‘Westworld’ Pulls Back the Mask on Its Biggest Secret in Episode 4 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Westworld Season 3 Episode 4, “The Mother of Exiles.”]
If there is one lesson Westworld has learned in its third season, it is resisting the urge to drag out its mysteries beyond their welcome. The pace is faster, and the answers come much quicker, and that makes for a far less frustrating viewing experience. It feels like the writers are now less concerned with stringing along the Reddit code-crackers and are focused instead on building a cohesive narrative. The show no longer hinges on its cloak-and-dagger tactics, and that’s a good thing.
We’ve seen examples of this change of pace already this season. The friend Caleb (Aaron Paul) was talking to in the premiere might have been something Westworld dragged out over a number of weeks once upon a time. Instead, it was revealed within the same episode that Caleb was talking to an automated voice. Same with Maeve (Thandie Newton) in episode two — her being trapped in the simulated War World could have been a multi-episode plotline. Again, though, she escaped within the same episode, and we found out where she was and why she was there.
Now, the show has answered its biggest mystery of the season so far, and, to be honest, it wasn’t one I was expecting an answer to quite so soon. I spent most of last week theorizing over which host was within Charbot (Tessa Thompson), and I actually felt like it was a mystery that worked, mostly due to the character focus. The previous episode hinted at a couple of possible options, and I expected this to be a continuous guessing game for the rest of the season. I’m pleasantly surprised then to see the answer to that riddle revealed in this week’s episode and done so in a way that is both surprising and effective.
However, there are some stumbling blocks on the way there. The pre-credits sequence of the Man In Black (Ed Harris) losing his mind and questioning his reality is strong. Rarely do we see Harris getting to act vulnerable, so him tripping out to visions of his dead daughter is refreshing. But everything else in the first half-hour is fairly rote. As intriguing as the Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Caleb pairing is, watching them sneak into a bank and steal Liam Dempsey Jr’s (John Gallagher Jr.) fortune isn’t exactly riveting TV — unless you find tension in fingerprint security verification. And the scene of Serac (Vincent Cassel) wining and dining Maeve as he persuades her to track down Dolores is merely a repeat of their conversation from episode two.
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) also go over the same material as they arrive in Los Angeles to intercept Dempsey Jr and stop Dolores in her tracks. While I get a kick out of Stubbs wearing a “Hollywood Aerial Tours” t-shirt like an enthusiastic tourist, there is nothing to really hook us in here. And some of Bernard’s dialogue across this episode is painful. Take this clunker from when he’s speaking to Connells (Tommy Flanagan): “I thought she would have replaced Liam, but she’s keeping him in play, she must need him for something else, so she changed you instead.” It’s one of Westworld‘s worst flaws of showing us something and then having the character needlessly spell it out for us.
But things really ramp up in the second half, particularly after the incredible fight sequence between Dolores and Stubbs at the masquerade ball — set to a gorgeous violin rendition of The Weeknd’s ‘Wicked Games.’ It could only have been improved had it been The Weeknd’s latest song ‘Alone Again,’ which includes some scarily Westworld appropriate lyrics, “Take off my disguise/I’m living someone else’s life/Suppressing who I was inside.” As I’ve said before, for all its pitfalls elsewhere, Westworld never fails when it comes to putting together breathtaking set pieces — there’s another great one this episode when Maeve gets into a samurai sword fight with the Yakuza.
For Maeve, she begrudgingly helps Serac in hunting down Dolores. Her mission starts in Singapore, where Dolores first brought herself and five other unknown hosts back online. After meeting with The Mortician, who provided Dolores with a new identity, Maeve discovers that Dolores put the other hosts into new bodies. Her investigation takes her to a Yakuza hang-out at a distillery, where she’s surprised to find her old Shogun World friend Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Is he doing Dolores’s bidding? Maeve realizes there’s something deeper going on when Musashi blames her for leaving him and the others behind, claiming that she didn’t give them the choice to be uploaded to the digital heaven. That doesn’t sound like the real Musashi. “Who is in there,” Maeve asks?
It’s the same question the Man In Black is asking Charbot, who arrives to wake him from his pity party. She needs him to clean up and come with her to a Delos investors board meeting. Only he can put a stop to Serac’s takeover by ordering the board to take the company private. While William initially brushes Charbot off, he eventually comes round, putting on his black suit and glove and dismissing his ghost daughter. But it’s all a trap. Charbot was never taking him to meet the investors. She’s been spying on him, eavesdropping on his insane conversations. She is having him institutionalized so she can take sole ownership of Delos in his absence. And it’s at that moment the Man In Black (and the audience) realizes who Charbot really is.
Charbot is DOLORES! As is Musashi and Dempsey’s bodyguard Connells. The revelation plays out at the same time in each separate story-thread, and it works beautifully, both in delivery and in terms of story logic. Of course Dolores wouldn’t trust anyone but herself to get the job done. And creating clones of herself ties nicely into her increasingly egomaniacal worldview. Also, it puts last week’s episode into a new context, especially the interactions between Dolores and Charbot. The line “you belong to me” now very much feels like a wink and a nod to the viewers.
Maeve questions Musashi when she realizes it’s Dolores beneath the skin. “You said you were going to build a new world for all of us, but you just want it for yourself,” she states. It’s not the confrontation between Maeve and Dolores I was anticipating, but it’s a clever twist on expectations. Dolores, as Musashi, stabs Maeve in the gut, leaving her bleeding out on the floor — there’s a brilliant shot of Maeve’s blood mixing into the white host fluid spilling from one of the distillery barrels. This is Westworld, though, so of course, this isn’t the end of Maeve. Dolores doesn’t even get the chance to remove Maeve’s brain ball as approaching Yakuza soldiers cause her to make a hasty exit.
Westworld is far from a perfect show, but episodes like this prove it is willing to learn from the past and fix some of its flaws. The Dolores revelation came as a genuine surprise, not just in terms of story implications, but with how quickly it was unveiled. If the second half of the season can maintain this pace, then Westworld may just have a redemption arc of its own.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO