Westworld’s “Passed Pawn” is season 3’s best episode yet

Aaron Paul in Westworld season 3. Photograph by John P. Johnson/HBOPhotograph
Aaron Paul in Westworld season 3. Photograph by John P. Johnson/HBOPhotograph /

The penultimate episode of Westworld season 3 is this outing’s best yet, featuring a long-awaited face-off, a shocking return, and the truth about Dolores’ plan.

With just two episodes to go in Westworld season 3, the pressure is on for the show to wrap up its many outstanding stories in a satisfactory way. (Though, with the recent news that the show will be back for a fourth season, there’s less need for it to put a bow firmly around all of them. Which, let’s admit, is a relief.)

To be clear: “Passed Pawn” is a great episode. Exciting and messy, it has just enough answers to spark more questions and moves at a relentless pace. Two fan favorite characters officially return,  the truth of Dolores’ plan is finally revealed, and we learn Caleb’s real backstory. Or, at least, some part of it.

We probably all should have known from the very beginning that there’s no way Dolores’ “meet-cute” run in with Caleb back in the season 3 premiere was any kind of coincidence. Caleb, as it turns out, isn’t just a sad sack construction worker with no future, he’s one of Serac’s Outliers, a disruptive force in the fabric of Rehoboam’s predictions that’s had his mind and memory altered by the same AR therapy we saw William begin to undergo last week.

Caleb may be an Army veteran, but he’s also a criminal and a murderer – he’s the one who shot his BFF Francis over a RICO app deal gone bad, he didn’t die in the field the way he’s spent all season flashing back to. Most of those flashbacks, it turns out aren’t real, and are memories that have been burned into Caleb’s head via therapy.

And he’s the linchpin around which Dolores’ entire plan turns.

As Bernard puts it, Dolores has a poetic nature, and wouldn’t want to bring about the doom of humanity on her own. (Or, perhaps, she couldn’t? That’s not entirely clear, but it feels like a very Westworld sort of rule.) Instead, this entire season appears to have been about making Caleb into her weapon – with a little help from an apparently insane AI system, and the cold hard truth.

Dolores and Caleb head to desert, where they find Solomon, the all-knowing AI that preceded Rehoboam, our current all-knowing AI. The question about whether these computers achieve any sort of sentience remains officially unanswered, but it seems as if Serac could have thoroughly turned off and terminated Solomon, he would have. Instead, it exists in literal chains, ruling over a Matrix-style hive of boxes, in which undesirable Outliers who can’t reconditioned to fit the new world order are stored.

Is this Dolores’ new army? Has she led Caleb to Solomon not just to get a new “strategy” for revolution, but to free those like him?

We don’t know. But it certainly seems very possible.

Elsewhere, Maeve tracks Dolores down to Solomon’s prison, with the help of a newly reanimated Clementine (guess she survived that whole “I am become death” thing in season 2) and Hanaryo, the Armistice-like host from Shogunworld. Though the two women only appear in one scene at the start of the episode one has to assume that they’ll return for the finale in some capacity.

The inevitable fight between Maeve and Dolores felt worth the wait – brutally choreographed, violent (Dolores gets an arm cut off), full of warring drones and tech artillery, and deeply personal for both women. Maeve, still grieving over Hector’s death, insists that she’s nothing like Dolores.  Dolores insists that they should band together against someone like Serac who has killed and destroyed so many of their people already. The clash is ended when Dolores launches an EMP that takes out both hosts, as well as Solomon.

It seems inevitable that they’ll somehow come face to face again in the season finale. The battle lines between them are drawn more clearly than ever before – but who will emerge victorious? And how do humans Caleb and William – newly convinced that his purpose is to erase the mistake he made in bringing hosts into existence in the first place – factor into their final battle? Or Bernard, whom Dolores obviously brought out from the park with her for a reason, and that’s before she built a version of Arnold into his head? Is it finally time for his story to truly intersect with hers?

Just one episode remains in Westworld season 3 for us to find out.

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The season finale of Westworld airs next Sunday on HBO.