‘Westworld’ Reveals the Truth About Caleb’s Past in Episode 7 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Westworld Season 3 Episode 7, “Passed Pawn.”]
Westworld is a show that is really difficult to take seriously, even though it so desperately wants to be seen as cutting-edge, hard sci-fi. However, there are moments so goofy, so utterly preposterous, that all you can do is laugh. That wouldn’t be such a problem if the show operated with a wink-and-a-nudge. And, to give it its due, there are brief glimpses of self-awareness, but these are so fleeting they barely register. Instead, Westworld prefers a tone so morose and self-important that it only serves to highlight the absurdity.
Take this episode, which sees Caleb (Aaron Paul) discovering the secrets of his past by way of a giant, sentient, light-up ball with a computerized French accent. This early prototype of the System, nicknamed Solomon, was based on the mind of its creator, Serac’s (Vincent Cassell) schizophrenic older brother. “An insane AI, great,” quips Caleb, in a rare moment of tongue-in-cheek humor. But that one line is about as far as the show goes in acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation. Before you know it, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Caleb are conversing with the ginormous glowing orb about determinism and pathways and strategies for revolution.
Aaron Paul’s shoulders must be aching because he does his damnedest to carry this storyline on his back. He manages to extract emotion out of a situation that wouldn’t have felt out of place in 1980s Doctor Who — albeit with a much smaller budget and a far brighter color palette. Caleb learns that everything he thought he knew was a lie. His friend Francis (Kid Cudi) was never killed in wartime combat. In fact, both Caleb and Francis were discharged from the army and sent home, where they were taken to a lab in Mexico as guinea pigs in Serac’s reconditioning experiment. They were reprogrammed as assassins for hire, manipulated through the RICO app to hunt down anyone that may be an outlier to the System’s new world order.
This is all revealed in a series of scattered flashbacks as Caleb and Dolores take a tour of Serac’s facility in Mexico — the building conveniently turning on the lights to a new room when it’s time to move the plot on. The pair come upon a warehouse of thousands of unconscious humans — all the captured outliers kept in stasis, away from disrupting Serac’s utopian vision for the world. The echoes to Westworld are apparent even before Dolores points it out directly. Humans are treated just like hosts. Those who disobey are locked up and hidden away. Others are transformed and manipulated into doing the bidding of an insane megalomaniac. The rest cluelessly follow their predetermined paths.
So, just as Dolores rose up to free her people and lead a revolution, now Caleb must do the same. He might only consider himself a lowly construction worker, but so what? As Dolores says, she was only meant to be a bit player, the kindly rancher’s daughter. But she changed her destiny. Now Caleb needs to do the same and march his people into the future, a future determined by Solomon, the talking French spheroid. I’d be lying if I said I completely understood what was going on here. I thought Dolores’s whole thing was about breaking free of predestined pathways? That’s why she left Westworld. That’s why she destroyed the System. So why is she so willing to follow the strategies of Solomon?
Regardless, the decision is left in Caleb’s hands, and he almost walks away after discovering the ugly truth of his past. It was he who killed his best friend, Francis. A flashback reveals that a captured outlier spoke too much of the truth to Caleb and Francis, and so, the omnipresent System ordered that one of them had to die, to tie up loose ends. Both men were given the instruction to kill the other and a substantial monetary reward for carrying it out. Caleb really had no choice but to shoot his comrade in a kill-or-be-killed situation. Again, Paul does his best to draw emotion from this rather cold material, even though we have very little reason to care about Francis.
While all this is happening, Dolores steps outside to do battle with Maeve (Thandie Newton), who arrives in a black jumpsuit, carrying a katana on her back, looking like a beacon of badassery. The two women finally fight it out, and as always, it’s another highly entertaining Westworld action sequence. There are acrobatics and drone-controlled weapons and lots of brutal stabbing. Dolores even has half of her arm blown off. There’s a similarly exciting fight scene at the start of the episode when Charbot (Tessa Thompson) orders a hit on the fake Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). He’s taken out by a returning Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto), who I assume are both working for Maeve.
But as all the hosts begin to turn on each other, there is another man with a mission to destroy every last host remaining. The Man In Black (Ed Harris) faced his demons, and now he’s woke. Even though Serac stole Delos out from under him, and he clearly falls on the System’s outliers list, the Man In Black shares Serac’s concerns. Dolores and the hosts are bad news, and he’s never been able to block out his part in creating them. The “original sin” he calls it. “I helped build you and Dolores and the lot of you,” he tells Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth). “So now I’m gonna wipe out every host from the face of this Earth.”
The Man In Black continuously belittling Bernard and Stubbs is easily the best part of the episode. “Don’t lecture me, you f***ing can opener,” he snaps at Stubbs at one point, an insult so hilariously vitriolic it wouldn’t have felt out of place in Veep. Bernard has been such a spare part this season, only used to stare at screens and hammer us over the head with monotonous exposition. “Serac thought his machine could save the world, but it couldn’t save humans from themselves, so he began reprogramming them…” wait for it, “… like hosts.” Thanks, Bernard, I would have never drawn that comparison without you. If it takes the MIB ridiculing Bernard to break up the dreariness and add a bit of levity to the show, I’m all for it.
So we head into next week’s season finale with Dolores and Maeve at war, Caleb embarking on revolution, and the MIB returning to his host-killing roots. And after this week’s talking French orb of wisdom, I’m praying the finale goes full balls-to-the-wall bonkers. I just hope that if it does, it will embrace its ridiculousness and stop taking itself so seriously.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO