I hope you didn’t tune into this show set in a future theme park based on the 19th century American west (and seventeenth century Japan, next door) expecting to see a future theme park based on the 19th century American west (with seventeenth century Japan next door). Nary a horse or a six shooter in sight in the season opener. Instead, we get future guns, drone-style helicopters, and an AI named after Ned Flander’s fourth most favorite king of ancient Israel, set in Los Angeles, circa 2050. I kept checking to see if the title had been changed to “Westwood.” Given this feels almost American Horror Story-like (Many of the same performers, plus some new ones in a whole different storyline.), let’s hit some of the high notes to see what this show is about.
Welcome, newcomers (Not meaning living humans per the old Westworld, but those who are new to my puckish ramblings about the series.), and welcome back those who have read my previous seasons’ analyses. We’re gonna be hitting a lot of familiar notes this time around and some new ones, so buckle in.
1. I Am So Glad That I Have an MA in Theology When I Watch This Show.
I kid you not. During the downtime between seasons, I contributed to three separate volumes on Westworld coming out this fall, including one on Westworld and theology. (Shameless plug: You can see more and purchase it here.) If anyone thought this show was not a constant theological rumination on human existence, the role of God, what is real and true, and our relationship to a creator, season three just said, “Hold my whiskey.” Let’s run down the examples, shall we?
- The episode title, “Parce Domine,” is a Catholic antiphon (short chant sung during services) that means “Spare us, Lord.” It comes from Joel 2:17 (“Spare, Lord, spare your people. / Be not angry with us forever.”) The implications of the title are legion, depending on who the “us” is. Is it the hosts? Prolly not – most of them are dead and gone. Is it Dolores, Bernard, and/or a post-credits Maeve? Maybe. Or is it humanity, from what is coming once Dolores starts a rebellion of the machines in the real world? Regardless, it frames the entire episode with theological and scriptural suggestions.
- Dolores talks to Liam and his associates about the small part of the brain that is evolved to believe in God. “I’m an atheist,” one asserts. “It doesn’t matter, you still have it,” Dolores reassures him. Read into that what you will, particularly in the larger arc of the scene in which the same individual asserts, “None of this is real,” and that they are all most likely a simulation within a simulation. Remember that assertion – in Westworld, it is the kind of throwaway line that often becomes prophetic, albeit not for the reason the poser who says it thinks. Also, we’ll play more with that idea in number four, below.
- The AI that is at the heart of Liam Dempsey’s company, Incite (more on that below), is called the Rehoboam Device. Rehoboam is the son of Solomon, grandson of King David, and the king of Israel at a time of civil war when the kingdom then splits into two and Rehoboam ends his reign as king of half of Israel.
- While Dolores is killing Martin Connell, she tells him, “That thing you built is not a god. The real gods are coming. And they are very angry.” Now that is a warning I can get behind – it promises a lot of fun in the coming season. But it is interesting that all the candidates for “God” in Westworld are machine-based: Rehoboam or the Hosts. God in the Hebrew Bible (also known by its hip-hop name, Old Testament), the section that Rehoboam comes from, is often angry. When He shows up, it is never for a barbecue or a birthday party. It is usually to punish sinners, the enemies of Israel, or just ‘cause. (Looking at you, Job.) So, if angry gods are showing up, they will get medieval on Los Angeles, c.2050. It will be glorious.
2. Aladdin Was Right!
It’s a whole new world, boys and girls. We have the pre-credit opener in which an abusive, wealthy German Delos investor who bought Tony Stark’s house meets up with Dolores. She compromises the house’s AI (Sorry, J.a.r.v.i.s.), skinny dips in his pool, and tells him he probably murdered his first wife and made it look like a drowning. After playing with her food, metaphorically speaking, she gets the information she needs and in a fit of poetic justice, she kills him by having him hit his head on the side of the pool and drown. At this point, I’m looking for her to get on a horse or pull out a shootin’ iron, but no – she goes to London. Welcome to season three of Westworld.
3. Wait! There’s an App for That?
Post-credits, we meet Caleb. Living in Los Angeles in 2050ish. He is a construction worker whose work associate is a former Trade Federation Battle Droid who beefed up and now works construction, too. He might have some kind of neurological disorder, and he definitely suffers from depression and PTSD, being a former soldier whose best friend Justin was killed while they were in action somewhere (but oddly, no longer in uniform).
Caleb has two cool apps. The first one allows him to call Justin, only later do we learn Justin is dead and that this is a service that allows him to speak to an AI approximating his friend’s personality. Justin calls at random intervals, just like a regular friend. It seems like the only real support Caleb gets, and he drops it by the end of the episode.
The second one, RICO, is even more fun. Caleb keeps looking for work and cannot find it. He even gets a “Sorry, we love you but someone else got the job” call, and it turns out the voice on the other end is an AI, not even a real person, introducing the major theme of the episode (see number four, below). So, Caleb goes on RICO, an app that works like Uber, except instead of ridesharing, it’s about crime-sharing. One agrees to help in something sketchy for a percentage of the profits. Just like Uber, one has the option to accept or reject (The buttons say, “Hell yeah,” and “No, I’m basic.”) the job. Once the job is completed, the app announces, “You made money, motherfucker,” and displays the amount credited. (I can only imagine Uber does the same thing!)
Caleb hooks up with two other guys - including Marshawn Lynch as “Giggles,” a guy who wears a shirt that contains a list of moods, lighting up what he is feeling at the moment. Most of the time it says, “Amused,” but right before they blow up an ATM and steal the money it reads, “Bored.” Later, when fighting a naked man going psychotic on a drug, the shirt flashes, “Angry,” and Marshawn, I mean Giggles, takes the guy out with a punch. Caleb keeps telling the folks who hire him that he doesn’t do “personals” – actions that involve other individuals – he is more comfortable with blowing up ATMs.
This use of RICO is what brings Caleb into Dolores’ sphere. He gets an assignment to bring an illegal drug to MacArthur Park, so that Martin Connells (The new Coughlin – tough guy with an accent – every season needs one!) can kill her and make it look like an overdose. Instead, of course, Dolores kills all of the Incite Mercenaries and introduces the badly wounded Connells to host Connells, who promptly shoots the original in the head. Turns out allowing herself to be kidnapped by Connells from the home of Liam Dempsey was part of a master plan to infiltrate Incite by allowing Host Connells to take over from the real one. Caleb encounters a wounded Charlotte and holds her as we fade to credits. He seems like a guy who at heart is a good guy and who has rejected the idea of “Better Living through Technology” (Incite’s motto).
4. Corporations are still the bad guys.
Charlotte (or is it host Charlotte) is the acting CEO of Delos now that everybody with that name and the films on the original board are dead. “Who died and put her in charge?” some snarky suit asks as Tessa enters. “I assume that’s a rhetorical question,” she deadpans and announces that despite everything, they are bringing the parks back online. This is the only mention of the parks in the show, other than references to the numbers of dead when Bernard is on the DL. “Our parks aren’t the only thing we’re protecting here,” Tessa tells the (greatly reduced) board. There is plenty of IP that is proprietary and plenty of money to be made from dark tourism she implies. So, “We resume host production.” That’s right – Delos’ response to the massacre at the park is to start making murderous robots again. I actually believe this to be a realistic plot line.
Liam’s company, the one run by Rehoboam, is called Incite. I love it. A homonym for “insight,” meaning an intuitive apprehension of the true nature of a thing, person, or situation, “incite” actually means to push to action. Rather than understanding something better, incite is to start a riot (the word most commonly employed with “incite”). The company’s name hides its darker purposes under a genuine innovation-type name. I actually believe this to be a realistic company name.
5. Bernard Goes Full Hillbilly
If people think you’re responsible for the murder of hundreds of people at the hands of evil robots, and you don’t know you’re a robot, become a farmer! No one will suspect you. Bernard grows his beard long, shaves his head, and dons overalls in order to raise cattle. (Read into that as you will.) Rather than interrogating hosts for diagnostic purposes, he does it to himself. “Have you killed anyone today and not remembered it?” “No,” he answers. Cool.
Delos has pinned the park massacre on Bernard, who is now in the wind and the most wanted man in the world. Under the name “Armand Delgado,” he works as a dairy specialist on a future farm. You can tell it is a future farm, because all of the farmers live in personal geodesic domes. When two other future farmers decide to turn in Bernard to get the reward, they make the mistake of trying to apprehend him themselves using only a cattle prod. He goes full Bernard on them, and the episode’s body count (already pretty high) gets two more added.
Watch for Bernard to develop in new and exciting ways.
6. What Is Real?
This is the theme of the episode. During the recap of the previous season, we hear the Dolores/Bernard exchange: “What is real?” “That which is irreplaceable,” which is a fairly good enough definition. But the episode does not stop there. How do we know what is real, asks the episode over and over? How do you know you’re real? Connells is replaced by a doppelgänger that cannot be distinguished from the original. Bernard is not a “real” person, nor is Dolores, but they are real. Tied to the theme of the real is thus the theme of epistemological uncertainty. How do we know anything? How can we trust anything? Justin on the phone turned out to be a clever subscription service. Dolores seemed drugged but was playing possum. Liam does not know the secrets of Rehoboam but is convinced they exist. How do you know if what you know is real, or something else? Holy Matrix, Batman! Are we living in a computer simulation and all of this is just a program?
7. The Best Part of the Episode Is the Post-End Credits Teaser.
Maeve, whom we have not seen until this moment, wakes up with a gun and a forties hair style. She is in a spartan room, but upon entering the next room finds a dead body on the floor, another man brutally beaten and tied to a chair, and blood on her knuckles. She pulls out his gag and he begins spouting off in German at her. She goes to the window, and we don’t even need to see what’s there (though we do). Faster than you can say Saving Private Ryan meets Fury, she sees a Nazi flag, hundreds of German soldiers and their equipment, and what appears to be an old European village being occupied. We are in World War II World! (HitlerWorld? AxisWorld? IngloriousBasterdsWorld?)
Unless they are introducing time travel, a self-aware Maeve has woken up in another fun Delos park. It looks to be great fun.
Okay, Westworld, I’m willing to go along with all this without the horses, or the plains, or the Ghost Nation, or the chaps and hats, but only because I have no freaking clue what is going on. Is any of this real? (See what I did there?) But so far, we’re doing something new and old (themes are the same – worlds are different and there are a whole new set of players on the field). I will watch, but if you jump the shark, I will drop you faster than you can say Androids DO dream of electric sheep.