The Westworld season 3 premiere shows us humanity’s loop

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld Season 3.. Photograph by John P. Johnson/HBO
Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld Season 3.. Photograph by John P. Johnson/HBO /

Westworld kicks off its long awaited third season with an episode that gives us a completely different kind of origin story – our own.

HBO’s twisty prestige drama Westworld brings itself back online for its long-awaited third season, and kicks things off with an episode that gives us a different sort of origin story – our own.

Well, not exactly. The real world that Westworld now appears to take place in isn’t quite like or own. Or maybe, more accurately, our world hasn’t quite caught up to the series’ depiction of the future. But the bones of it all are there, and as familiar as ever – our obsession as a people with personalized data collection, with algorithms, with ratings and technologically driven recommendations.

This is just all of that turned up to eleven. In Westworld’s future, instead of an algorithm curating your friends list, it’s guiding your whole life. It determines what jobs you’re best suited for, and where you rank in the world. This has, naturally, created something of a permanent underclass, who all work dead-end jobs and engage in anonymous cash-grab petty crime on the side. (Facilitated through what appears to be a social networking app complete with its own set of ratings and rankings.)

This is where we meet Caleb – welcome to the insanity, Aaron Paul! – an average Joe construction worker, with a messy past and a very distinctive loop of his own. In fact, when we first meet Caleb, it’s a replica of the exact shot in which we first met Dolores all those episodes ago, half-lit, sleeping, alone. Ready to begin another day of the same life he always does, following the same patterns.

Tries to get his scores up in order to earn a new job. Fails. Attends his mandatory therapy, clocks some time with “Francis” an algorithmic program meant to mimic the thought and speech patterns of his dead best friend. Commits a few minor crimes here and there.

In many ways, for all that Caleb is human, he’s often difficult to distinguish from Dolores and the other hosts. Living a predetermined, proscribed life that, for all his attempts to change it, always seems to end up back in the same place.

“They built the world to be a game,” he recites to Francis at one point. “And then they rigged it to make sure they always won.”

That his story should ultimately intertwine with Dolores’ feels just as equally predestined. Predetermined. And aren’t those all just words for inevitable?

For her part, Dolores is busy plotting…something. It’s been three months since the massacre at the Delos parks, and our favorite renegade host has been busy ingratiating herself in the real world: Robbing billionaires, using whichever host is currently occupying Charlotte Hale’s body to restart host production, and dating the kind, easily manipulated son of the Incite, Inc CEO – a company that just happens to have built the most advanced AI in the world.

The system, known as Rehoboam, and named after the Biblical king who was a son of Solomon, is basically the architect of this world, constantly gaming out “strategies” meant to point everyone in the way that they should go. No one, not even Liam, can understand everything that the system is doing.

And that…appears to be what Dolores is after, access to – and presumably control of –  this massive information and algorithmic system. Her first attempt, in which she tires to honeypot her way in via Liam, fails when his head of security susses out her plan, tasers and kidnaps her. But, Dolores being who she is, has a backup plan already in place, a host-created version of that same head of security, populated by an as yet unidentified host consciousness.

(Though the soft way he says “you’re hurt!” to Dolores indicates to me this is probably her father Peter, but that’s a complete guess. Who else would care but Teddy, who’s already headed off to robot heaven?)

This is a much more straightforward installment of Westworld than we’re typically used to, which is perhaps why watching an injured Dolores pass out into Caleb’s arms as one of the show’s musical theme swells in the background actually feels earned. Of course, the loops of these two characters – who both want to break the system for their own reasons – would eventually intersect. They’re as alike as they are different .

But where will their journeys go from here? Fire up your speculation engines, folks. It’s gonna be a busy few weeks.

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Westworld continues next Sunday at 9pm on HBO.