Westworld is back, folks. Love it, hate it, love to hate it, the most compelling, frustrating, insightful, and downright confusing show on HBO has returned for its long-awaited third season, and we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. Westworld Season 3 is something of a soft-reboot for the series, as key host figures have now made their way outside the park’s walls and have grand plans for the world at large. But the world at large has plans of its own, and the Season 3 premiere “Parce Domine” sets the stage for a radical shift in the series’ narrative arc that maintains some “core drives” integral to the series’ success (and, for some, frustration).
Each week I’ll be dissecting every episode after the fact in a new recap, but given Westworld’s penchant for multiple timelines and POVs, I’ll be dividing each recap into segments. For this first week, we’ll take a look at the story through the eyes of three main characters: Dolores, Bernard, and Caleb.
Westworld Season 3 picks up roughly three months after the massacre at Westworld, which took the lives of over 100 people—although it’s revealed that most of them were board members or employees. Indeed, in a brief glimpse at “Charlotte Hale” (Tessa Thompson), we see the Delos higher-ups arguing for privatization of the company in the face of public disaster, but we know that Charlotte is of course dead. At the end of Season 2, Dolores had herself implanted in a new Charlotte host body to escape Westworld with five other host marbles. We know/think that Dolores switched back into her Dolores body once in the real world (played by Evan Rachel Wood), but we’re still in the dark as to who’s in that Charlotte body.
Regardless, Charlotte is only briefly seen as much of the episode follows Dolores on the warpath against humans. You may or may not recall that in the Season 2 finale, Dolores entered The Forge and read “a lot” of the books stored there that contained the unedited experience profiles of all of the park’s guests. She used this as research to learn about humanity so as to have a fighting chance to defeat it, as she is firmly set on bringing the humans down and creating a new world for her robotkind.
After a brief errand to rob a rich asshole of his money and leave him for dead, Dolores ingratiates herself with Liam Dempsey (John Gallagher Jr.), “the son of the guy who saved the world through algorithms.” Liam is the head of a technology company called Incite, which appears to have created an A.I. that the world uses to run… well, pretty much everything. Dolores has cozied up to Liam for reasons, but soon discovers that Liam isn’t entirely in charge. He’s a figurehead, kept in the dark by his dead father’s partner who locked him out of the system. Liam reveals to Dolores that no one knows what the system is doing other than its original architect, who he refuses to name just as Dolores is stunned by Liam’s dangerous bodyguard.
So what’s up with this system? It’s powerful and is operating without oversight. Liam notes that he’d already be dead if he was going to tell Dolores who the original architect was, because the system would have predicted it. But the episode is framed by these location interstitials detecting “anomalies” in various parts of the world, which I think we can safely assume are the hosts making contact with the real world. They can’t be predicted because when this system was put in place, they were human-controlled robots in a secure theme park. Now all bets are off.
Liam’s people attempt to murder Dolores, but obviously their drugs don’t work on her and she suddenly awakens and lays waste to all of them. As she descends on Liam’s bodyguard, an identical-looking host-version of said bodyguard walks up and deals the final blow. All of a sudden Dolores’ plan comes into view: she’s created a host version of someone close to Liam to take his place and get closer to finding the truth of this mysterious system. But exactly which marble is in his head, and what Dolores wants with this system, remains a mystery.
The last we see of Dolores in this episode she’s wounded and collapses in a tunnel, where she’s tended to by new character Caleb Nichols…
After the cold open in which Dolores kills the rich, we cut to an entirely new point of view for Westworld. Aaron Paul plays Caleb Nichols, a blue collar worker and veteran suffering from PTSD who’s struggling to make ends meet in this algorithm-driven world. His co-worker is a robot, his “therapy” is talking to a voice simulation of his dead fellow soldier, and he’s turned away from jobs because his “stats” aren’t up to par. He seems intensely despondent and resorts to an app called Rico in which someone can sign up for illegal jobs for hire. Caleb “doesn’t do personals” and thus resorts to mostly being a courier or bagman without asking too many questions.
It’s through Caleb that we’re really introduced to what the real world looks like in Westworld’s version of 2058, and it appears as though showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are interested in exploring themes of determinism and free will this season. Not if free will exists, exactly, but the idea of setting all of humanity on some sort of predestined path via an algorithm. In Caleb’s world, that predestined path literally exists—Insight’s system predicts what’s going to happen at any given moment. And that lack of significant mobility is eating at Caleb’s soul.
As the episode comes to a close, Caleb unsubscribes from his treatment that had him talking to an AI therapy, noting that if he’s going to move on with his life he’s going to have to talk to “someone real.” It’s after this that he returns to where he witnessed Dolores’ kidnapping and finds everyone’s favorite sociopathic host bleeding out in a tunnel. Will Caleb make a friend with this host, or will Dolores take advantage of Caleb’s trust and pretend to be “real” just so she can use him? Intriguing!
The third major storyline happening in this season premiere belongs to Bernard, the Professor X to Dolores’ Magneto. We first meet Bernard as he’s living as an agricultural worker of some sort somewhere in Asia (or maybe Australia? It’s unclear). He’s living secretly under the name Armand Delgado, as Bernard Lowe is wanted as the “Park Murderer.” But after two fellow workers recognize and try to confront him, Bernard goes all Upgrade and accesses a part of his system that deems him emotionless and beats the ever-living shit out of his co-workers.
Bernard is also quietly running diagnostics on himself, trying to find out if Dolores has tampered with or accessed his code without his knowledge. Which is understandable, seeing as though he’s spent his entire life being used by Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Dolores without knowing it. All seems clear for now, but knowing Bernard there’s probably more than meets the eye happening here.
In the final scene of the premiere, Bernard/Armand enlists a boat captain to take him… back to Westworld. Why? I suppose we’ll find out next week, but returning to the scene of the crime poses a major risk, so here’s hoping it’s worth it.
Episode MVP: Evan Rachel Wood, who essentially reboots Dolores here and takes advantage of the opportunity to break out of the “Good girl Dolores” or “Laughably rote villain Wyatt” shells she’s been trapped in the past two seasons.
Love or hate Westworld (or love and hate Westworld), you can’t deny that this Season 3 opener was a full-on reboot for the series, and I think it works tremendously well. Dolores is far more dynamic and interesting as a protagonist, and while there are some major mystery boxes laid in here, the episode isn’t throwing any massive timeline shifts or anything like that at us (that we know of). The more linear storytelling suits this Season 3 storyline, and the inclusion of a human POV in the form of Caleb is a stroke of genius. Unsurprisingly, I also think Joy and Nolan did a phenomenal job world-building the “real world” here—it feels at once inevitable and entirely alien.
We still haven’t seen what Maeve (Thandie Newton) and William (Ed Harris) are up to, but we do know they’re in the show so TBD on their storylines. But so far, so good. Welcome back, Westworld.