Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Season one of Westworld excelled at seamlessly weaving multiple arcs, time frames, and mysteries into one cohesive story that captivated audiences. Fans were engrossed with navigating the show's maze, feverishly picking apart each scene for clues to the central stories unfolding on screen. Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy delicately walked the fine line between world building and action, rarely missing the mark as the story unfolded.
When Westworld returned for season two, the writers tried to replicate this model too much less success. Season two's plot was far too muddled for fans to follow at times. What was once a chaotic scavenger hunt for clues from scene to scene turned into genuine confusion of what was happening. Worst of all, backstory and world-building superseded action, creating an imbalance in the overall narrative.
Many felt trepidation coming into the show's third season due to these flaws. Still, season two's ending espoused hope for a better future. With Dolores, Bernard, and a host Hale leaving the confines of Westworld behind (at least temporarily for one of these individuals, more on that in a minute), the show promised a reboot of sorts, not unlike the inhabitants of Delos's prized western attraction.
While the show has depicted a few moments in the real world, season three offers an opportunity to examine life outside the walls of the technologically advanced amusement park from Hell. For audiences, This is new terrain, who have often questioned what kind of world Westworld would exist. The answer is a similarly futuristic and cruel one. The design for Los Angeles will remind fans of city skylines featured in films such as Blade Runner or Her, where technology has infiltrated the cityscape to become a part of everyday life.
In many ways, "Parce Domine" is more like a soft pilot than a premiere, pivoting the show in a new direction while maintaining the same stylized narrative fans have come to know. It's refreshing that "Parce Domine" is more forward with answering questions that arise throughout the episode while maintaining a similar ton to its predecessors. The narrative remnants of the first two seasons are all found in the season three premiere, but the puzzle Nolan and Joy begin to assemble is forming a completely different picture. They create an hour of Television that feels fresh yet familiar at the same time.
There is no better example of this paradigm shift than with the opening moments of the episode. This sequence finds Dolores stalking a Delos investor who she had previously encountered in the park. This scene mirrors the first time we met Dolores back in season one. There, Dolores was being chased and terrorized by a park guest before ultimately meeting her end. Here, she is the hunter seeking out her prey before killing him. This whole sequence works because it turns the parameters the show has established on its head. Inside the park, humans are monsters inflicting pain on the host for their joy. In the real world, Dolores is an unpredictable monster who will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.
It is quite amazing to see the change in Dolores from season one to this episode. She is still the cold, vengeful being from the end of season two, but her freedom from the shackles of the park finds her more calculated than ever. The new Dolores is terrifying, a character whose actions are no longer dictated by Ford's programming but by her own choices. She was in complete control this week, and it doesn't seem like anyone can stop her. Only time will tell if she will end up being the stories hero of the ultimate villain that must be defeated. Give kudos to Evan Rachel Wood, who was fantastic in helping bring a new version of Dolores to the show for a third straight season.
While all the details aren't known, "Parce Domine" at least planted the seeds for Dolores masterplan. She has set her sights on Incite, a data-mining company. Dolores spent the episode getting close to Liam Dempsey Jr., who the public believes to be running the company. In reality, he is simply a figurehead who has little power. Audiences are left to assume that whoever Dolores is after is also the person behind Incite, but her reasoning to take down Incite isn't known yet. What we do know is that she has someone on the inside now, as she killed high-level Incite employee Martin Connells, played by the delightful Tommy Flanagan, and replaced him with a new host version of Connells. In season's past, this is the type of twist Westworld would have hidden for most of the season, so it is nice to see them changing up how they approach plot reveals.
Dolores dominated a good chunk of the story this week, but newcomer Caleb, played by the talented Aaron Paul, was given a decent amount of screen time as well. Caleb is a Los Angeles based war veteran who shows all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He struggles to support himself and his ailing mother with his construction job, so he moonlights as a criminal, taking on small jobs for a little extra cash. He mainly pulls petty crime jobs over higher-paying personals, which amount to murder and assault. After two seasons of watching humans be wicked and veil, it's nice to see the softer side of humanity. Caleb is a decent person man with a code that guides his actions.
On a side note, the crime app introduced in the episode feels like one of the more ridiculous things the show has ever produced. It's essentially Tinder for the criminal underworld. All Caleb has to do is swipe right, complete the crime, and get paid. And who are the half-naked criminals in ski masks in the background if the app? It was reminiscent of Spring Breakers, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Anyways, Caleb's arc revolved around a conversation with his friend Francis, which turned out to be a therapy technique to help him grieve with the death of his friend. By the end of the episode, Caleb was ready to put his therapy aside to seek out something or someone that would give him purpose. Now that he is with Dolores, maybe he has found his someone. It will be interesting to see how her relationship with Caleb will change Dolores. She has rarely had a human treat her with respect, so perhaps Caleb will help trigger a change within Dolores. More than likely, though, Dolores will take advantage of Caleb's kind nature to further her cause, something she has already done with Teddy while planning her uprising in the park.
With all of that said, Caleb's story wasn't without its warts. While he does provide a fresh and unique perspective to the show, the slow-burning nature of his arc this week is a microcosm of the issues from season two. Yes, audiences need the opportunity to get to know Caleb before he gets paired up with Dolores, but his story moved too slow at times this week. Perhaps that was the point, illustrating the monotony of Caleb's day to day life. Honestly, this is a minor qualm, so let's hope season three manages to avoid some of the pitfalls of season two.
Finally, this brings us to Bernard. After the events of season two, Bernard was framed for the uprising at Westworld and is subsequently living in hiding. Bernard's story is shrouded in mystery, but we do see him running a test on himself to make sure no one has impacted his code. Is Bernard worried someone has access to his code? Why would they want to make changes to it?
Of course, Bernard won't be in hiding for much longer. He is dead set on returning the place where all of this began: Westworld. Previews for next week show Bernard interacting with Ashley Stubbs, who Bernard seemingly wants to recruit to confront Dolores. At some point, Bernard's path will cross with Dolores. It's only a matter of time, and it feels like Bernard will have to be the one to stop whatever plan Dolores has in place.
Besides Bernard returning to Westworld, next week's episode will also catch up with characters missing from the premiere, including Maeve and the Man in Black. It seems like Maeve is currently in NaziWorld, so it appears the parks have still been operating even after the incident. It will be nice to have Thandie Newton's beloved character, Maeve, back on our screens.