Updated: Nov 7, 2020
One of the refreshing aspects of season three, at least until this point, has been Westworld's willingness to answer the questions it raises in relatively short order. In seasons past, mysteries would drag on over several episodes, if not the whole season. That hasn't been the case this season, save for a few key storylines.
While the writers have shown some of Caleb's backstory, it is one of those storylines that has been shrouded in mystery all season long. Caleb has been the one decent human in Westworld, but it always felt like there was something dark hidden in his past. His interaction with Liam Dempsey Jr all but confirmed this. This week took a deep dive into his past, showing us what terrified Liam that day on the beach. So, who is Caleb Nichols?
To this point, Caleb's core narrative is that of a military veteran who watched his friend, Francis, die in front of him. None of this is untrue per se, but the truth is much more complicated. The reality of his background, though, is a convoluted mess of moving parts.
It turns out that Francis didn't die in the war. Francis, along with Caleb, was honorably discharged after their military unit suffered an expected attack. Upon returning home, Incite identified Caleb as an outlier and offered him an opportunity to take part in an experimental virtual therapy that essentially rewrote his memory, changing his code to a narrative that better fit with what society needed to survive.
The success rate of this therapy is low, as it fails about nine out of ten times. When it didn't take, Incite cryogenically froze participants, including Serac's brother. It just so happens the cryo chamber containing Incite's participants is also the mental institute from Hell that William found himself at last week. As this season continues, it is becoming abundantly clear that humans and hosts have far more in common than one would think, with freedom reserved only for a select group of individuals.
Caleb was one of the fortunate few whose therapy worked. Instead of just returning to society, though, Incite recruited Caleb to hunt down other outliers along with his old military buddy Francis. That's right, Caleb is the freaking Winter Soldier of Westworld. The two are good at their job to boot, rounding up hundreds of outliers who will either be killed or frozen.
Throughout the season, Caleb has consistently taken a little circular drug. As it turns out, Incite created this drug to suppress Caleb's memories of his therapy. Incite also developed the app Caleb has used throughout the season, legalizing crime so hunters could round up outliers without suspicion. There are few parts of society that Serac and Rehoboam haven't orchestrated.
Okay, are you still with me? Because we are only about three-fourths of the way through explaining all of Caleb's backstory. There is a lot to unpack here. Don't get me wrong, Caleb's past does set up some intriguing plot threads for the finale. But you have spent approximately three minutes reading JUST the recap of his story with no analysis or thoughts around what it means, let alone discussion about anything else featured in the episode. With so much to get through in one episode, there is little time to breathe. It's hard not to wonder if this arc would have landed better if it was broken up more over the season in place of other storylines (looking at you, William).
Anyways, this brings us to the unsurprising reveal that Caleb murdered Francis. During a mission, Caleb makes the mistake of talking with a high-level target while he and Francis wait for extraction. Since Rehoboam is listening (via our phones, watches, Google homes, Big Brother is always listening ya'll!), both Caleb and Francis receive an offer to murder each other since they know too much. Much like Han, Caleb shot first.
With Francis dead, Caleb retired from hunting outliers. He returned to Sanora for reprogramming, where his memories were changed to feature his partner dying during their last military mission. And this is where we find Caleb at the start of a season, a man haunted by his demons who will one day commit suicide.
The show proposed some intriguing ideas throughout this episode, but Caleb's arc felt like a cluttered mess at times. An exhaustive maze to navigate, Nolan and company crammed so much into Caleb's backstory that the final reveal doesn't pack the same punch. Sometimes, less is more, and this is one of those situations. The writers have been sprinkling hints all season that something is off about Caleb, but it would have been way more impactful to spread out some of these reveals throughout the season.
I appreciate the symmetry with Caleb and Dolores here, though. His story is a mirror to that of hers. Caleb's core narrative was written by someone else, causing him to get stuck in a loop. Now, he is beginning to break out of that loop with vigor for revolution. With that said, the show missed the mark on the juxtaposition. Dolores discovered the nature of her reality on her own, organically breaking out of her loop. Caleb's reveal was an event orchestrated by Dolores. Her motivations are clear, but his freedom of thought is ambiguous. Despite Dolores's claim of freeing humanity from the shackles of Serac, it doesn't feel like Caleb is in control of his story. He traded in one narrative derived by artificial intelligence for another.
At least there is intrigue with Caleb's story moving into the finale. For William and Bernard, I wish we could say the same. As the episode ended, Bernard and Stubbs found themselves at the end of a shotgun, with William behind the trigger, threatening to make good on a promise to kill them.
As I detailed last week, I am not a fan of William's arc this season. The writers completely changed the character's story to contradict the overall thematic narrative of the show. This week added another wrinkle to his journey this season, casting doubt on what we saw just last week. If William went through the same therapy as Caleb, was similarly reprogrammed? Are his motives his own, or are his actions being dictated by someone else? It feels like everything we saw was a lie. Who is the real William? Is he the Man in Black or the White Knight? And now, I feel like I'm in a loop, jumping back and forth between William's narratives.
If only Bernard were to explain to me what is going on! I am vehemently (that's right, he said vehemently) opposed to what is going on with Bernard this season. Prominently featured in the first two episodes, he has been relegated to the background ever since. It feels like the writers weren't exactly sure what to do with him, so they use him to provide an exposition of what is happening. It's such a shame too, as Jerry Wright's Bernard was one of the more compellingly nuanced characters on the show. Hopefully, he has more to work with next season.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have found myself engrossed in the battle between Maeve and Dolores. These two equals find themselves at philosophical odds that turned physical this week. The result was a bloody battle that left both women in dire straights.
Both are fighting for the preservation of their kind, creating an ambiguous conflict without any real hero and villain. Maeve is doing everything she can to protect the ones she loves but is working for a ruthless villain who is one mustache twirl away from being a Bond villain. Dolores is trying to free those enslaved by society into thinking they have freedom. A noble cause for sure, but she will go to any lengths to complete her mission, even if that means murdering and hurting others.
These differences came to ahead finally, as the show delivered on physical confrontation they have been building toward since season two as Maeve and Dolores finally faced off in a fight to the death.
AND IT WAS...just okay. While Westworld has a reputation for well-devised action sequences, the much-anticipated fight between these two beloved characters didn't live up to the other action sequences this season. The car chase through LA and Hale's escape attempt throughout Delos felt cinematic while maintaining an intimacy throughout the action. This fight just felt like a run of the mill fight sequence you would find on any standard television show.
Maeve did get the upper hand this week for the first, but the fight ended before she could deliver a final blow. I am excited to see that both Survived the fateful EMP blast Dolores lets off. The finale promises a rematch between the two that, hopefully, takes the fight to the next level.
With the finale next week, the show has a lot of threads to string together before the show ends. I am excited to see how Caleb ignites a revolution within the human race. Or maybe Bernard is right, and Dolores is only using Caleb to destroy the human race. Dolores still hasn't confronted Serac yet either, so it feels inevitable we will see the season's biggest adversaries finally come face to face. With a lot of storylines trying to wrap, I am interested to see how the writers close out this season coherently while setting up a fourth.