: Caleb, like so many working-class souls before him, was deemed expendable, and like many of us, he’s mad about it. The only difference is, now he’s got a computer-calculated strategy for saving humanity from Incite. However, as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) muses as the episode comes to a close, Dolores has “a poetic sensibility”; who better to destroy humanity, after all, than a human — one seething at the way he’s been used by others and looking for a way to hit back?
In the closing moments of the hour, we scan Caleb’s enraged face as we hear the robotic voice of Caleb’s old handlers — “Hello Caleb. I have some instructions for you.” He’s just as programmed and susceptible to the whims of others as he was before. The pawn has been promoted, and now he’s out to take the king. As we barrel toward season 3’s conclusion, we seem to be truly ready for the end of the world. If he succeeds, what will season 4 even be about?
- Whatever you may think of Westworld‘s bloated, frequently corny plotting, Paul’s been a fantastic addition to the cast, and “Passed Pawn” is a beautiful showcase for him. Like Jesse Pinkman before him, Paul is an expert at conveying the righteous anger of a humble man manipulated and betrayed by his environment. There’s something of the wounded child to his performances, and Caleb is nothing if not a boy driven to anger by the unfairness of his world, and looking for a way to lash out.
- Let’s not forget the opening scene of the episode, involving Dolores-Sato (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the long-awaited return of Clementine(!) (Angela Sarafyan), sent by a spurned Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) to ‘streamline operations’ with the other Dolores clones. Is she working with Serac now? Is she on her own? We seem to have another last-minute faction thrown in the mix now, especially now that Sato’s been beheaded.
- This stuff with William, Bernard, and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) better go somewhere fast, or else I’m starting to think they wrote themselves into a corner keeping Wright on the show and just having him faff around all season. So far, all we get this episode is that William admits that Rohoboam only works because he sold them the Westworld data-mining profiles they could use to fuel their calculations, and he’s become full-on dedicated to wiping out all hosts.
- William’s big speech about how he’s dedicated to killing the hosts because they’re his “original sin” is maybe the dumbest monologue the show has managed so far, and a deeply disappointing development for one of Westworld‘s key players.
- Are Maeve and Dolores truly dead from the EMP? Or will they be revived for the finale next week?